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Bill Gates introduces Windows 95 during a launch event in August 1995.
Bill Gates introduces Windows 95 during a launch event in August 1995.

If you wanted to buy Windows 95 on launch day, it was going to cost you $209.95. But that launch price didn’t do much to dissuade people from buying the first major Microsoft operating system with the Start Menu. Windows 95 was one of Microsoft’s biggest steps in fulfilling Bill Gates’ dream of a computer on every desk.

Today marks the 20th anniversary of Windows 95’s release. Two decades later, after a brief disappearance, the Start Menu has been reborn for a touchscreen age as part of Windows 10 — an operating system that is free for most people, who now not only have computers on their desks, but in their pockets and even on their wrists.

Microsoft hasn’t been on the forefront of all of those revolutions, but the company’s strength in creating an OS that users wanted in their home helped usher in our increasingly computerized world.

The Start Menu, along with the taskbar, helped give people a sense of place in the digital space. While the original system requirements were laughably antiquated compared to today’s standards (4MB of memory, 55MB hard drive space and a 3.5-inch floppy drive), Windows 95 helped unlock the power of computing for non-technical users.

What else was new with Windows 95? The 32-bit OS allowed households to create separate accounts for each family member, MSN was introduced as a way to get content from the “World Wide Web,” and Plug and Play tried to make it easier to set up new peripherals while introducing many to the joys of drivers and updates.

Today, the tech isn’t as interesting as how it was introduced. From an hourlong video starring Friends favorites Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry, to what felt like an hour (but was less than 30 seconds) of Microsoft nerds like Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates dancing to ‘Start Me Up’ by the Rolling Stones, Windows 95 inserted itself in many facets of American culture from the minute it was announced.

GeekWire isn’t alone in marking the twenty-year anniversary of Windows 95; ZDNet has a nostalgic reminder of what the computing world was like in 1995 while Ars Technica goes deep into the history of the Start Menu, with plenty of garishly colored screenshots. Microsoft alums are celebrating too, with a party next month celebrating their “epic” operating system.

And of course, Apple fans are still feeling superior.

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