By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, August 24, 2010 at 2:02 pm
A post by Gizmodo’s Sam Biddle reminded me of a fact I would have had memorized if I were a serious tech historian: Windows 95 shipped fifteen years ago today. I certainly have memories of the launch–including running the beta for months beforehand and working on PC World‘s Windows 95 issue. (That magazine remains the single best selling issue of PCW ever sold; I don’t think there’s a topic in tech today that would capture the imagination of such a high percentage of computer users all at once.)
Oddly enough, thinking back doesn’t leave me all that nostalgic. It’s not that I’m incapable of being fascinated by mid-1990s Microsoftian history–just a few months ago, I wrote a gazillion words about the fifteenth birthday of Bob. But Windows 95 didn’t capture my imagination in 1995, and it doesn’t do so today.
How come? In part, it’s because at the time I was more excited by the Web–another new development which was a topic almost unrelated to Windows 95. (At first, the new OS didn’t provide any way to connect to the Internet or browse the Web.)
Here’s another reason I wasn’t knocked out by Win 95: The big important versions of Windows are rarely the most satisfying ones. Back in 1995, I was reasonably happy with Windows 3.11, which pretty much did what it was supposed to without a lot of fuss. Windows 95 was flashier and more ambitious, but some of what was new was long overdue-like long file names. Other parts were just plain lame, like the abysmal original edition of MSN. And the whole OS was less dependable that 3.11.
When Windows 98 came along, it restored some of the boring-but-essential refinement that had been lost when Windows 3.11 went away. Windows 98 Second Edition–a minor upgrade to a minor upgrade–went even further.
The pattern repeated itself in more recent years, too. Windows Vista was a great big deal and a massive disappointment; Windows 7 is a polished-up modest update that’s one of Microsoft’s best products in years. With that in mind, it wouldn’t bother me a bit of Windows 8 turned to be akin to Windows 3.11 or Windows 98 SE rather than an attempted great leap forward.
Wikipedia tells me that Windows 98 SE was released on May 5th, 1999. I wanna pay tribute to that upgrade when it marks its anniversary–could someone please remind me in 2014?