Back on the consumer track, Microsoft readied a new version for release on August 24, 1995. This version, Windows 95, was perhaps the biggest Windows release of them all.
Figure 8 Windows 95—the biggest Windows release ever
It might be hard to imagine 15 years later, but the release of Windows 95 was a genuine media event, with live television coverage and customers lined up outside stores waiting for the midnight release of the product. (I was there; were you?) This was Windows hitting the big time, to the soundtrack of the Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up."
What was the big deal? Windows 95 looked better and worked better, both things for which users had been waiting for years. This was a major rewrite of the Windows 95 code base, dramatically improving the user interface and moving Windows to a pseudo 32-bit platform. (A 16-bit kernel remained for compatibility with older applications.)
Windows 95 introduced the Taskbar, which held buttons for all open windows. It was also the first version of Windows to use the Start button and Start menu (hence the tie to the Rolling Stones' song); desktop shortcuts, right-clicking, and long file names also debuted in this version.
Also new for Windows 95—although not shipping in the initial version—was Microsoft's Internet Explorer web browser. IE 1.0 was initially available in Windows 95's Plus! add-on pack; version 2.0 was included in Win95's Service Pack 1, which was available in December, 1995.
Windows 98, also named after its release year (1998), was an evolutionary change to the previous version. It looked and felt pretty much like Windows 95, even though it did include some useful improvement under the hood. These improvements included USB support, Internet Connection Sharing, and the FAT32 file system, all worthwhile but none particularly earth-shattering.
Interestingly, Microsoft released an updated "Second Edition" version of Windows 98 in 1999. (Why Microsoft didn't call it Windows 99 is not known.) This version had even fewer noticeable changes, containing mostly bug fixes.
This brings us to the "millennium edition" of Windows, released in the year 2000. Windows Me, as this version was called, was perhaps Microsoft's biggest mistake, a minor upgrade that seemingly broke more things than it fixed.
This new version upgraded Windows 98's multimedia and Internet features, added the Windows Movie Maker application, and introduced the System Restore utility—all good things. Unfortunately, Windows Me was notably bug-ridden and prone to frequent freezes and crashes. This caused many consumers—and most businesses—to skip the upgrade entirely.