Windows 95: Big Step Forward or Blatant Mac Ripoff?

Until 1995, Microsoft Windows took a back seat to the Macintosh. Although Windows 3.x supported 256 color 320 x 200 VGA mode, by default is used a higher resolution (and thus sharper) 16 color mode. There wasn’t the least thing pretty about it. By contrast, Macintosh System 7 was very impressive, with its support for high-resolution color throughout the user experience at 256, thousands, or even millions of colors.

Windows 3.11Mac System 7.5.3

With Windows 95, Microsoft finally gave the Mac some real competition. And with the added benefit of being able to run on most office computers of the day, moving from MS-DOS or an earlier version of Windows to 95 made far better sense economically than moving to a different computing platform. All the computer magazines went on and on about how Windows 95 finally caught up to Mac, which were at System 7.5.x in 1995.

Windows 95

Alan Zisman (Zis Mac): Dan is somewhat selling Windows 3.1 short – Microsoft had a generic S-VGA driver available for download that supported 256 colours at 640 x 480 resolution on many (though not all) video cards, and most video card manufacturers included drivers specific to their hardware.

Windows 95 startup screen

That said, Win95 was a big step up from Win 3.x – better video card support, TCP/IP support included (which was a 3rd-party add-on in Win 3.x, though included in that generation’s Windows for Workgroups), long file name support (a very big improvement), and an interface built around the Start Menu (recently killed off in Windows 8). Less dependence on a limited supply of system resources when multitasking.

It wasn’t the match of the Mac (or IBM’s OS/2 Warp) in many respects – though that era’s Mac OS was also not particularly TCP/IP Internet friendly – but for millions of owners of butt-ugly PCs, it was a big step forward.

I wrote several reviews of Windows 95 at the time, including Now That All the Smoke Has Cleared, Windows 95 Actually Looks Pretty Good, which Low End Mac is reprinting today.

Dan Bashur (Apple, Tech, and Gaming): I remember using Windows 95 beta towards the end of my senior year of high school. It was loaded on a couple of computers in our high school lab. We only had one Mac, an original LC, and that was it, since the lab administrator was a complete PC fanatic and hated Macs, breeding that kind of culture with others who had a distaste for Macs. Since my dad was a graphic design artist and PR consultant, the Mac is all I grew up with, and I learned how to appreciate what it accomplished for personal computing.

I was able to tell instantly after seeing Windows 95 in action that Microsoft caught up a bit to the Mac in terms of the GUI by completely ripping off elements of the Mac OS. I scoffed at the idea, and to be quite honest it forced me that much further away from the Windows platform at the time. We all know that during this time, Apple was just a step away from entering the “beleaguered era” where many unimagined clones and cheaply built Macs, like the Power Mac 4400, arrived. With the large installed base of Windows users now getting a real GUI “just like” Mac OS, it took away one of the attractions of the Mac in terms of differentiating itself from what Microsoft had previously offered and really began to compound Apple’s problems of getting more Macs in the hands of consumers who could have a much cheaper Windows machine.

I was so happy when Steve Jobs came back to the helm at Apple, and after many great product launches – such as the iMac and iPod that revolutionized the industry – we knew something really special was brewing. When Mac OS X finally arrived, I knew that everything was going to be okay. The GUI was so much more polished than the previous variants of Windows; it really made you forget about all the copycat stuff, since OS X was a world of its own. It hit Microsoft with a ton of bricks when XP arrived and had them backpedalling for years until Windows 7 finally arrived (Vista began to pull off the look of OS X with its Aero interface, but it was horribly buggy until its final Service Packs).

If I can give Microsoft any credit at all for Windows 95, for me it will be for inspiring Apple to raise the bar and respond to the challenge after such a blatant rip-off. This controversy really ushered in the battling between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, and a resurrected Apple under the care of one of its founders paved the pathway to the best products we know today. Happy anniversary, Windows 95, and thanks for inspiring Apple.

Allison Payne (The Budget Mac): I don’t miss the Blue Screen of Death, but I have a lot of nostalgia for Windows 95.

My strongest memories of Win95 are actually memories of what I was doing on the computers running it. Writing fiction, gaming (Realms of the Haunting and 7th Guest!), connecting to the internet over 14.4k dial-up to chat on AIM…

More than a decade later, and I still find myself trying to re-create that environment via virtual machines and splicing it onto old laptops with floppies (no built-in CD-install support for 95, alas) to run those old games.

To be fair, I do the same thing with classic Mac OS games (Tetris! Power Pete! Spectre! Shufflepuck Cafe!), but Windows 95 was what we had in the house, and we had that computer running for almost a decade.

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