Today in Apple history: Raging success of Windows 95 gets Cupertino worried

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Which OS were you using in 1995?
Photo: Microsoft

September 6: Today in Apple history: Windows 95's success gets Cupertino worried September 6, 1995: The newly launched Windows 95 operating system dominates software sales, sending virtually every other company scurrying for cover — Apple included.

Microsoft’s $85 PC operating system only went on sale at the end of August. But by early September, the company reportedly sells a massive 1.63 million copies of Windows 95, according to excited analysts. It represents a massive triumph for Apple’s biggest rival of the 1990s.

Sizzling sales for Windows 95

“Early Windows 95 sales sizzle,” claimed the September 6 edition of Computer Reseller News, summing up the excitement.

While sales started to fall after the two-week mark, it’s hard to overstate just how big Windows 95 seemed at the time of its launch. For the operating system’s debut, Microsoft went into marketing overdrive — even paying to light up New York’s Empire State Building in Microsoft colors.

It became apparent from the start that Windows 95 would be big. But by the time news stories began to roll out at the end of its second week, the new Windows OS was clearly a juggernaut.

Its success proved a major blow to Apple’s psyche, as Microsoft delivered what many had feared: an OS close enough to Apple’s to represent a threat.

“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,” said Mitch Stein, Apple’s former director of human interfaces, when I talked to him while researching my book The Apple Revolution.

Brad Silverberg, who started his career at Apple as a programmer on the Lisa computer, led development of Windows 95. “I thought it was essentially game over for Apple,” Silverberg told me, recalling his thoughts about Windows 95. “I didn’t see how they could compete.”

How Windows 95 inspired Apple

Inside Apple, the company attempted to deal with the massive success of the Windows 95 launch. Unfortunately, this didn’t turn out to be as straightforward as hoped. Copland OS, Apple’s long-awaited update to the aging System 7, sputtered to a halt. (It never shipped to more than a handful of developers.)

In Copland’s place, Apple management began looking around for something to replace it. What they eventually settled on was an operating system developed at NeXT, the company founded by Steve Jobs after he left Apple. A deal took a while to work out. However, by the following year, Jobs came back to Apple.

Ultimately, the launch of Windows 95 — which looked like a guaranteed Apple-killer — helped spur Cupertino to greater heights than ever.

Which computer system, if any, were you using in 1995? Leave your comments below.