I'm not sure which of these points is scarier:
* That Windows 95 was released 20 years ago;
* that it represents the halfway point between the Altair 8800 and the present day; or
* that it was good enough that I still use it more often than any other OS today.
It's no secret that I have defended Windows 95 at various points over the years, and I maintain to this day that it represents a rare moment when the stars aligned and Microsoft engaged in serious usability research to make a GUI that was both powerful and flexible, didn't talk down to users, and was a joy to use. Functionally it was a quantum leap over the memory limits, 16-bit limitations, and awkward Program Manager UI of Windows 3.x...yet it also maintained almost perfect compatibility with DOS and 3.x programs. The Win95 APIs were also surprisingly robust, since they were capable of running the most up-to-date version of Firefox more than a decade later. I sometimes wonder what Windows 95 (and NT4, and 2000) could run today if software developers didn't use MSVC compilers that are rigged to break compatibility with older Windows versions.
That said, when I see pictures of people eagerly scooping up copies of Windows 95 on the day it was released...it just makes me scratch my head. It was common knowledge among users at the time that that "point-O" releases were to be avoided as reliability risks, and just about anyone who jumped the gun and ironed the RTM version over crufty 3.1 installations was asking for trouble. To be fair, the OS showed promise from the beginning...but it wasn't until the OSR2 releases came out within 1996 and 1997 bug fixes and FAT32 support that Windows 95 really became good. Yet by that point, Windows 95's "time in the sun" was almost through. I've never understood the "upgrade mentality" of seeking out new software products for their own sake instead of seeing them as a means to an end, and I wonder how many of Win95's early fans and endorsers blindly dropped it like a hot rock three years later simply because Windows 98 was available.
My take on the Windows 95 era was also soured by its maker's anticompetitive aggressions. The first sign of this was obvious the moment you started the OS: Microsoft had "integrated" MS-DOS 7 with it, making it impossible to run the GUI over an IBM or Novell version of DOS and making it impossible to acquire MS-DOS 7 separately. Microsoft pushed PC vendors to slap "Designed for Windows 95" stickers on their products, made it nigh impossible to buy a computer without Windows 95 pre-installed, and made it impossible to legally resell the bundled OS. This segued into the IE4/Windows 98 debacle, where Microsoft demonstrated that they were willing to ruin the usability and security of their OS just to leverage another product...which segued into the Microsoft anti-trust trial, which ended with a whimper without much of anything done.
Almost unintentionally, this drove me straight into the arms of Windows 95: If consumers, OEMs, 20 states, and the U.S. Department of Justice couldn't convince Microsoft to make a usable operating system free of IE integration that treated computer users with respect and couldn't break them up when they wouldn't, the least that I could do was use the last Windows version that worked the way I wanted it to...and use it to the end. (Or use it until Apple or the fractured Linux community win me over. So far, I'm not holding my breath.)
By now, my relationship with Windows 95 has seen twenty years of ups and downs. It's been a steady challenge keeping it running and useful in a changing world (and I have started keeping Windows 2000 on hand as a secondary OS)...but it's not dead yet!
"Now crush your computer into small chunks, add flour, and bake one hour."