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(Pocket-lint) - Windows 95 was released to the public 25 years ago today. Back then, you needed to go and buy it on a disc - CD-ROM was was the format of choice, but it also came on 13 floppies if you wanted that.

Windows 95 introduced many firsts for PCs including long file names, accessibility features and is a notable entry in the Windows canon for three key reasons:

Everyday people could get online 

It seems totally nuts now, but in the mid-1990s home PCs couldn't get online. Windows 95 changed that - but not straight away. It didn't ship with Internet Explorer (since replaced with Microsoft Edge) or the TCP/IP network protocol but an add-on pack (called Plus! - yes, with an exclamation mark) introduced IE and the rest is history.

The world of dial-up internet - and everyday internet access - was born, although other early browsers like Netscape Navigator (which effectively was succeeded by the Mozilla Firefox we know today) also played a huge role in this. 

It introduced the Windows interface we still use

Windows 95 introduced the Start menu as well as the Taskbar. Aside from the chaos that was Windows 8, it's remained a staple of the Windows interface since then.

Introduced by the Rolling Stones' song Start Me Up, there was a huge marketing campaign around the interface for which Microsoft paid the Stones several million dollars for rights to use the tune: 

Coincidentally, the Windows 95 startup sound you can hear at the beginning of that video was composed by the legendary Brian Eno...who used a Mac! He told BBC Radio 4 in 2009: "I wrote it on a Mac. I've never used a PC in my life; I don't like them." Here's the full story of how that all came about

Windows 95 was much more graphically appealing than the predecessor Windows 3.1 software and it marked a move from being a graphical interface that ran on top of MS-DOS to the type of operating system we use today.

Microsoft wasn't alone in its interface work here of course and was actually late to the party in terms of the taskbar - Apple's classic Mac OS had its still-familiar menu bar, while British firm Acorn had RISC OS which worked in a very similar fashion to Windows 95 with an app bar along the bottom of the screen. 

It was better with devices

It's much underestimated, but Windows 95 introduced the concept of plug and play to the PC even if it didn't always work and there wasn't true plug and play for most types of hardware until the advent of Windows XP in 2001.

MicrosoftWindows 95 at 25: Here's why it changed the PC world photo 1

We take it for granted these days that you can plug in hardware to a Mac and PC and it just works. 25 years ago this was an alien concept - everything needed the manual installation of drivers including internal hardware. 

Windows 95 aimed to detect common hardware and install the drivers so you didn't have to. This especially applied to everything installed within a system. It was still pretty hit and miss though. Coincidentally, Windows 95 also introduced the Device Manager so you could see which devices were installed and to make things easier if you had to install manual drivers for them. And, of course, that's still an underlying feature in Windows 10 today. 

A later update to Windows 95 also included support for USB devices and, well, you know how successful USB devices have been...

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Writing by Dan Grabham. Originally published on 24 August 2020.