Windows 95 (codenamed Chicago) is a consumer-oriented operating system developed by Microsoft as part of its Windows 9x family of operating systems. The first operating system in the 9x family, it is the successor to Windows 3.1x, and was released to manufacturing on August 15, 1995, and generally to retail on August 24, 1995. Windows 95 merged Microsoft’s formerly separate MS-DOS and Microsoft Windows products, and featured significant improvements over its predecessor, most notably in the graphical user interface (GUI) and in its simplified “plug-and-play” features. There were also major changes made to the core components of the operating system, such as moving from a mainly cooperatively multitasked 16-bit architecture to a 32-bit preemptive multitasking architecture, at least when running only 32-bit protected mode applications.
Accompanied by an extensive marketing campaign, Windows 95 introduced numerous functions and features that were featured in later Windows versions, such as the taskbar, the “Start” button and the ways the user could navigate.
Three years after its introduction, Windows 95 was succeeded by Windows 98. Microsoft ended extended support for Windows 95 on December 31, 2001.
The initial design and planning of Windows 95 can be traced back to around March 1992, just after the release of Windows 3.1. At this time, Windows for Workgroups 3.1 and Windows NT 3.1 were still in development and Microsoft’s plan for the future was focused on Cairo. Cairo would be Microsoft’s next-generation operating system based on Windows NT and featuring a new user interface and an object-based file system, but it was not planned to be shipped before 1994 (Cairo would eventually partially ship in July 1996 in the form of Windows NT 4.0, but without the object-based file system, which would later evolve into WinFS).
Simultaneously with Windows 3.1’s release, IBM started shipping OS/2 2.0. Microsoft realized they were in need of an updated version of Windows that could support 32-bit applications and preemptive multitasking, but could still run on low-end hardware (Windows NT did not). So the development of Windows “Chicago” was started and, as it was planned for a late 1993 release, became known as Windows 93. Initially, the decision was made not to include a new user interface, as this was planned for Cairo, and only focus on making installation, configuration, and networking easier. Windows 93 would ship together with MS-DOS 7.0, offering a more integrated experience to the user and making it pointless for other companies to create DOS clones. MS-DOS 7.0 was in development at that time under the code name “Jaguar” and could optionally run on top of a Windows 3.1-based 32-bit protected mode kernel called “Cougar” in order to better compete with DR-DOS.
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