So it comes to pass. The beginning of the end of the Win9x era with the (official) end of support for Windows 98 and ME. Its been a long time from the heady days of Windows 95 for the Win9x line and nowadays most people probably don't think much of it other than it being outdated etc. But we shouldn't forget that there are quite a few things we should be thankful to it for. Yes Win9x has its limitations and the Windows NT line (which includes Win2K/XP/2K3) has most certainly been a better OS for many uses for quite some time now. But without the Win9x the NT line wouldn't probably have taken of to the extent that it has nor as quickly as it has.
So what did Win9x help NT with? Here are some that I am aware of -
- Plug and Play. Plug and play was first implemented and popularized on the Win9x line starting with Windows 95 and didn't make it to the NT line till Windows 2000. Adding and configuring newer hardware is much easier thanks to Win9x.
- Power Management. Proper Power management with ACPI started with Windows 98 and was introduced in NT with Win2K. I suppose using NT 4.0 on a laptop wouldn't have been easy.
- Direct X. Direct X technology finally brought games out of the DOS era. For a long time after Windows 95 many games were still DOS based. Direct X was instrumental in getting game developers to start using Direct X and hence Windows. NT 4.0 had basic Direct X support and it wasn't till Windows 2000 (again) that NT line became a serious alternative for gaming. Without this a lot of the gaming enthusiast types wouldn't have moved to the NT line. This one alone is very important in making NT mainstream with consumers.
- WDM driver model and better wider availability of device drivers for the NT line. Windows 98 introduced the WDM driver model which was common with Windows 2000 and hence improved driver support for Windows 2000 because a lot of new drivers for the much more widely deployed Windows 98 could be used in Windows 2000.
- Popularized the Win32 programming model. A legion of programmers including yours truly got their first real exposure to Win32 (and Windows) programming with Win9x. This was mostly upwards compatible with NT so it improved the application support for NT immensly. In fact Win9x was the preferred development platform for games before Windows 2000.
BTW in case you are wondering I'm not in the Windows team and have never been. These are just my observations on how important Win9x has been for Windows and Microsoft. I still remember the day in college when we had the first Windows 95 install and there were a whole bunch of us excitedly huddled around it. Few people were able to run Windows NT those days with its 16 MB RAM requirement. Quite a few folks had NT on dual boot but we'd mostly boot into for stuff like SQL Server etc.
Win9x had its flaws but it served its purpose. Its time to bid it good bye now. So long Win9x ...