Designing Windows 95’s User Interface
Three years ago I came across an interesting paper written up by a Microsoft employee, Kent Sullivan, on the process and findings of designing the new user interface for Windows 95. The web page has since been taken down – one reason why I’m a bit of a digital hoarder.
It specified some of the common issues experienced from Windows 3.1’s Program Manager shell and looked at the potential of developing a separate shell for ‘beginners’. Admittedly my inclination was that this was possibly inspired by Apple’s At Ease program that was reasonably popular during the System 7 days. I remember At Ease well during my primary school years, so kids couldn’t mess with the hard disk in Finder.
It’s coming up for 25 years since Windows 95 was launched. As someone who upgraded from Windows 3.1 that year, I remember what a revelation it was compared to its predecessor in terms of usability. Yes, it was clunky, but it was the start of the journey to the Windows we use today, and you can still see its echoes in places. (Of course, that journey turned out to be a lot more winding that anyone could have guesses, with a few dead ends and detours.)