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In Windows 95, when you start up your computer, you see this message:

Starting Windows 95...

But in Windows 98, this is replaced entirely by the boot logo.

Was this just for a better appearance, or was this because of something else?

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  • 16
    There was actually a support article on Microsoft's support site explaining this, but a couple years ago, Microsoft deleted all the support articles for unsupported OSes.
    – gparyani
    Jun 1 at 23:28
  • 6
    @gparyani, irrefutably proving, once again, that their URIs are not cool. Jun 3 at 10:39
  • 3
    @gparyani Do you have the old URL for that article? It might be on the Wayback Machine. Jun 3 at 16:34
  • 2
    @AJM-Reinstate-Monica I presume it’s the Q178548 article I linked in my answer. Jun 4 at 20:55
  • @user3840170 I think you're right! Jun 7 at 8:46
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The message hasn’t gone anywhere. What actually changed is something else.

The text message first appeared in MS-DOS 6.0 and said ‘Starting MS-DOS...’. It served two purposes: first, it confirmed that MSLOAD has successfully completed reading the DOS kernel from IO.SYS and initialisation is now underway. Second, it signalled the user that they can now press a function key triggering an alternative boot mode: F5 to skip boot-time configuration (CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT), or F8 to enable interactive boot (step-by-step confirmation). To give the user a window of opportunity to press either key before the system starts, there is a two-second delay after the message is displayed. The presence of the delay, and the availability of alternative boot modes can be configured by the SWITCHES= setting in CONFIG.SYS.

Windows 95 added the boot logo, made F8 open a menu instead of directly enabling interactive boot, and changed the message to ‘Starting Windows 95...’. The code running at that point remained largely the same, though, as Andrew Schulman was all too quick to point out in Unauthorized Windows 95. The reason for the logo was, of course, marketing. As Schulman also pointed out (ad nauseam), Microsoft’s marketing for Windows 95 emphasised it being highly ‘integrated’. They wanted to present Windows 95 as a unified, user-friendly experience, much like the Macintosh was. As such, they decided not to intimidate the user with scrolling gobbledegook when the system starts and instead show a pretty loading screen. Though in case someone actually needed to read all that gobbledegook for debugging purposes, the boot splash could be dismissed with the Esc key, revealing the screen contents hidden beneath. The implementation of all this was a quite ingenious hack, by the way, but that’s a whole other story.

Windows 98 merely updated the message and the logo with the new operating system version; both are still present, and pressing Esc when the logo is displayed will confirm this. What actually changed here is that the two-second delay after the message appears has been eliminated. Windows 98 also introduced an alternative keyboard trigger for the boot menu (Ctrl) that the user could simply start holding before the boot sector is loaded and then just wait. This wouldn’t have been possible with function keys, since the BIOS may have cleared the keyboard buffer before transferring control to the boot sector (as I remember, many in fact did); but since lone modifier keys aren’t stored in the buffer, their state should remain intact when DOS checks it. Since there was no longer a need for the delay, it was removed, and the message became much easier to miss, especially on the US version of Windows; non-English versions of Windows 95 and 98 often flicked momentarily back into text mode to show the output of MODE and KEYB commands that applied DOS’s localisation settings, after which the splash image was displayed again. The KB article Q178548 touches upon some of that, though rather briefly.

In Windows, the length of the boot delay can be changed by the BootDelay= option in MSDOS.SYS / WINBOOT.INI; one guide I found on the Internet claims that the default value of that setting is 2 in Windows 95 and 0 in later versions. (It seems SWITCHES= should also work, though I have not tested.)

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  • I thought the impetus for using <kbd>Ctrl</kbd> instead of <kbd>F8</kbd> was because newer computers were shipping with compact keyboard layouts and/or with Fn-keys so having tech support instructing users to hold down <kbd>Ctrl</kbd> was easier than trying to help them find F8 or figure-out their laptop or keyboard's F-lock system over the phone.
    – Dai
    Jun 3 at 17:46
  • @Dai compact keyboards existed then, decent laptops had started hitting the market in the mid 90s, but but these were far from common. Speculation on my part, but I don't think its adoption was at the level where Microsoft would even have bothered a change for Windows 98. Especially since there's no limitation to using it, it's just slightly more inconvenient.
    – PC Luddite
    Jun 4 at 4:00
  • @user3840170 thanks for the bit about the ingenious hack for the boot splash screen. that was very interesting.
    – Jayson
    Jul 30 at 20:48

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