Retro Friday: Windows 95 (Re)Build Information

It’s becoming more common that both kids and adults are (re)building PCs to specifically run Windows 95 as fun side projects. Why Win95 and not Win98? Probably because there’s just more retro flavor to running a real Win95 environment, and the fact that it’s more of a challenge. Sure, you can put together a Win98 PC easily as it has USB 2.0 support, support for large hard disks and so on. But Win95? That operating environment probably counts as The Last Of The Truly Old School Windows For PCs. Some say that "honor", if you will, belongs to Windows 98. I say nay to that because truly old school means pre-USB 2.0 days.

Below is a video in 3 parts listing off a general overview of what to do to get your Win95 environment running, however I’m going to mention a few things more in detail that the videos didn’t cover.

Microsoft Office

The 4 versions of MS Office that run on Windows 95 are Office 4.3, Office 95, Office 97 and Office 2000. The best you can run is 2000, followed by 97, then followed by 4.3. Office 95 is a complete waste of time to use because it’s unstable and crash-happy.

If you don’t have Office but do have an old copy of Microsoft Works for Windows 95, that works very well – but its file format is basically compatible with absolutely nothing other than itself.

Security

"Windows 95" and "security" shouldn’t even be in the same sentence, because there basically is no security in the Win95 environment.

It is absolutely mandatory that you do not share files or folders in the Win95 environment, because anything shared is public to the world when connected to the internet. Don’t even trust Win95 file sharing behind a router. Just don’t do it.

Win95 compatible IM programs from major providers

You may be tempted to run a Win95 compatible version of AOL Instant Messenger, the very old Windows Messenger (that was even before it was called MSN, much less Windows Live) or Y! Messenger. Don’t. All of them are very insecure. You can easily get your account compromised by doing that. Use Miranda as shown in the videos below.

Microsoft Outlook Express 5

OE5 does have the ability to connect with SSL, and that’s a huge plus because it means you can access email accounts such as Gmail. However there is no ability to block any images, no spam protection and no way to instruct OE5 to read all messages in plain text, because that didn’t appear until OE6 – and no, OE6 will not run on Win95.

Web browsing

I only recommend using Seamonkey 1.1.19 because if you use anything else, you’ll end up crashing all over the place. You can if you wish install an old Netscape to get your nostalgia fix, but you’ll quickly discover that the moment the browser hits any JavaScript, it will crash.

I recommend Seamonkey over Firefox 2 because Seamonkey is more stable in the Win95 environment, and has more useful built-in features.

Music playback

WinAMP v2.81 is what you should get. Very small, very fast and doesn’t dig its claws into Windows Media (video) at all; that’s a good thing.

If you have any other questions about Win95 apps, ask me by posting a comment.

One final note before the videos:

Why would anyone bother with this?

That’s like asking someone why they would build an Altair 8800. If you have to ask, you just don’t understand – but I’ll attempt to answer the question anyway.

Using Windows 95 brings many of us back to a time when computers were a whole lot simpler, and the simple look of Win95, the way it works, the way you navigate through the environment and so on just feels much more "human".

What a PC with Win95 can do that computers like the Altair, Apple II, Commodore 64 and PCs before Win95 couldn’t (or at least not very well) is access the internet. There is just something amazingly cool about taking an operating environment that’s 17 years old and actually getting stuff done with it, online, on its own. With older computers, they need "help" via custom built network cards, special software, etc. Not Windows 95. On its own with the right equipment that was available back then, you can get it on the internet with no "external influences", so to speak.

When specifically outfitted with Office 4.3, 97 or 2000, and a compatible printer (like an old HP LaserJet III, 4 or 5), you can actually do real work on a Win95 computer even today. Send and receive email? Sure. Type up documents, print envelopes and so on? Not a problem. Browse web sites? For the most part, yes (except for YouTube or Flash-heavy stuff for obvious reasons).

No, I’m not saying to trash your newer PC(s) and go back to Win95. What I am saying is that when you outfit one of those old boxes the right way, you’ve got yourself a usable computer – and that’s awesome.

Comments

  1. I do a few a year for people that love those classic games. Using the 17″ CRT monitors helps as well.  Don’t forget your $5.00 floppy drive. I recently did one for a guy would had hundreds of DOS games on 3.5″ floppy’s. He was a happy camper loading that first game, Duke Nukem and it all worked like it used to, of course after tweaking the sound card settings. I had a brand new AMD DFI board from moons ago and all went together without a hitch.

    • NOS (New Old Stock) is the best stuff for building a retro box. There’s thousands of motherboards, NICs and the like from the mid-to-late 1990s all NIB (New In Box) that make for fantastic retro builds if you can find the hardware. If I built one personally, I’d use the FreeDOS OS, with the only new hardware exception being an SATA/PATA/IDE to USB converter to make the primary hard disk a CompactFlash or USB stick. The only thing I don’t like about the old boxes is the HDD noise. Easily cured by using a CF or USB stick instead, which FreeDOS will run on.

      •  That is a good idea on the CompactFlash. I still have many new and old IDE drives but your right, they are rather loud, kind of adds to the nostalgia. I used an old IBM Deathstar but it was new, talk about loud, I thought it was bad.

        • My retro has limits, and one of them is HDD noise. :) There’s the good kind of noise like the click-clacking keyboard of keys with mechanical buckling springs (a.k.a. IBM Model M), but as for HDD noise, no way. I’ll take a silent CF over an old noisy HDD any day. As far as I know, the HDD activity light on the outside of the case still blinks when the CF is in use anyway since the CF is directly connected via IDE, so you’ve still got your “authentic” aesthetic there.

  2. Nice article. Thanks!

  3. Enjoyed the article although I haven’t done one in 95 for years.  I keep a triple boot SE active for email purposes although the main partition is also dual boot to DOS for those things that work better without the GUI getting in the way.

  4. Enjoyed the article although I haven’t done one in 95 for years.  I keep a triple boot SE active for email purposes although the main partition is also dual boot to DOS for those things that work better without the GUI getting in the way.

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