On this day: How Microsoft changed the world with Windows 95 launch

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Microsoft’s launch of Windows 95 was a world-changing moment, with Bill Gates dancing on stage to the Rolling Stones ‘Start Me Up’ - referring to the operating system’s ‘Start’ button. 

The Stones had been paid a reported $8 million for use of the song: Matthew Perry and Jennifer Aniston, hot from starring in Friends, starred in a video for Windows 95.

In America, the Empire State Building was lit up in Microsoft’s colours to mark the launch, as was Toronto’s CN Tower. 

Bill Gates launches Windows 95 on the big screen at Microsoft's Redmond, Washington on August 25, 1995. (Getty)
Bill Gates launches Windows 95 on the big screen at Microsoft's Redmond, Washington on August 25, 1995. (Getty)

It was a defining moment for technology: with a software launch that resembled the launch of a film or album, and an OS which for many people was the first time they had used a PC for entertainment, not work. 

Windows 95 introduced many of the now-iconic features of Windows, including the Start button and taskbar. 

Customers queued round the block to buy Windows 95: a sight now associated with Apple launches. But in 1995, Microsoft was leading the charge. 

When Windows 95 launched, only a quarter of British households had computers - this had doubled by 2001, according to the Office for National Statistics. 

A giddy Australian customer holds aloft his two copies of Windows 95 in Syndey after the launch at midnight on August 24. (Getty)
A giddy Australian customer holds aloft his two copies of Windows 95 in Syndey after the launch at midnight on August 24. (Getty)
SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 24: A silhouetted image of American business magnate, software developer, investor, author, and philanthropist Bill Gates launches the Windows 95 software on August 24, 1995 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Bill Nation/Sygma via Getty Images)
Bill Gates launches Windows 95 on August 24, 1995 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Bill Nation/Sygma via Getty Images)

The software introduced the familiar 'desktop' with links to files, folders and applications.

The interface had previously appeared in Apple Mac computers, and before that in a graphical interface created by research company Xerox Parc. 

Responding to accusations that Windows had ‘copied’ Steve Jobs’s ideas, Gates said, “The main "copying" that went on relative to Steve and me is that we both benefited from the work that Xerox Parc did in creating the graphical interface.”

Shortly after the launch of Windows 95, Microsoft launched Internet Explorer as a belated add-on.

The OS had initially shipped without a browser. 

The addition had come after a moment where a panicked-sounding Bill Gates sent a memo to Microsoft staff headed, ‘The Internet Tidal Wave’.

Gates realised that Microsoft had to offer its Internet Explorer software free with Windows 95 to compete - a decision that would ignite the so-called ‘browser wars’.

He wrote, ‘"One scary possibility being discussed by internet fans, is whether they should get together and create something far less expensive than a PC which is powerful enough for web browsing."

Gates announced his determination to ‘match or beat’ rival Netscape Navigator with its Internet Explorer. 

NEW YORK: LAUNCH OF WINDOWS 95  (Photo by Rick Maiman/Sygma via Getty Images)
Windows 95 introduced pointers and icons (Photo by Rick Maiman/Sygma via Getty Images)

Later, Microsoft bundled Internet Explorer with every Windows PC, and insisted that other companies do so as well. 

It worked: at one stage, the browser had a staggering 95% market share. 

It was very nearly a costly decision: a 1998 US Department of Justice investigation into the practice suggested that Microsoft should be broken up over anticompetitive practices. 

In Europe, the company had to introduce a ‘Browser Choice’ pop-up screen, and was fined E561m by the European Commission when the screen was removed in a Windows 7 update. 

Today’s Windows 10 is still recognisably the grandchild of Windows 95, with much of the screen furniture exactly the same including the taskbar.

The OS still comes with the iconic Start button - Microsoft removed it in 2012, but restored it again after outcry from consumers.

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