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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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Read Comments: 1-10 -- 11-20 -- 21-30 -- 31-40 -- 41-50 -- 51-55
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RE: Re:
By mz721 on 2018-02-11 23:10:21
This is insightful. Good getting into the inexperienced user's mind. I remember the first time I had to do a stats lab. Long time ago; used an amber terminal (similar to VT 100). Text screen, no idea of what I could do, no onscreen hints as to how to bootstrap my experience. In the end I just followed a recipe from the lecturer with no understanding. Felt lost. Needed to go find a manual for HP UX (as was).

A button labelled 'Start' seems stupidly simple, but if you know absolutely nothing you can click it and start looking around.
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RE[6]: Re: (Reasons Windows 95 was well received)
By cybergorf on 2018-02-11 23:25:32
Try to install e.g. MS-Project with a standard license next to MS-Office-365, or migrate your Exchange-server: welcome to command line!
(all software beging from MS itself)
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Still happens
By Ressev on 2018-02-12 00:27:54
"We heard many stories from educators (and witnessed in the lab) how users caused the computer to run out of RAM by starting multiple copies of a program instead of switching back to the first copy."
Still see this a lot at the Help Desk I work at. People will have multiple instances of Outlook open, for instance.
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RE[3]: UI Desgin triumph
By agentj on 2018-02-12 05:04:56
I don't think they were worse, just different. Windows had major selling point of compatibility with DOS software - nearly unlimited library. Every company that used/wrote for DOS could trivially run their stuff on Windows, or in worst case start e.g. Norton Commander from autoexec.bat and begin from there.

MacOS required hardware which almost nobody had - probably because it wasn't compatible with PC. I remember some crappy Apple network at school which died because 2 or 3 people wanted to copy file between Macs. PCs used cheap BNC network which worked quite well.

NextStep - never seen any of it anywhere. Maybe in USA it was different ? Hardware was probably too expensive. Maybe if one could run it on PC back then ?

OS/2 - who needs it when you have Windows ? I don't remember anything about OS/2 in computer magazines back then - expect maybe some one paragraph corners. I tried OS/2 around 2000 and it was kicked out faster that it installed - I couldn't stand the UI.

Amiga - maybe it was too expensive for common people, but still many people used it. I remember outrageous prices of $5000 for crappy PowerPC "accelerators" which looked like an ugly tumor. Again - for that price you could buy PC way more powerful, and technology developed so fast at that time, once you buy computer the next day it was obsolete so it was probably better idea to buy upgradeable PC for cheap price and upgrade it gradually than throwing $10000 on superior hardware which became obsolete the next month because comparable or better PC component was sold for the fraction of that price.

Edited 2018-02-12 05:05 UTC
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RE: Still happens
By cb88 on 2018-02-12 06:56:05
That's missconfiguration on the part of the sysadmin as Outlook by default doesn't allow starting multiple copies of itself.

Either that or they are doing it on purpose for multiple Profiles.
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RE[4]: UI Desgin triumph
By wa2flq on 2018-02-12 07:16:35
> ...
NextStep - never seen any of it anywhere. Maybe in USA it was different ? Hardware was probably too expensive. Maybe if one could run it on PC back then ?


NeXSTEP 3.1 ran on i386 and was released in May 1993.

It was a viable alternative to running on m68k NeXT branded machines, but a bit picky on hardware. Since most development was done in Interface Builder, it was a relatively easy to rebuild your applications from prior releases. FAT Binaries allowed one to build for multiple architectures simultaneously.

I still miss the "Tear Off" Menus and Scroll Bars on the Left….

Edited 2018-02-12 07:29 UTC
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Literally
By kwan_e on 2018-02-12 08:07:29
http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/10...

The figurative use of the word is literally in the OED.
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RE[2]: Literally
By kwan_e on 2018-02-12 08:59:25
> Which means it's meaningless.

Yeah, sorry to break it to you. Many of the words you say today mean something different to, sometimes the opposite of, what they meant generations ago.
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RE[4]: Literally
By kwan_e on 2018-02-12 09:52:15
> Well yeah... I can't stand that the ignorance of the masses

You can't stand your own ignorance?
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RE[7]: Re: (Reasons Windows 95 was well received)
By Sopota on 2018-02-12 11:12:30
Migrating an Exchange Server? Are you comparing that to a WiFi driver install?

Of course you are going to use PowerShell, PS was designed just for that kind of tasks. Two years ago I migrated 7 SBS 2011 Standard boxes and having PS automation was a godsend. No one will want to do that kind of task using a GUI. That's no work for a common user.
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