back to article Windows 95 to Windows 7: How Microsoft lost its vision

Much better than Vista, and the best Windows yet. That seems to be the consensus view on Windows 7, and after two and a half months with the final build, I more or less agree - despite the niggling voice that says behind the new taskbar it is not really so different from Windows Vista. Nevertheless, Windows 7 on its launch …


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  1. Neur0mancer


    Interesting. If true.

  2. martin burns


    Silverlight has 'close competition' from Flash? I think a better description would be "Silverlight is trying very hard to be taken seriously as a credible competitor to Flash, without a great deal of success"

    Yeah, the one with the massive installed user base in the pocket, thanks.

  3. A Gould

    Would agree.

    Not sure what all the Win 7 hype is about really. Been using it for a week or so and so far I have experienced little different from Vista SP2.

    The differences are no more than a OS X upgrade which £25.

  4. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Big Brother in a Box, Virtual Field Trialling.

    "The more interesting aspects of Windows 7, things like ..... the sensor and location API, are near-invisible for most users, awaiting the moment when more hardware and applications support them."

    Windows 7 ..... for a Clearer View of your Competitive Computer and Virtual Machinery Needs with Total Information Awareness Drip Feeds/Life Support.

    It is, however, always going to play Second Fiddle and Third Party Support to Virtuouso Operations in Cloud Configured Control of Intellectual Property Power Systems ....... which, they [Microsoft] might be able to Lead with HyperRadioProActive IT Assured Azure Developments .... with CyberIntelAIgent Research ProgramMING.

  5. BristolBachelor Gold badge

    Spaces in Long filenames

    I don´t think that MS did get long filenames right. They allow the use of a normal whitespace, and underneath Windows still uses that as a delimiter.

    I´ve come across several PCs that throw up errors such as "Cannot find C:\Program" because the name of a program contained the space in "Program Files" and windows gave up looking as soon as it saw the space, or links to files only containing the first part upto a space.

    Yes, I know about all the bad things you can put in filenames in Unix, but MS had the opportunity to do this right from the outset.

  6. MS Rocks

    What a stupid article....

    If I get in a car made in 1995 it does not look that much different to a car made in 2009. Sure, there are some improvements in the mechanical and aesthetic aspects of the car, but these are evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

    It is the same with pretty much any established product. My stereo looks/works pretty similar to what it did in 1995. My home phone is a dead ringer for the 1995 model. The aircraft I fly on are the same. My TV is a similar deal, sure, it is now thinner, but it does the same job.

    Win 3.1/95 created the industry standard for how people would interact with a personal computer via a GUI. The standard has been refined over time – but one would expect evolution rather than revolution. As this is what we have got.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    So in summary....

    You took two pages to say Windows 3.1 to Windows 95 was a big jump but Windows 95 to Windows 7, even though it is a lot more stable, a lot more secure and runs things 3.1/95 could never dream of running, isn't anything that special? oooook then......

  8. Robert von Knobloch

    Must be exceptional software

    If it delivers 'faster hardware' !

    Is a motherboard included in the shrink-wrap then?

    I assume that if UAC is no longer there then Microschrott have give up completely on any idea of security.

    Well that's another reason not to go there.

  9. CurtisB

    Don't forget NT....

    Don't forget NT came out in the same period (3.1, 3.51 and then 4.0). This provides the evolutionary basis for Win7 technology. Under the hood this was a big improvement over the Windows Elastoplast stuck on top of DOS provided by Windows up to the pain of Millenium Edition.

    Regardless of opinions, NTFS, the bootloader and the driver/services model spring from the NT side. Only the gloss comes from the not-so-bright siblings (such as DirectX).

  10. sandman
    Thumb Up

    Interesting article

    A nice snapshot about how we got from there to here with Windows. I particularly liked the phrase "sensible utility" to describe Windows 7. I think that's what most of us want from an OS, something that just works, with a tiny touch of pixie dust to make using it, if not a pleasure, then at least not too painful.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Vision? Rather myopic.

    Again it's vista vista vista, when the only comparison halfway interesting is 7 to XP. Also: Faster hardware, ie ``upgraded requirements'', are not a plus at all, rather the reverse. Unless, of course, you're astroturfing for the industry, or perhaps ``for the economy''. Oh poor economy.

    Waxing lyrically about ``3.1 to 95'' conveniently forgets that 3.1 really was the first ``windows'' that approaches a ``windowing system'', and if you compare that to its contemporaries, including on the same platform, or even, dare I say it, various 8bit microprocessor based platforms(!), then it was a race to get back into the game. Everything was already there, elsewhere, often on (much) lesser hardware.

    Eyecandy is good and well, but new technology is not redmonds game. Even its multitouch table thing I had seen well before done by a few geeks in a basement, in multiple variants. Not that you aren't in distinguished company for not knowing. I recently threw aside a book from MIT press purporting to talk about new desktop paradigms but the editors seemed completely unaware from the innovation that had enabled windows 95 to copy the ideas, often occurred decades before. They're far from alone in copying, though their xerox seems a bit poor.

    The thing that keeps redmond going isn't new technology, it's marketeering, network effect, and the general lack of clue in its customers. Its marketeering is getting threadbare, the network effect is diminishing, and there is now an ever growing body of clue standing up. One thing you have spot-on, though, is that the redmond crowd, commercials and fanbois alike, tend to forget pesky little details like the rest of the world, but for a supposedly critical general IT rag, no historical perspective and no overview is a bit of a disappointment.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    Don't forget the living room

    "the world is moving on, to mobile in one direction, and to the cloud in the other"

    You forgot about the third new front, which is living room computing - and Microsoft is doing really quite well there, certainly much better than Sony/Apple, with 15.7m Xboxes installed in the US...

  13. lightweight

    Silverlight cross-platform?

    Why do people say that Silverlight is cross-platform?

    As far as I know, it only works on Microsoft platforms. Are people talking about the open source "moonlight" effort? The one that'll always be behind the curve because Microsoft will continually change the APIs around to stymie compatibility and anything that remotely smells like competition. Of course, moonlight seems to be getting minimal developer love because smart developers know that Microsoft is holding a patent axe over their heads. You'd be a fool to contribute.

    Let Microsoft have Silverlight. It's not actually necessary for anything you can't do better in other ways.


  14. John 62

    sensible utility ftw

    I'm sure the 90% of computer users running Windows will prefer to let Be and Amiga and the rest do the visionary stuff while they get things done.

  15. Geoff Mackenzie

    Windows 95

    didn't have pre-emptive multitasking if I remember correctly. I could be wrong, but I always thought that was the underlying cause of the comical instability of 95, 98 and ME.

  16. Chris Collins

    Cloud cuckoo

    Cloud computing is never going to be useful for a home pc environment and your mobile phone will always be shit for playing Quake.

  17. Rob Farnell

    A conservative move?

    I can't help thinking that it was in the main interest of Microsoft to demonstrate that an OS's consistency and reliability are more important than innovation, especially after the headaches of Vista. Once that trust has come back, which I think it will with Windows 7, then they have breathing space to work on something more experimental without being dogged by the reliability brigade.

    I'd love Microsoft to go down the path of Linux (although Hell may freeze over) and have a bleeding edge distribution to experiment with. I'm not talking about stable betas here, but pre-alpha stuff that should never get near granny smith.

  18. A. Lewis

    Good article.

    I agree that windows hasn't done anything really world-shaking since W95. That brought a whole new way of computing, with so much you could do even in its comparatively primitive environment. Since then though we've had only minor increments. XP can really be seen as 95 with support for modern hardware.

    I personally won't be buying Windows 7 though. At least not yet. I just don't see the need. I use linux for general internet/document/photo/file work because I like the interface available through gnome and the speed and stability. I use Windows XP to play games, and while it doesn't see all of my RAM nor support DirectX10, I still find it quicker and more reliable than Vista. W7 may improve on both of those counts, but I'd lose the wider compatibility. Maybe when a game comes out that I want to play that needs W7 I'll upgrade.

    In response to one of the comments of the article: I like UAC in Vista. We use Vista at work (yikes) and UAC is a very good business tool. It allows us to lock down user rights much better than XP does. My own work PC has UAC turned on, and I am not a local admin. For everyday use it never bothers me. Apart from the initial setup period, how often do even administrators perform privileged tasks on their own PC? I guess it can be pretty annoying for a home user though, when you own the PC and it's an affront to that ownership to be pestered for authorisation so much. I think a better bet for Windows 7 would've been to retain UAC for a domain environment, but switch it off for workgroups.

  19. This post has been deleted by its author

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @MS Rocks

    "Win 3.1/95 created the industry standard for how people would interact with a personal computer via a GUI. "

    If by "create" you mean "gave up and just copied the established standard for GUIs as best as its third-rate programmers could manage", then I suppose so. But it's pushing the definition of "create" a rather long way.

    As ever, MS will succeed on the back of a combination what others have done and the resistance of users to move to something better but unfamiliar.

    Indeed, one of the tragedies of modern computing is just how much progress is thrown out the window in the name of "familiarity" and "compatibility" on all platforms. "Good enough" constantly strangles "Great" at birth.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    the world is moving on, to mobile in one direction, and to the cloud in the other

    Yes in business - In peoples homes where games are being played "Cloud" is not going to happen no matter what the companies want.

  22. Richard Porter

    New taskbar?

    Er, surely this is copied from RISC OS which had the iconbar from the outset in 1987 (yes 87, not 97) and later copied by Apple in OS X.

  23. David Gosnell

    Windows 7 advantage for happy Vista user

    My wife has Vista on her recent laptop, and is pretty happy with it - fast and stable on hardware genuinely designed to cope. Certainly better than she's ever had before. She has an upgrade offer for Windows 7, but is disinclined to use it. Anything in particular that might persuade her? The only thing I can really think of at the moment is that businesses have shunned Vista, and she would do well for various reasons to stick with what's widely commercially adopted - though for now that's surely XP, until Windows 7 gets run through the interminable company QA procedures...

  24. Dave Fox

    Win95->XP was the revolutionary step

    As CurtisB already alluded to, on the desktop side at least, it wasn't 3.1->95 that was revolutionary, as both were still shells on top of DOS. The real revolution was 95->XP, when the "Windows" desktop operating system changed from being DOS based to "NT" based. However, the real work for this had already been done in NT Workstation 4.0, so it deserves a nod too!

  25. DZ-Jay

    Re: sensible utility ftw

    @John 62:

    That's the mentality of people who have not tried an alternative. My dad once asked me why would he pay what he perceived to be more for an Apple computer when an HP or Dell offered "more gigabytes and rams" (his lay words) for a comparably lower price. My answer was, style and function and enjoyment. And this transcends computers.

    I told him, have you ever driven a Jaguar or a high-end BMW sports car? When you have a Toyota, you'll probably just drive to work, to the grocery store, perhaps go to the movies once in a while, but you use the car to go there and back, and it's just a vehicle; sensible utility, indeed. When you own a well designed, higher end car, you go for a drive--just for the pleasure of driving it. Of course, it is hard for the Toyota owner to imagine why would anybody drive a car for the pleasure of driving it, when the experience doesn't feel any special, and perhaps kind of clunky; and besides isn't the whole point of driving just to get to the other side?

    Of course, there are those who buy the expensive car for the mere fact that it is expensive, and they want to show off their purported status. But ignoring such bourgeois tendencies of some, most people who can afford them, buy their toys to play with them. They bring pleasure and enjoyment, they are fun.

    I just bought my father a new iMac last month, and spent a weekend showing him how to use it. He called me the other day and told me, "you know what? Last weekend, I went for a drive." I smiled.


  26. Tim Anderson

    Preemptive multitasking


    Yes, Win 95 had pre-emptive multitasking, for 32-bit apps:

    "In Windows 95, all 32-bit applications are scheduled preemptively. Preemptive multitasking allows Windows 95 to switch between 32-bit applications whether those applications are prepared to lose control of the CPU or not. No cooperation between the application and the operating system is required for 32-bit multitasking."


  27. Si 1
    Gates Horns

    Been using Windows 7 for a few months now

    I installed the RC a few months back and my overwhelming feeling is that Windows 7 is Vista with a new Start bar. I think the author of the article should listen to that nagging voice in his head that says the OS is barely different from Vista.

    Win 7 is just a name change to get Windows away from the tarnished reputation of Vista. The reason Win 7 seems faster to everyone is because most people now have dual or quad core CPUs and 2GB+ of RAM. Back when Vista came out those were very high end specs, now they're the sort of thing you'd buy cheap in PC World. So Win7 isn't blazingly fast, it's just hardware has caught up to the bloat of it and Vista.

    The reason why so much hardware works on Windows 7 is because it uses drivers that already work on Vista, and 2 years on most hardware now has Vista drivers. Win7 can't be too different internally if Vista drivers work on it.

    I've no problem with people saying they like the OS, but back to reality it's just a repackaged Vista that seems so much better this time around because the hardware and software are ready and compatible.

    I think it's quite a clever marketing move by Microsoft to rescue the Windows brand in this way.

  28. Doug Glass

    In Summary

    If you like Win7 ... Great!

    If you dislike Win7 ... Great!

    If you feel the need to upgrade ... Great!

    If you don't feel the need to upgrade ... Great!

    The year's at the spring,

    And day's at the morn;

    Morning's at seven;

    The hill-side's dew-pearled;

    The lark's on the wing;

    The snail's on the thorn;

    God's in his Heaven -

    All's right with the world!

    Now don't we all feel better???

  29. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Clouds are much more an Executive Space and not only a Storage Place.

    "the world is moving on, to mobile in one direction, and to the cloud in the other ..... Yes in business - In peoples homes where games are being played "Cloud" is not going to happen no matter what the companies want." .....By Anonymous Coward Posted Thursday 22nd October 2009 10:14 GMT.

    And methinks only certain exceptional and extreme and extremely sensitive businesses, which both offer and deliver future leading global services, will monopolise and monetise Cloud with CLever Cloud Controls/Virtually Remote Execution of Advanced Logistical Programs.

  30. Jim 10

    To DZ-Jau

    Hope you explained to your Father that he can only drive his shiney new mac mobile on 5% of the roads!

  31. Bilgepipe
    Gates Horns

    Repackaged Vista

    On the outside it just looks like a repackaged Vista with a few cosmetic changes and some "new way to view photos," or whatever it was they said. Aero is still the ugliest thing ever to appear on a computer screen, Linus desktops included.

    Microsoft are just selling new layers of glitz on the same tired OS, using smoke and mirrors to disguise it as a new product. Nothing revolutionary since Win2000, IMO - and Win2000 remains their best OS.

  32. Pink Duck
    Thumb Down


    Such as Notepad still flickering wildly on resize in Windows 7.

  33. Mal Franks

    Seems faster?

    Si: "The reason Win 7 seems faster to everyone is because most people now have dual or quad core CPUs and 2GB+ of RAM. "


    In my case I've moved from Vista on a quad core pc to.....Windows 7 on a quad core pc. No change of hardware whatsoever...and it definitely is faster.

  34. Bah Humbug

    The '95 picture looks like my 7 desktop

    I installed 7 a few weeks ago, in the hope that it would improve the wireless reliability on my laptop, which struggled to maintain a connection for > 15 minutes under Vista. So far, it's working well, and the wireless hasn't dropped once, so it seems to have been a worthwhile upgrade.

    Anyway, seeing the pictures of Windows 95 made me realise just how old-fashioned I am; one of the first things I do with a new install (after anti-virus, updates etc.), is make my desktop look as similar to the 95/98 experience as possible - Windows 7 can still get surprisingly close. I just find that version of the UI to work better for me - most people would probably disagree!

    Still think that 3.11 was the best version ever though...

  35. Anonymous Coward

    I'm off!

    The only reason to use M$ products was because they were free to copy and would run on a generic cheap to assemble box. I have been using them since Dos 2 and only this year actually bought a licensed copy of XP, it came with a laptop downgraded from Vista.

    Now I don't care how shiny Win 7 is, if it has DRM embeded in it I will not use it.

    I would not buy a car that refused to break the speed limit, occasionally it might be necessary to save my life when pursued by jealous husbands , bailiffs etc.

    Anyway here is my pennys worth:

    Dos - usable but have you ever tried setting up multi language display/printing support?

    Win 3.1 - Ooh look, an analogue clock! - crap

    Win 95 - just crap

    Win 98 - unusable

    Win 98 SE - at last! Works fine if you give it 500MB of memory

    Win XP - very good after SP2 but prone to break when the registry gets cluttered

    Vista - just don't go there!

    Win 7 - goodbye M$, hello Mr. Penguin!

    It's now time for my medication, left hand pocket I think.....

  36. James O'Shea Silver badge

    Silverlight is cross-platform

    It's available for Windows and Macs. I don't have it installed on either platform locally, but it's available. Every time I go near a Microsoft website using a Windows or a Mac browser the site pops up a window begging me to please install Silverlight.

    The current Mac version of Silverlight, 3.04something, can be obtained here, if you don't want to go to Mickeysoft directly: <>. You'll notice that it is not highly thought of. Gee. A Mickeysoft imitation Flash bloated plug-in thingie that's disliked by Mac users. Who'd have thought that such a thing was possible?

  37. boltar Silver badge

    So the OS team don't eat their own dog food? Who'd have thought.

    So .NET isn't used much inside the OS. Well knock me down with a blue screen. And there was me thinking .NET was a serious framework for serious coders , not a bloated laggy me-too marketing exercise aimed at Java and developers who couldn't handle C/C++.

  38. druck
    Thumb Down

    @ A. Lewis

    "I agree that windows hasn't done anything really world-shaking since W95. That brought a whole new way of computing, with so much you could do even in its comparatively primitive environment."

    That might have been work-shaking for sheltered and deprived Microsoft users, but there was no GUI concepts in Win95 that weren't in RISC OS (A British Operating system by Acorn) 6 years before, and done a lot better too.

  39. Chris Malme

    Windows 95 to Windows 7

    The subject line is a bit ironic, as a straightforward upgrade from Windows 95 to Windows 7 is one thing MS didn't make provision for.

  40. Mike Gravgaard

    Window's 95 multitasking

    I'm sorry but Windows 95 was terrorable in so many ways - I came from the Amiga scene and I cringed at Windows '95. The Amiga did pre-emptive multitasking properly but Windows didn't, it has improved but Windows 95 was generally terrorable at it and what's more the Amiga did this on a 7MHz 68000 with only 256MB RAM (Amiga 1000) and was usable - I can remember Windows 95 on Pentium 166 with 16MB RAM which couldn't.

    Windows '95 generally was terrorable but alot better than Windows 3.11 but that's not saying alot. I know alot of computers which have been crushed by Microsoft and none of their software is anything to write home about - I don't understand why people even use it out of choice!


  41. Giles Jones Gold badge

    @What a stupid article

    >"Win 3.1/95 created the industry standard for how people would interact with a personal computer via a GUI."

    Utter tosh. Xerox Parcs created the industry standard WIMP environment. They also invented the mouse. Apple licenced this work when they created the Lisa and Mac, Microsoft didnt!

    I suggest you read this to get yourself up to speed on computer history:

  42. copsewood

    @AC Don't forget the living room

    The number of XBoxes is greatly outnumbered by the number of TVs and Satellite/Cable/Freeview boxes. Most of the latter and an increasing number of new TVs generally run Linux without the end user ever becoming aware of it until they want to start hacking their own property.

  43. Jax 1

    I need a title. This is a title, isn't it nice?

    The world isn't "moving on" it is standing still. This is sensationalist reporting. There are many applications of desktop machines, many. Almost all are still relevant. There are a huge number of things that I can't do on mobile now and to be frank there isn't a great deal of progress since I got my first smart device OVER 10 YEARS AGO.

    Mobile is going to have to wait so very, very long until it starts "replacing" desktops and thereby threaten the premise of making profit out of releasing solid operating systems.

  44. Dave 64 Silver badge

    @ Oliver Jones

    [WinXP] only consumes about 100MB of memory when idle that seem slike a lot to me....

  45. Anonymous Coward

    @Good vs. great

    "Good enough" constantly strangles "Great" at birth."

    Good. That's as it should be. "Great" is usually crap. I've yet to see any technology being touted as Great not suck in a major way because some idiot, be it a marketdroid or head-in-ass coder, has shown a blatant disregard for the real world and what the users out here need. I usually bypass anyting blessed as Great - iPhone etc. "It has probably won a design prize" is not praise. And that's exactly how I like my OS too. Because I don't make money or have fun working with the OS, it should be just barely good enough. Which is why I still long for the days of Win2K - it just worked, didn't get in my way, didn't try to be Great. Win7 can be Great all it wants to, I'm not going there unless at gunpoint.

  46. Brett Weaver

    Pre-emptive multitasking?

    If Windows really had a proper implementation of preemptive multitasking it would be fantastic. As someone who has used mainframes and mid range machines which have real operating systems - You have to gasp at the resources microsoft steal to do very little as far as an OS is concerned.

    Just imagine if Windows really had a supervisor - If it could manage I/O controllers.. It will never happen but still one can dream...

    Imagine if your mouse never stuttered, attaching additional USB devices did not slow or stop running processes, loading a DVD happened without disrupting a business program. Wouldn't it be great if networking was assigned to a separate I/O processor managed by a supervising windows process. Evidence show Windows is decades away from this...

  47. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge


    Nice article

    In answer to the question of 'should I get windows 7?' my thoughts are this

    I bought this PC 4 weeks before vista came out.. mainly because I'd already heard how crap it was, and installed WinXp Sp2 which has served me faithfully with only the occasional bsod (about 1 every 6 months)

    Also I run Fedora 6 Linux for the main OS while Xp is reduced to being for games mostly and the occasional compatability test

    Can anyone give me a rational justification for spending lots of money on buying a new OS ?

    Because if they cant, then that money stays firmly in my wallet until I buy a new PC in about 2-3 yrs time

  48. ReadingTooMuchSciFi

    Preemptive multitasking and other things...

    @Tim Anderson

    I think MS have been rewriting history a bit. AFAIR 95/98 used cooperative mutil-tasking hence badly written apps had the ability to crash the whole machine. Whereas NT used preemptive multitasking and would kill off misbehaving apps. Thats why all the trading floors I worked on 97-01 used NT as their desktop OS. Losing your view of the market for 5-10 minutes because Excel crashed and took everything else with it wasn't an acceptable option.

    Mmmmmm. Just had a quick read around to refresh my memory and the issue may not be as simple as types of multi-tasking. However the experience stands. NT4 was way more reliable then 95/98 albeit with limited driver support. And as Oliver Jones posted earlier 2000 was the dogs danglies. NT4 stability with 95/98 plug'n'play and driver support. I just couldn't see the point of XP especially with the Fisher-Price interface.

    Windows 7 is looking good. I've been using Server 2008 for a few months so I'm getting used to the interface and I've been putting 7 on various hardware since my Action Pack disks turned up. So far I've been impressed especially when I put it on a 5 year old low-spec Dell with no Vista/7 drivers and it happily used the XP drivers. Stable and responsive - what more could you ask.


  49. zake

    Re: For a long time, I was, in fact, quite happy with Windows 2000

    "I only made the switch to XP because 2000 ended up unsupported, and there were a few very nasty viruses out there that could really ruin your day if you were running a Win2K box."

    Not so; win2k is under extended support until next year, and may even last longer since MS have a habit of extending these deadlines. Critical (and Important?) issues are still being fixed under the same schedule as XP fixes.

    "Win2K contained most of the advantages of XP, shared the same driver model and had stability in spades"


    "there wasn't much of a compelling reason for me to go to XP - and I was a latecomer anyway - only switching from Win2K in 2003."

    Latecomer? I'm still on Win2K in 2009 and will remain on it until they prise the extended support from me

    Win2k, when used securely (with third-party firewall, anti-virus etc) remains MS's best OS in my opinion. XP offers little (nothing?) of use over win2k beyond what is already done better by third parties (Security software, Wireless LAN manager, CD burning), and removes useful features such as the three-pane view in Explorer, without which I remain in bewilderment about how anyone who uses their PC as a tool rather than a toy gets anything productive done at all.

  50. ed2020

    Title goes here.

    "and what's more the Amiga did this on a 7MHz 68000 with only 256MB RAM (Amiga 1000) and was usable - I can remember Windows 95 on Pentium 166 with 16MB RAM which couldn't."

    256KB, not 256MB. :-)


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