Windows 95 to Windows 10: How Far We Have Come in 20 Years


Last week was the anniversary of Windows 95, which was actually a life-changing launch for me. I’d just started out as an analyst, and Windows 95 was he horse I rode to fame and fortune. This milestone signifies the 20th anniversary of that product and I thought it would be fun to look back and talk about all of the changes we’ve made since then. 

Building a Windows 95 PC

1995 was the first year I built my own PC and it has remained a hobby since then. Back then, standard cases and motherboards were uncommon, memory was a crap shoot, and we measured hard drives in megabytes not gigabytes. Everything was wicked expensive and I spent the better part of a week fabricating the case and working through getting the drivers and components to work happily together. The result was kind of a Franken PC, really nothing was solidly screwed together because the holes and mounts didn’t match up. It was connected to a hardwired mouse and keyboard, a very expensive color VGA CRT 17” monitor which had a flat-glass screen and weighted a ton, but it could run for up to three days without blue-screen crashing. Oh, and for networking it was connected to an ISDN modem which, while faster than an analog modem, was still only really good for messing around on bulletin boards and it wasn’t cheap either. My internet provider was Compuserve. 

Image via Shutterstock

It took 23 floppy disks just to get the thing up and running and then a massive number of disks and time to run down the drivers and applications (mostly Microsoft Office) I needed to make it usable—plus the time it took looking up the information for the Internet service.  By the time I was done I felt I could have built a car from scratch. 

All told I likely had about $5K invested in that machine and it was good for maybe two years and was far from pretty.  Adjusting for inflation, that PC actually set me back $7,830 in today’s dollars. It had minimal graphics, less capacity and performance than a tablet does now, weighed a ton, and wasn’t even remotely reliable—yet it was so much better than the DOS machine I replaced it with that I thought I’d died and gone to heaven at the time. 

Building a Windows 10 PC

I built a Windows 10 PC over the weekend with AMD twin core processor, SSD drive, wireless network card, 16GB of memory (more system memory than my Windows 95 machine had storage). I connected it to a 34” LG monitor which cost $550 bringing the total cost to just under $1,000. I was watching a movie and snacking while I built the machine so it took me a good 30 minutes to fully assemble it and fire it up. Installing Windows 10 took me another 30 minutes unattended and this included downloading the OS and putting it on a USB drive from a working machine. I was able to install it from one USB drive and I had tons of space left over. It took another 30 minutes to download and install Office and configure Outlook, and download my mail, and then I was good to go. The system has been running for four days straight with no issues, it is connected to the fastest network that Bend Broadband has which is 100 Mbps down and 7Mbps up. To give you an idea, the download of Office 2013 took less than two minutes. 

It is amazing how fast this is compared to Windows 95, for instance while I was writing this I was taking a Lenovo Windows 7 machine to Windows 10 and installing Office and it took less time to do that than it did to write this. 

Wrapping Up

1995 was an amazing year but I can remember the crazy problems that OS caused. People got so excited they were putting it on every PC they could find and that wasn’t ending well.  At Intel some engineer put it on a PC that controlled one of their huge FABs and the entire FAB crashed and was down for weeks costing the company millions. I’m pretty sure his review would have been fascinating to watch and would have provided a cross section of words you shouldn’t say in front of children. In my own case I put it on our CEO’s laptop and bricked it; neither she nor our IT department was amused (also a good lesson in non-child safe words). One of the products that came out shortly after was the Microsoft Phone, a wireless phone with voicemail that worked off the PC—but didn’t work if the PC had crashed. It was not successful.  

Windows 10 machines can run for months without crashing, they cost a fraction of what a Windows 95 machine cost and the performance difference isn’t even on the same planet.  So, happy anniversary Windows 95, I loved you in the 1990s, but I really don’t miss you at all.   

Edited by Dominick Sorrentino

President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

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