Windows 95: Doomed by Its Own Success

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2005-08-24 Print this article Print

Opinion: Perhaps Microsoft could have foreseen the insecure future to come, but it still might not have changed its behavior, and it would have been hard for the company to do so.

It was 10 years ago this Wednesday, Aug. 24, 1995. Into a world dominated by American military power and 16-bit operating systems Microsoft launched Windows 95. It really did change the world, and in the process it doomed us to an insecurity in computing that its hard to see us escaping. Microsoft had only token concerns about security at the time, and to be fair, none of its plausible competitors for the desktop (at the time Apple and IBM) really had a sense of it either.
Microsoft was more concerned about growth, about using Windows 95 to grow the entire PC industry, and in this they succeeded spectacularly.
Within several years there were millions of people running Windows 95 and Windows 98 computers with no experience at all. This has been one of the major reasons why the Internet has turned into a lawless haven for vandals and thieves: Victims are everywhere.

The experience gained by these users in the 10 years of the Win32 era hasnt helped much. As both Microsoft and especially Apple appreciated, there are lots of people who just dont want to know whats going on in their computers, and if somethings wrong theyre more inclined to sit there and curse at the computer than to learn how to fix it. Even better for the industry, sometimes theyll address a software configuration problem by buying a new computer. Ive seen it myself.

And its not just coincidence that growth ballooned at this time. The expansion of the computing base didnt just happen at the time of Windows 95, it was because of Windows 95 and Windows 98, which made it much easier to write powerful software, much easier to support just about any new device, supported more powerful computers and still had a decent level of compatibility with the dominant Win16 world.

But for all they did right with Windows 95 Microsoft was, as Ive said, oblivious to security issues, although Win95 did break a lot of the existing DOS viruses. Remember that as Windows 95 shipped, Microsoft was only awakening to the significance of the Internet, let alone security problems on it. It was shortly before then that it licensed the Spyglass Mosaic browser in order to build Internet Explorer on it. IE didnt make it on to the Windows 95 retail disks, although it was on the OEM versions from the beginning. Most users wouldnt have known the difference between IE and that stupid Imaging app that nobody ever used. Those who knew what a Web browser was were more likely to download the Netscape browser.

Next Page: MS CrystalBall 95.

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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