Visual tour: 25 years of Windows

See how the world's most popular operating system has evolved over the last quarter century.

1995: Windows 95

Windows 95

Screenshot courtesy of Microsoft.

Windows 95, released in August 1995, combined DOS with Windows for the first time: Rather than installing Windows on top of DOS, you installed only Windows 95, which included both DOS and Windows. It was also the first consumer version of Windows that began moving away from a 16-bit architecture and toward a 32-bit one; in other words, it was a mix of 32-bit code and 16-bit code.

The operating system introduced many interface improvements, including several that live to this day, such as the taskbar and the Start menu. Support for file names longer than eight characters was added as well. It was far more stable than previous versions of Windows and was the first to support Intel's Plug and Play standard, which was designed to make it easier to add hardware and peripherals to your PC; the idea was that Windows would automatically recognize and configure attached hardware. It was a step forward, but it didn't always work -- some people referred to it as "plug and pray."

At a minimum, Windows 95 required an 80386 DX CPU, 4MB of system RAM and 120MB of hard drive space -- although it was sluggish on a computer that just met those requirements. An 80486-based PC and 8MB of RAM made for a much better experience.

Windows 95 was notable for another reason as well -- the massive marketing campaign that accompanied its launch was said to have cost $300 million and included purchasing the rights to the Rolling Stones song "Start Me Up" as the Windows 95 theme song; draping a 300-foot Windows 95 banner over Toronto's CN Tower; lighting the Empire State Building with Microsoft's corporate colors of yellow, red and green; and creating a promotional instructional video that featured Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry from the hit TV show Friends.

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