Windows 95: It sucks less


Today marks the 15th anniversary of the public release of Windows 95.

During the development of Windows 95, one of the team members attended a Mac conference. And not as a secret agent, either. He proudly wore a Windows 95 team T-shirt as he strolled among the booths.

The rest of us back at the mother ship wished him well and started discussing how we could get access to his dental records so we could identify his remains when they were sent back to us from the conference.

When he returned, we didn't kill a calf in his honor, but we did marvel at his survival skills and asked him how it went.

I got a lot of funny looks. And one guy, upon confirming that I really did work on the Windows 95 project, said to me, "I have to commend you guys on Windows 95 so far. It sucks less."

That backwards compliment tickled the team's funny bone, and it quickly became the unofficial team motto: Windows 95: It sucks less.

Comments (50)
  1. Barbie says:

    What, no preemptive comment on Vista ?

    I still remember all the BSODs on 95. And that the time, I was gullible enough to think it was Microsoft's sole doing. Good thing I worked on drivers since then :D

  2. David says:

    Oh, I always thought Apple Fanbois only got smug after OS X came out. Before that, besides the cool color scheme, their OS sucked big time. I remember we had a few Mac machines at the lab in my university, and no one used them because they were absolutely useless to us without the expensive Adobe suite of software, which the university hadn't bought because we were studying Computer Sciences, not Design. So, in the end we installed Linux on all of them, just so that people wouldn't be scared of using them. Man, the times have a-changed!

  3. Av says:

    Hehe, as David says, it's funny that the Mac users were so smug with the OS they had at the time (95? What was that, System 7 or something?) I was in school at the time and the computers truly were worthless. But yes, Apple users have always been smug.

  4. A. Skrobov says:

    The "sucks less" slogan is an apparent rip-off "System 7.5 sucks less" (System 7.5 being the other major OS release at that time)

    http://www.flickr.com/…/449899852

  5. A. Skrobov says:
    Actually, the designer admits it was a rip-off:
    "The original Apple T shirt used white letters on black, and was short-sleeved, so we made a long-sleeved black-on-white shirt.  The Apple shirt's grapic design was far better (unsurprisingly). […] In classic Microsoft fashion, we produced an inferior product and won the "best T-shirt of the Year" award. […] The creator of the original Apple shirt — whose name I can't remember (Alex Rosenberg, maybe?) — approached me at MacWorld, really quite upset that I'd stolen his shirt design."
    channel9.msdn.com/…/1150-We-suck-less
    [I encourage people to read the linked story. It's quite interesting. -Raymond]
  6. James Schend says:

    I was a user back then. The thing is that, technically, the OS did suck– no protected memory, no pre-emptive multitasking, ran on relatively slow CPUs, etc. But the UI, and design principles were extremely good. Incredible. Nobody has come close to replicating Mac Classic's spatial UI design/philosophy, nobody's done a better job of reforming the keyboard, and I've never been more productive in any UI than I was in that UI.

    That said System 7.0 was so bad that 7.5 couldn't possibly suck more. Man that was a stinker… it would permanently corrupt itself if you, the user, had the absolute gall to drag a font file into the trash can. (Didn't even have to be a system font file, any font would do it.) The only solution was to re-install… and that was just one of the "completely innocent action permanently corrupts your OS install" hidden gems in 7.0.

    So it really all depends on what your priorities are. OS X was a huge leap forward in technology, and a huge leap backwards in usability. If you could somehow combine the technical underpinnings of a modern Windows or Linux kernel with the Mac OS 8.5 UI, I'd be in heaven… hell, I'd be happy if someone just got spatial and a sane keyboard layout right.

  7. DWalker59 says:

    Windows 95 was waaay better than Windows 3.1 or WFW 3.11, that's for sure!

  8. Mike Dunn says:

    Around the time of 95's release, the Mac developers in my company put signs in their windows that said "Windows '95 = Macintosh '84." To counter sumg with smug, I would reply, "I didn't know Macs had X in 1984" where X was color, protected memory, pre-emptive multitasking, etc.

  9. Maurits says:

    That's all that I ask of software, that it suck less.  Development is like Newton's method; a series of successively better approximations to an ideal.

  10. hello says:

    If this was during the time when Win 95 was still in development, then how would external people (the ones at the conference) know that it sucks less?

  11. Timothy Byrd says:

    @Mike Dunn: I thought it was "Macintosh '95 = Amiga '84" or some such…

  12. artfudd says:

    I want a t-shirt that says: "I'm a PC and Windows 7 sucks less!

  13. Aaargh! says:

    @David

    Oh, I always thought Apple Fanbois only got smug after OS X came out. Before that, besides the cool color scheme, their OS sucked big time.

    Lot's of people (like myself) didn't become an Apple 'fanboy' until after OS X was released. Anything before OS X sucked donkey balls. It was only after the release of OS X that us techies became interested in it at all.

    @Marquess

    It certainly sucked a lot less than Win 3.11, and OS/2 Warp 4 (which missed its chance in several ways)

    I believe OS/2 Warp was released about a year too early. When I got my first PC it came with OS/2 warp installed, IBM was really pushing it at the time. Too bad a 486 DX2 80 with 4Mb of ram wasn't nearly powerful enough to run it properly, it was a horrible UX. If they waited a year or so until computers were just a little more powerful, who knows …

  14. Sad day says:

    Too bad the best feature of Windows 95: the NewShell has been completely crippled in Vista/7. It's a sad day. What will make MS bring back classic shell features so Windows 8 will be loved by all?

  15. Alexandre Grigoriev says:

    @Sad Day:

    Actually, Win7 shell is awesome. There are features I didn't know are there, and when you find them, it's AWESOME. But Help and Support applet and contents sucks big donkey balls.

  16. Anonymous Coward says:

    Windows 95 defined what an operating system user interface should look like for 15 years and running.

  17. CmraLvr2 says:

    Good story.  Good times.

  18. Marquess says:

    “I believe OS/2 Warp was released about a year too early.”

    From a technical perspective, that may be true. From a marketing perspective, however, it came about a year too late and lost the market to Win 95 (the lack of a Win32 subsystem probably helped as well). Then its fate was sealed by its greatest enemy (three letters, starting with a capital i).

    @Anonymous Coward

    True. The only major feature it lacked for complete awesomeness was a MacOS-like menu bar at the top of the screen. But I guess that one lost to backwards compatibility.

    Say, who's the proper address for suggestions, complaints and pipe bombs regarding the blog software again?

  19. troy says:

    I had $6000 in hand in 1989 to get a computer, and I chose a Mac IIcx over a $4000 386 system (Amiga was still a toy and NeXT was a beta program). This was the correct decision for my needs (desktop publishing, recreational programming, spreadsheeting, Japanese language study).

    I had $3000 in hand in 1995 to get a computer, and I chose a PowerMac 7500 over a Gateway P133. I was using Windows 95 at work by then and found it wasn't all that it was cracked up to be. Win95's alleged PMT degraded into CMT thanks to all the thunking into 16-bit code.  Mac OS 8/8.1 provided sufficient improvements to keep MacOS competitive with Win9X.

    But by 1998 it was undeniable that NT4 was a solid system and Apple was falling behind. They had OS X but it was taking a long time to get out.  Win2k came out — Microsoft's finest OS relative to the competition — and still Apple had nothing but the semi-skeevy MacOS 9. Intel's 440BX & Pentium II/III stuff was pulling ahead of PPC, too, putting Macs at an increasing performance disadvantage.

    The main penalty with Windows of course was its crazy chipmunk Win32 API. User-hostile doesn't even begin to describe it.

  20. Marquess says:

    Not that there was much to compare it to. It certainly sucked a lot less than Win 3.11, and OS/2 Warp 4 (which missed its chance in several ways) and Windows NT 4 wouldn't come out until a year later. Linux was still in its infancy, and MacOS was, well, Apply-only.

    But really, Windows 95 (especially OSR2, aka Win 95B) was *awesome*.

    Also, I really hate the Post button below.

  21. Alexandre Grigoriev says:

    "But really, Windows 95 (especially OSR2, aka Win 95B) was *awesome*."

    But 98SE was even *awesomer*. Now IHVs didn't have to write those stupid VxDs anymore (mostly; the host-controlled modems still required them). Although by the time, there was now nice C-call interface to vxdcalls, so VxD programming was less of a PITA.

  22. Marquess says:

    Windows 98SE had the *tiny* little flaw of not being available before 5 May 1999. Other than that: *thumbs up*

  23. Marquess says:

    “Win95's alleged PMT degraded into CMT thanks to all the thunking into 16-bit code.”

    Huh? Win 95 doesn't do thunking for 32-bit applications, unless some misbehaving DOS driver/TSR is running.

  24. scorpion007 says:

    @Maurits

    Unfortunately, Newton's method doesn't always converge :P.

  25. steveg says:

    I like the phrase "It sucked less". I used similar the other day: "If we upgrade the Sql Server memory the app will run slow less often".

  26. Fabricio says:

    @aaaargh

    >> It certainly sucked a lot less than Win 3.11, and OS/2 Warp 4 (which missed its >>chance in several ways)

    >I believe OS/2 Warp was released about a year too early. When I got my first PC it >came with OS/2 warp installed, IBM was really pushing it at the time. Too bad a 486 >DX2 80 with 4Mb of ram wasn't nearly powerful enough to run it properly, it was a >horrible UX. If they waited a year or so until computers were just a little more >powerful, who knows …

    Actually, the OS/2 *installer* that was at fault here. If you do remove all the uneeded drivers, 4 megs would run it smoothly. If it had optimized the installation correctly, a lot of OS/2 install would run with 3Mb.

    I know that using FileBar loaded instead of the default shell, it can run with 2Mb with no trouble.

    A friend of mine done it on my OS/2 Config.sys and it ran ok in a 486DX2-66 with 3 megs real nice for until '98 end.

  27. Yuhong Bao says:

    "Huh? Win 95 doesn't do thunking for 32-bit applications, unless some misbehaving DOS driver/TSR is running."

    You have not read the books by Matt Pietrek or Andrew Schulman on the internals of Win95.

  28. Vertuas says:

    <quote> So, in the end we installed Linux on all of them, just so that people wouldn't be scared of using them. Man, the times have a-changed!</quote

    Oh yes…..Now Apple installs linux on them at the factory, it just rebranded to OS X / neXt/ / OpenBSD.

    Can you image if the guys at Microsoft thought to them selves….New OS lets call it NT….We will start with a copy of Redhat…..

  29. Neil says:

    I still use Windows 95 as a thin client. (And to run one or two DOS apps because it's faster that way.) Sadly my SMC9432 network card gave up the ghost a couple of weeks ago, but fortunately I still have an RTL8139.

  30. 9x says:

    I still forgot the biggest question for the suggestion box which I am reminded of today due to this topic: Why didn't Microsoft go with a unified NT-based OS after:

    1. 3.1/NT 3.51.
    2. After 95/NT 4.0?

    Was it DOS access and compatibility that 9x continued to be produced? Was it the lightweightness of 9x compared to NT which was heavier for the hardware available then? Why did NT 4.0 ship after 95 without full Plug and Play support?

    Windows Me should never have been produced but even 98 could have directly morphed into Windows 2000.

  31. Mark says:

    I STILL think OS/2 is the best.  Windows 7 has a few good features, but OS/2 had such good features for its time it's amazing.  It ran fine on my hardware at the time.  Things I loved: the desktop shell was truly object oriented, Rexx was great scripting language, Ultimedia was great.  With Ultimedia they made "light table" folders.  They were a descendent of regular folders, but showed thumbnails of images.  The folder contents could be tagged with whatever information you wanted.  For instance, you could make TypeOfAnimal=mammal.  Then you could make a sql query that where you could ask for all photos where TypeOfAnimal=mammal and then only those photos would show up.  Very flexible, very powerful and easy to use.  I can't image how much better than the current OS's it would be if it had survived.  Windows 95 basically stole the shell and UI from OS/2.

  32. Skizz says:

    I remember the marketing campaign for Win95 – it featured a Rolling Stones track in the adverts that had the lyric "Start it up" (wow, marketing department really stretched themselves there). Only recently, after hearing the song on the radio did I notice that the following lyric was "You make a grown man cry." Which struck me as very apt.

  33. carno says:

    Good to see some people still remember OS/2.  The UI wasn't as well developed as Win95 for prettiness, but the guts of it were far superior to 95 and considerably better than NT.  The first version of Windows where it was on par was XP.  Despite all the versions of Windows, Linux, Solaris and MacOS I've used over the years, I still find myself right-clicking on the desktop to do a shutdown.

  34. Dave says:

    Damn, and I've always thought I was being original with my "Firefox sucks less" shirt.  At least I can still wear my "My taxes pay the welfare checks of Linux programmers" shirt to Linux cons.

  35. Evan says:

    @9x: "Was it DOS access and compatibility that 9x continued to be produced?"

    I suspect so, and later DirectX compatibility.

    "Windows Me should never have been produced but even 98 could have directly morphed into Windows 2000."

    My impression was that MS's long term plans with Windows included the NT/9x split (to keep compatibility on the 9x side for a while) then merging the two — but after 98 instead of ME. When the merging took longer than expected, ME was released as a stopgap measure.

    I could be misremembering, picking stuff up 12th-hand, or just be basing off of random internet noise though, so take this with a grain of salt.

  36. Tim says:

    In 1997, I received my first computer, a gigantic W95 tower, at the age of 7. Good times.

    Unfortunately, I think my 800MB hard drive died. I tried it out the other week after storing it under my bed for the last 7-8 years. It was a sad day.

  37. Maurits says:

    Maurits> Development is like Newton's method; a series of successively better approximations to an ideal.

    scorpion007> Unfortunately, Newton's method doesn't always converge

    Yup, that's how we get software like (remainder of snarky response left as an exercise for the reader)

  38. Daniel F. Van Der Werken, Jr. says:

    Anybody remember the shirts IBM put out before Windows 95 released?  "Chicago:  Been there, Done that."

  39. joewoodbury says:

    All the OS/2 nostalgia is enough to make me puke. I had to work on that pile of junk for way too long. What I loved the most is how easily you could get OS/2 into a corrupted state where you had to reinstall.

    Then there was the Mac developer in 1995 who was telling me how great system 7.5 was going to be. As he listed all the features, I annoyed him by telling him which version of Windows already did that (several features were in Windows 386!) To make it even more hilarious, System 7.5 didn't even do most of the things it was supposed to do. Then he described how you had to build a Mac app and I wondered how it got anywhere. (Oh, then there was discovering that the Mac file system puked if you added more than 512 files to the root. Mind you, it wouldn't stop you from doing it, the hard drive would just stop responding.)

    Finally, the lead developer at the above company worked on both Mac and Windows. One day I asked him which one he preferred. His classic answer; "Whichever one I'm not working on."

  40. Max Peck says:

    Man, OS/2 was really cool.  In retrospect it was a waste of time when I should have been doing something besides tinkering with it – but it really had potential!  Unfortunately I had to get back to work and fiddling with OS/2 wasn't paying the bills!

  41. Lukekire says:

    Yeah Windows 95 was my first Operating System! I really liked it! Never got the BSOD i always hear people said about. It was put on a very solid Compaq PC that never let us down. I learned a lot about computers using it, proper file management, compression, and program compatibility. It was amazing what that OS could do with old software and newer one too. Sure it was slow by todays standards, (Eg waiting for Paint to fill in colors, waiting for MS WORDPAD to load, floppies) but overall, it was a cool machine cause i had lots of MS-DOS games.  And by the way, i was 10 when we got it, and 12 when I took it apart. :)

  42. Kewl! says:

    Win 95 was awesome! Even though I have Windows 7, any Windows 95/98 image still reminds me of those bumpy says in computers…That was some memorable experience!

  43. Mike says:

    I always thought that Windows ME escaped from Redmond.

  44. Michael Fever says:

    Come on, once you got it working well and configured and tweaked it ran fine…  oh wait, that was XP.

  45. Andrew Brehm says:

    OS/2 Warp came out in 1994, a year before Windows 95. At that time Win32 compatibility was not very necessary (and Win32s programs version 1.25 and earlier did run). OS/2 Warp did support 32 bit OS/2 programs introduced in 1992 (one year before NT 3.1) by OS/2 2.0. In 1994 there probably existed more 32 bit OS/2 programs than 32 bit Windows programs.

    When customers had to choose between Windows 95 and OS/2 Warp, Win32 certainly wasn't an issue except maybe for Microsoft Office which would require Win32. All other Win32 programs were developed because people had chosen Windows 95, not vice versa.

    When OS/2 Warp 4 came out in 1996 (same year as NT 4.0), IBM had already decided to finish OS/2. And Warp 4 also disappointed because it didn't offer Win32 compatibility (which by then was an issue) but focused on voice control and dictation (useless) and Java (slow) while Windows 95 and to a lesser extent Windows NT 4.0 offered Win32 compatibility and lots of games. At that point OS/2 still couldn't change its screen resolution without rebooting and it also didn't offer support for multiple distinct users like NT did.

  46. Anonymole says:

    Original Windows 95 MSDN install CD

    i34.tinypic.com/311xtdx.jpg

  47. Marc K says:

    My recollection/opinion is that Windows 2000 was supposed to be the merger of the 9x/NT lines, but MS realized that it wasn't ready in the compatibility area.  By the time third party hardware and software companies got their acts together, XP came out.  The original XP wasn't better than 2000, but the perception was there because things were just more compatible.

  48. Windows 95 lover says:

    If Windows 95 is 15 years old, dose this mean that lower version numbers are older?

    I'm still using Windows 7 and I have heard about Windows 8.

    What will they call the version between version 9 and 10? (Windows 9.5!)

  49. Chris in VA says:

    As flawed as Windows 9x was, it was a hell of a lot better than Windows 3.1 and lightyears more advanced than the classic Mac OS of the era.

    I miss those days.

  50. Ulrich says:

    You guys all talk like Windows 95 is gone. But at least in some places, it is still very much alive. E.g., the German Railroad still run well over 10000 (yes, 10^4) machines with Win95 on their locomotives. Since we fully control which software gets on the systems and there is only a known combination of programs running at any time, the give us very little trouble (and a lot of that is hardware related).

    Newer replacement machines run XP embedded, but considering the cost of upgrading (the machines are mechanically hardened) I wouldn't be surprised if they see the 20th birthday of Win 95 as well.

    (if you can read german: de.wikipedia.org/…/Ebula is mostly correct)

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