How Apple responded to the release of Windows 95, 20 years ago today


1995 wasn't really 20 years ago. Was it?
Photo: Microsoft

If you want to feel old, consider the fact that Windows 95 launched 20 years ago today.

Although the operating system was a major success for Microsoft, it also had an enormous impact on Apple — both good and bad. Here’s how Cupertino responded at the time.

One of Apple's jabs at Windows 95.
One of Apple’s jabs at Windows 95.
Photo: Apple

Despite the fact that the scales were firmly tipping in Microsoft’s favor, Apple engineers didn’t worry too much about Windows 95 when they first heard about it.

Before Windows 95 hit shelves on August 24, 1995, Cupertino employees rode around with car bumper stickers reading, “Windows 95 = System 7” — likening the new Microsoft O.S. to Apple’s then-4-year-old Mac O.S.

When Windows 95 arrived, Apple mocked it with a full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal reading, “C:\ONGRTLNS.W95” — a dig at Microsoft’s long-running DOS system.

But Microsoft’s monster success did have a big effect on what one former Apple employee described to me as the “Apple psyche.” For one thing, Microsoft had built an O.S. that wasn’t a million miles away from what the Mac offered at the time.

“Microsoft was delivering a ‘look and feel’ which, while we threw rocks and said, ‘It’s not as good as ours,’ there was a fear that it was good enough that everybody who used Macs because they were easier to use, would then be able to say that Windows was just as easy,” Apple’s former director of human interfaces Mitch Stein told me when I was writing my book The Apple Revolution.

Interestingly, another ex-Apple employee claims Windows 95 changed the way Mac interfaces were designed. Having previously had market researchers tell engineers that users wanted muted colors on-screen, Windows 95 revealed otherwise.

“We had this big crash course to make everything look sexier, to make it more colorful,” human interface engineer David Curbow told me. “I think it was the first realization that we were not just building computers for people. We were building things that would look good enough that you wanted to buy them.”

As one final piece of trivia, the product lead in charge of Windows 95, Brad Silverberg, started out his career at Apple as a programmer on the Lisa, straight out of graduate school. “I thought it was essentially game over for Apple,” Silverberg told me, recalling his thoughts about Windows 95 at the time. “I didn’t see how they could compete.”

Fortunately for us, he couldn’t have been more wrong.

Two years later, Steve Jobs was back at the helm and the rest, as they say, is history!

  • niico100

    An OS with pre-emptive multitasking & memory protection.

    Imagine that…

    • koopapoopas

      That didn’t work as advertised.

      Windows taught people to blame themselves for errors, and to be intimidated by computers.

      MS is junk.

    • Patrick Thornton

      The promise of that and rock solid reliability didn’t really come to Windows until Windows 2000 and Windows XP (which was the first NT-based Windows that most consumers used). Prior to Windows 2000, Windows was kind of awful.

      • JVB

        Exactly, when I had to have Windows machines, I ran Windows NT and then Windows 2000. It was the only OS that I trusted at the time from MS.

    • mobilemann

      as many other’s have said, you’re talking NT kernel, at which time apple wast talking mach. Yay for being full of shit on the internet tho.

    • Michael Superczynski

      Yeah. I remember upgrading from DOS/Win 3.1.
      It was great for about a week until I got my first Win 95 BSOD.
      Then it was the same old crap all over again.

  • CelestialTerrestrial

    I’ve used both Windows and Mac OS/OS X for years and I never got used to the Start menu concept from the bottom left hand side. It never felt comfortable, it always felt unnatural. I do wish that Apple had a pull down menu with access to all apps, but it’s not mandatory since I can just dock the most used apps or just press F4 for access to my apps.

    • Patrick Thornton

      You can always hit command and space bar to pull up Spotlight to launch any app. Just hit command and space, then start typing the name of any app or file and you can open them.

    • observer1959

      I’m not following you, on the Mac you just drag a folder to the Dock to access everything in it. I have the Applications folder in my Dock set to show List of all my apps. Individual apps are on the left side of the Dock while folders are kept on the right side. There’s a separator line between these two kinds in the Dock.
      In the old pre-OS X days I used FinderPop to access all my apps from the menu. I bought Turley a number of pints.

  • Hydro Mac

    Windows 95 was like a virus and MS is still using the same shit that Windows 95 had in it, in their recent release of 10. You thought that some one at MS would have learnt something over twenty years.

  • Matthew Arnold Stern

    Don’t forget about this ad. And yeah, I was among the ones who stood in line at midnight waiting to buy my copy of Windows 95.

    • Luke Dormehl

      Yeah, I mentioned this one in the story. I would have included the image, but couldn’t find a high-res scan of it.

      • James Smith

        OK, now I get it. The quote in the story omitted the “R”, which made it harder to understand.

      • Matthew Arnold Stern

        Sorry, I must have overlooked your reference in the story. I couldn’t find a high-res version of the ad either.

  • nwcs

    As an Apple proponent back then I recognized it was “good enough” for most people. But the other factor was cost. Win95 on a cheap clone was a lot better price proposition than a low end Performa.

    I think Apple started listening to those same market researchers in the last few years. Seems everything on Mac OS is getting more muted in color palette.

    • observer1959

      I remember seeing an interview with Jobs back in the day when the subject of Windows was brought up where he said something along the lines how incredibly sad it was that people settle for Windows. I agreed with his statement. Over the years I’ve seen numerous people switch to Apple products and it’s happening more then ever.

  • Ilan

    I remember something like ‘Windows 95 = Macintosh 89″.

  • Christian Andersen

    Without Windows 95 we would not have OS X and Steve Jobs properly would not have returned

  • John T

    I got a t-shirt that year that reads “Windows ’95. All the features of Macintosh ’84.” I still wear it.