General Availability: August 24, 1995
Windows 95 represented a dramatic shift in Microsoft’s desktop operating system strategy. Although still running on top of MS-DOS, Windows 95 contained a complete operating system in which virtually all standard tasks could be performed. The new Windows 95 desktop could now store any user file, including application shortcuts, documents, and other files, while the brand new Start Menu provided quick access to common functions and a complete list of user programs. Although primitive by modern standards, the Windows 95 Start Menu still offered access to the most important items that a Windows 95-era user would need: programs, documents, system settings, search (Find), Windows help, the command prompt, and power options. Not bad for a tiny little menu 20 years ago.
Looking at other innovations in Windows 95, the new taskbar offered a convenient method for managing open programs, and the system tray granted access to frequently accessed system info like the date and time, speaker volume, and communications status. Close, minimize, and maximize buttons were also available on every program and system window for the first time, greatly improving window and application management.
On the technical side of things, Windows 95 introduced support for plug and play devices, the FAT32 file system, preemptive multitasking, and the TCP/IP communications protocol which gave users easy access to the Internet via the rapidly growing dial-up connection industry. Microsoft’s infamous browser, Internet Explorer, also made its debut in Windows 95, although as part of a free upgrade in the summer of 1995.