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Designing Windows 95's user interface
By Thom Holwerda on 2018-02-10 00:11:34

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.

So here's what Kent had to say verbatim in his paper titled "The Windows 95 User Interface: A Case Study in Usability Engineering" so it’s not lost altogether.

However you feel about Windows 95, there's no denying that its user interface is probably one of the most iconic and well-known user interfaces ever designed and developed. Literally everyone knows it and has used it, and it singlehandedly defined what a personal computer's UI should work like. It's incredibly fascinating to read about the thought processes behind its development.

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RE[3]: Re: (Reasons Windows 95 was well received)
By WorknMan on 2018-02-10 16:27:36
> Unless you`re doing something unusual, you don`t have to use cli at all.

Define 'unusual'. Does that include wanting to install something outside of the default package manager? Or updating the entire system?

Edited 2018-02-10 16:27 UTC
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RE: Re:
By malxau on 2018-02-10 17:36:01
> I think the reasons Windows 95's UI was so well received are...3) Each drive has its own root...the concept of your main harddrive being the "root" and other harddrives becoming a subfolder in your main harddrive is a bewildering concept to the average user.

I'd argue Win95 was a bold step towards UNIX in this respect. Win3.1 exposed each drive uniquely in File Manager and the open/save dialog. Win95 exposed a tree rooted at "Desktop", and under that "My Computer", and under that drives. If /mnt were renamed "/My Computer", the two would look similar. The difference is in Win95 the user saw this hierarchy but developers needed to think in terms of drive roots, whereas in UNIX the developer sees something closer to what the user sees.
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RE[3]: Re: (Reasons Windows 95 was well received)
By Darkmage on 2018-02-10 23:37:13
There are tons of Linux things which can only be configured using the CLI. Stop being in denial about reality.What you'd be better off doing is using a linux machine for a week or a month and documenting every time you had to access the CLI.
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RE[2]: Re:
By kurkosdr on 2018-02-11 00:23:27
>
I'd argue Win95 was a bold step towards UNIX in this respect. Win3.1 exposed each drive uniquely in File Manager and the open/save dialog. Win95 exposed a tree rooted at "Desktop", and under that "My Computer", and under that drives. If /mnt were renamed "/My Computer", the two would look similar.

Nope. Hierarchy-wise, the files of the CD-ROM drive did NOT appear under the C: drive's root. The weird thing about the Unix file system is that your main harddrive is in "/" and "/mnt" is other drives, inside the main harddrive. Good luck explaining to the average user how the main harddrive does not have a mount point in mnt but every other drive has, and mnt is under the main harddrive hierarchy-wise which is actually "/".

Let's be honest, the hole thing was a giant hack to quickly kludge multi-drive support onto Unix without going through the effort to make the OS support multiple drive roots. The fact each filesystem is a tree and hence the natural way to represent them is as a forest did not occur to these guys because clever hacks matter more than usability in unixland.

Edited 2018-02-11 00:29 UTC
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RE: UI Desgin triumph
By unclefester on 2018-02-11 01:58:09
> I remember years ago an article that tried to make the case that it was the attention to UI design and the iterative UX testing that Microsoft did that allowed it to triumph over OS/2 Warp.

I think that's a bunch of ux nerd talk, personally. The examples they gave were pretty obscure. If people actually had a chance to compare and use them side by side, I think a lot of people would have been won over by the OS/2 stability and ability to work with lesser hardware. I had friends who's families had saved up for a new computer and purchased a machine loaded with win 3, that was incompatible with the new windows 95 that was released less than a year later. But these machines worked fine with OS/2. Not sure how common that was. But the bad UX of win 3.1 was a big mover in people wanting to upgrade, the stability problems of win 95 didn't seem to deter people.


OS/2 had TWO major problems. It needed very powerful (for the time) hardware and had almost no native software.
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RE[2]: Re: (Reasons Windows 95 was well received)
By cmost on 2018-02-11 02:41:36
> The fact that the Linux distributions still require the use of the command line interface for many basic system configuration tasks is likely a stumbling block for many.

You're obviously not a Linux user so you probably shouldn't comment on things that you clearly don't know much about. Linux distros do not in fact require the command line interface for basic system configuration tasks. Sure, one can use it if one wants but most mainstream Linux distributions have had fully GUI desktops for some time now (in fact a multitude of different choices of desktop environments exist for Linux distros such as Gnome, KDE, Cinnamon, XFce, LXDE, Pantheon and Enlightenment...just to name a few.) System configuration is done on Linux just like it's done on Windows or Mac, through a control panel or a system configuration applet.
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RE[3]: Re: (Reasons Windows 95 was well received)
By ssokolow on 2018-02-11 06:01:58
To be fair, it depends on the desktop.

In KDE or GNOME, sure. You'll probably be able to configure everything graphically.

Under LXDE, you're likely to need at least one visit to a raw configuration file to get everything just right.
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RE[2]: Re: (Reasons Windows 95 was well received)
By unclefester on 2018-02-11 08:22:05
>

The fact that the Linux distributions still require the use of the command line interface for many basic system configuration tasks is likely a stumbling block for many.


The major distros have used GUI based tools configuration since the early 2000s e.g. Yeast and Red Carpet.
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RE[3]: Re: (Reasons Windows 95 was well received)
By kurkosdr on 2018-02-11 08:52:58
> You're obviously not a Linux user so you probably shouldn't comment on things that you clearly don't know much about. Linux distros do not in fact require the command line interface for basic system configuration tasks. Sure, one can use it if one wants but most

Wrong. Installing WiFi drivers is a basic system configuration task and I had to use dpkg to get it done.

Edited 2018-02-11 08:53 UTC
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RE[2]: UI Desgin triumph
By kurkosdr on 2018-02-11 08:59:38
> OS/2 had TWO major problems. It needed very powerful (for the time) hardware and had almost no native software.

And couldn't print for sh!t, and installation failed even in some of IBM's own systems, and the apps could freeze the entire UI.

Half-an-OS indeed. This is what I tell to the linuxeros who accuse Windows of allegedly being an inferior product. Windows survived the real desktop OS wars of the 90s: MacOS, OS/2, NextStep, even Amiga still had a foothold in the early 90s. Windows won because all these other products were either unaffordable or worse.

Edited 2018-02-11 09:00 UTC
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