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Start me up: how Windows 95 wowed a generation

Paul Brislen, Editor. 26 August 2020, 8:23 am

Twenty five years ago, queues of people outside the Whitcoulls book shop on Queen Street were finally allowed in to be the first in the world to buy a copy of Windows 95, an operating system put out by Microsoft.

It seems astonishing to think of it today but at the time the launch of a new operating system (on CD-ROM no less) was an exciting proposition that kept some tech folk (and not a few marketeers) up late into the night. With a $200 million marketing budget (unheard of in those days) and both the Rolling Stones and some of the cast of Friends on board, it seemed the geeks had inherited the earth.

The new OS sparked a massive uptick in consumer interest in computers as a home device and marked a significant turning point in the wave of home computing, coming as it did just prior to mass interest in the internet. Windows 95 gave users the platform and tools needed to run spreadsheets, word processors, make posters and art projects and of course play games. The era of the home computer was upon us, and there was no looking back.

Windows 95 wasn't without its critics of course. Apple users had long since passed the same level of functionality and were happy to scoff at the upstart from Redmond. But to the world of home users, Windows 95 was the entry point into the world of PCs and started the rolling maul that would become the PC industry world wide. Users would need a faster machine, then would upgrade the operating system, then would buy a faster machine. Coupled with Intel, Microsoft drove a mass market play that included PC manufacturers such as Dell, Compaq, HP, IBM and even local variants in New Zealand like PC Direct.

Eventually Microsoft replaced Windows 95 with Windows 98 (and it's famous hanging 'you can shut down now' screen) which took started bringing together business and consumer operating systems.

But nothing else really caught the hype of Windows 95 which sold a million copies in just four days, and put Microsoft at the heart of a global ecosystem that has lasted for quarter of a century, even as the user base has migrated away to smaller devices such as tablets and smartphones.

Bill Gates envisioned a world with a computer in every home - today we've far outstripped that dream.


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