Microsoft has taken steps to ensure that Windows 95 will become an footnote in terms of sales. One of Microsoft's most popular products among both consumers and businesses, the operating system (OS) is still in use at many corporations today.
The licenses that let most computer makers incorporate the OS in new computers expired 31 December 2000. As a result, Dell Computer and other computer makers no longer install the OS on new computers except under special circumstances.
"Beginning January 01, 2001, Dell is no longer licensed to factory install Windows 95," states an "end of life" notice on Dell's Web site.
In addition, Microsoft is not offering the OS under new volume licensing agreements that it sells directly to medium-sized to large businesses, according to company representatives. The only place that the OS is still being sold is in the "original equipment manufacturers' distribution channel," the network of distributors, dealers and small manufacturers. However, sales have dwindled.
"Windows 95 is definitely a legacy, discontinued program. None of the systems coming from the manufacturers has Windows 95 anymore. Everything has either Windows 2000 or 98," said Mark Romanowski, vice president of services for Long Island City, New York-based dealer Jade Systems.
Still, Romanowski added, it's not impossible to obtain the OS. "We may blow (the pre-installed operating systems) away and put in Windows 95 or NT 4, if that's what the customer wants and they're uncomfortable with Windows 2000," he said.
Even then, anyone who has purchased a copy of Windows 95 through a dealer or even a Windows 95 computer from a small manufacturer has had to pay for technical support calls since last fall. With Windows 98, a customer gets two free calls from Microsoft and often more from the dealer.
Windows 95 has been one of Microsoft's most successful OS releases. The company released the software with a worldwide marketing frenzy in the summer of 1995. TV ads pulsing to the haggard Rolling Stones hit "Start Me Up" flooded the airwaves. Lighted images of Microsoft's logo were projected upon skyscrapers. A virtual army of golf shirt-clad Microsoft employees were dispersed globally to distribute copies to computer fans who lined up at midnight to buy copies of it.
To some degree, the OS lived up to its hype and created a more enhanced Internet experience. And in a relatively short time, it became a standard operating system for corporate computers.
"If you look at Windows 95, it was a quantum leap in difference in technological capability and stability," Gardner analyst Neil MacDonald said.
Phasing out products, even ones that enjoyed a brief status as a pop culture phenomenon like Windows 95, is part of the tech landscape. Windows 95 doesn't work with a number of new devices coming on the market, so its exit from the market is inevitable.
Nonetheless, the decision to phase it out contains a financial motive for Microsoft, MacDonald said. The company wants customers to upgrade to Windows 2000, the OS for business computers released last year that is designed to replace Windows 95 as the business OS of choice.
Windows 2000 adoption has been slower than anticipated. With Microsoft making Windows 95 difficult to obtain, customers will naturally gravitate toward Windows 2000, or at least toward Windows 98, he said.
Microsoft uses other methods to encourage customers to shift as well, MacDonald said. Microsoft Office 10, the company's latest application package, is not compatible with Windows 95, he said. Microsoft also will not provide bug fixes after Dec. 31 of this year, which encourages migration.
"If you are a business, it becomes a risk-management decision when a vendor says that they won't provide anymore bug fixes or security fixes," MacDonald said.
People really burning for Windows 95, of course, can get it. Dell, for instance, will sell the OS through its custom integration service. To get that service, though, customers must order at least 25 PCs, said Dell spokeswoman Anne Camden. Dell also charges an additional fee for burning in the custom software.
Dell, however, will not "support," or provide consultation or troubleshooting, on Windows 95 installed on machines bought after Dec. 31 of last year. For help, customers will need to call Microsoft, which will charge for the call.
Customers with licensing agreements for Windows 95 signed before the end of last year can also continue to buy the OS as permitted by the contract.
The legacy of Windows 95 can be seen in Microsoft's balance sheets. The OS jump-started years of growing revenue and profits for Microsoft and introduced computing to millions. Ironically, the OS also contributed to the feeling of anticlimax that grips the company today. Simply put, Windows 98, Windows Me and some other successors have not been as impressive. Customers aren't upgrading just to get the new OS.
"There is not a whole lot of difference between Windows 95 and Windows 98 and Windows 98 and Windows Me," MacDonald said. "How many bells and whistles can you continue to add before no one cares?"
Mary Jo Foley and CNET News.com's Joe Wilcox contributed to this report.
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