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On Windows95 v2.1

Good times.


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24 August 1995. It finally arrived. Had they called it the Golden Release? Or the Premium Release? All files stamped with the same time - something like 09:50 or whatever.

Weezer was there.



So was Edie Brickell.



And Brian Eno contributed 6.12 seconds of the 'Windows 95 Sound'.

Within 24 hours we had our first crash - a misalignment in the Registry. Reinstall and everything was fine.

Win95 was a mishmash of Cutler ideas and legacy Windows modules. The ambition of going full preemptive multitasking didn't hold. Redmond had begged the ISVs to stop with their trickery; they didn't listen. Stuck with cruft running through the old GDE.EXE, KRNL.EXE, and USER.EXE (they were DLLs despite the names) things could get stuck in the Win16Mutex. This was a strange creature that allowed only one thread (in all the system) to delve into 16-bit code at a time. You wanna go down there? You go into a wait state, waiting for the mutex to be freed. As you go down, the mutex is again set so no one can follow after.

Explorer replaced Winfile, but Winfile remained. Explorer now utilised something called the 'Shell Namespace', which prompted Radsoft to write a real file manager for the platforms. Over on the NT side, Cutler's gang had countered with a fully 32-bit Winfile, while on the 95 side you still saw mangled filenames.

Steve Ballmer, in typical Ballmer fashion, had boasted, over and over again, that Win95 ran faster than Windows for Workgroups on the same hardware. Which of course was an outright lie: at the big demo event in Stockholm, people could see users needing ten seconds realtime just to maximise and minimise a window, all the while a cover band hovered over the auditorium on an elevated platform, churning out U2 covers that were worse than the originals.

No major OEM had the memory or speed to cope with Win95, save Dell, where you could customise a machine online and get it sent out in a couple of weeks.

Microsoft wanted to marry their 9x and NT lines, something we pointed out at the beginning of our programming classes. (We had a secret source within the Redmond organisation, got all their nightly builds sent over to us.) Cutler had joined Microsoft already four years earlier, at least: his moniker could be found on header files, along with the creation date. Dave and his minimal crew - the 'Tribe' - started out on Intel 860 machines.

Dave really thought that Bill only wanted a file server. (Thus the client/server architecture of NT.) It was only when Bill was sure that Dave had his feet stuck in the mud that he let on about his true intentions.

'We like what you're doing', said Bill's emissaries. (Bill wouldn't dare attend such a meeting himself.) 'But we want a workstation version too.'

'A workstation? This is a file server!'

'Yes, well we want a workstation version. And then there's the graphical user interface.'

'GRAPHICAL USER INTERFACE? ON A FUCKING SERVER?' File servers sat in dark rooms, mostly unattended. One of our admins had NT 3.50 running for years. He didn't bother doing anything with it. Now this? A graphical user interface? WTF for?

'Well you see, Dave, we have this new concept - it's called Zero Administration.'

'What's that?'

'Well our idea is that tomorrow's network admins won't have to have the education you have.'

Seismologists could have detected a tremor in the state of Washington at this point.

'And we've brought along a few people to this meeting who we think might be helpful to you. They're with the Win16 team.'

Things got ugly at that point. Dave, who's much like a Marine, lost it. But said was said and done was done. Dave put some special keys in the NT Server registry to stop the system behaving like a server and more like a workstation. Those keys were hard to find, but if you encountered them, you were likely to be greeted by a message box that told you the following.

YOU HAVE ATTEMPTED TO CHANGE THE TERMS OF YOUR LICENCE AGREEMENT.

YOU MAY NOT CONTINUE.

Mister Bill had just come out with his minimum opus 'The Road Ahead' where he expressed a humble desire to be part of the coming revolution in computing. He suggested that computers instead be called 'communicators' in the future. Gee, Bill was such a nice guy.

Up in the upper right hand corner of every window on Win95 were the classic minimise, maximise, and close buttons. Except they weren't buttons at all: they were rendered with the new Marlett font. This was done to improve overall speed in the machine. Odds are they still use that font today. (The interfaces are still ugly.)

Microsoft had used a special toolkit DLL from Wes Cherry to simulate Win95 before it came out. Toolbar buttons were going to be a problem. After Borland had introduced their 'speed bar', Microsoft felt compelled to do something with their old 'toolbox', an array of 28x28 bitmaps that could assume any of six states. Colours were white, grey, black, and dark red. The boyz got to work again, and produced a toolbar engine - you gave the engine a single 24x24 image and the engine did the rest.

The snag was that the engine only worked (but worked well) if the supplied image held to greyscale. Introduce colour and everything turned to porridge. So, when touring the world in 1993 and 1994 and talking about their coming 'Chicago', Microsoft representatives reiterated that colours in a toolbar was childish.

Yet finally some brave soul in Redmond tried putting light yellow in a few of the glyphs. Then dark blue. Whoah. And this was soon followed by a veritable colour explosion - so much so that by the time Win95 came out, toolbar buttons couldn't do the old 'chiseled' look when they were to be disabled. (Borland used a dithering overlay image to make theirs look faded.) Microsoft's solution? Beep the sucker! So now, when you hit the Paste button - which was fully and obviously enabled - but you had nothing available to paste in, your computer burped at you instead! Brilliant.

If it hadn't been for the generous licence from the Regents, Win95 might not have got online. People in the know said that Microsoft had taken the Berkeley sockets code and made a right mess of it, leaks all over the place.

And we'd yet to see OLE transformed into ActiveX, and the introduction of that fabulous product 'Visual J++'. The browser wars were yet to erupt fully. Bill was yet to be brought before TP Jackson at the DOJ. Melissa hadn't yet hit, ILOVEYOU was almost five years off, Code Red as well. The deluge of hundreds of thousands (millions?) of patently childishly simple Windows exploits (worldwide epidemics) was yet to hit.

Yes, those were good times.

See Also
Windows95 v2.1

About Rixstep

Stockholm/London-based Rixstep are a constellation of programmers and support staff from Radsoft Laboratories who tired of Windows vulnerabilities, Linux driver issues, and cursing x86 hardware all day long. Rixstep have many years of experience behind their efforts, with teaching and consulting credentials from the likes of British Aerospace, General Electric, Lockheed Martin, Lloyds TSB, SAAB Defence Systems, British Broadcasting Corporation, Barclays Bank, IBM, Microsoft, and Sony/Ericsson.

Rixstep and Radsoft products are or have been in use by Sweden's Royal Mail, Sony/Ericsson, the US Department of Defense, the offices of the US Supreme Court, the Government of Western Australia, the German Federal Police, Verizon Wireless, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Microsoft Corporation, the New York Times, Apple Inc, Oxford University, and hundreds of research institutes around the globe. See here.

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