Experience classic Windows versions in your browser

Martin Brinkmann
May 11, 2015
Updated • May 22, 2018

While it is theoretically still possible to install past -- and now unsupported -- Windows operating systems on modern machines, it may be difficult to do so especially when it comes to pre-Windows 95 systems.

If you just want to relive memories of the past or check out how things have changed in recent years, emulation may be an better option.

Programmers have created browser-based emulators for various Microsoft operating systems that you can load at any time without having to install and set up those operating systems first before you can do so.

While they are usually limited in some regards, options to install software or make persistent changes are not supported, they may help you relive memories of the past or simply explore how Windows was ten, twenty or even thirty years ago.

Windows 1.01

If you want to go all the way back to the beginnings of Windows, you may find the Windows 1.01 emulator on PCJS useful for that as it emulates that operating system for you.

Just load the page in your browser of choice, wait for the boot process to finish and you are in the graphical user interface that computer users worked with in the 80s.

The system used in the emulation runs at a clock speed of 4.77 MHz with 256 Kilobyte of RAM and a CGA display. Since hard drives were quite expensive back then, only floppy drives are emulated.

You can launch programs with a double-click, use the command line or insert different floppy discs to load other programs.

All programs that you start run in full screen in the environment which is not that different from how Microsoft envisioned apps to run on Windows 8.

The Hamburger menu may surprise you as it is widely used today especially in the mobile world.

The operating system won't save any changes and boot into a clean system whenever you load the web page.

Windows 3.0

Windows 3.0 was a huge improvement over Windows 1.x. The operating system shipped five years after Windows 1 and offered better multitasking, better memory management (introduction of virtual memory) and protected mode.

Windows 95

If you want something more recent than that, you may want to load the Windows 95 environment instead.

It provides you with access to a default Windows 95 installation which is rather bare bones based on today's standards. The operating system was launched about 10 years after Windows 1.0x came out and was considered a game changer by many.

What you can do however is play games and run programs that shipped with the operating system.

The environment was not overly stable during tests. It would lock-up regularly or slow down, and exceptions were thrown frequently during tests.

Various Windows versions Windows 95 to Windows XP

The Virtual Desktop website lists several different Windows 95 versions for you to boot (Microsoft released a total of five versions), as well as Windows 98, Windows ME, Windows NT Workstation, Windows XP and Windows 2000 Professional.

Not all programs and features are working when you boot one of the operating systems though. While you can run Internet Explorer 4 for instance on Windows 98, you will notice immediately that the browser won't let you interact with it at all.

Now You: What's your all-time favorite version of Windows and why?

Experience classic Windows versions in your browser
Article Name
Experience classic Windows versions in your browser
Run classic versions of the Windows operating system in your web browser of choice to re-live childhood memories or explore how it was using Windows ten, twenty or even thirty years ago.

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  1. Guy said on March 12, 2020 at 2:21 pm

    Linux Mint ;-p

    Windows XP: though it took them many years of work and service packs to get it right. Very easy to use in retrospect and fewer clicks to get things done, plus it felt like you had more control over the machine than any Windows today.

  2. GeekPrankster said on February 22, 2017 at 7:38 pm

    There’s an online Windows XP simulator, have you seen it? http://GeekPrank.com

  3. inab said on May 13, 2015 at 12:53 pm

    The best windows ever is windows 93 ;)

  4. Shawn said on May 12, 2015 at 10:58 am

    The Windows 95 project… well this one had a little extra that I just love if you search for the tool that he/she used to make the virtual app you can have your own web based tools to make your own hosted dos applications with Emscripten, DOSBox and Em-DOSBox was trying to figure out how cameyo was pulling off some of the virtual applications via a web page so I’m assuming this is similar.

  5. mikef90000 said on May 12, 2015 at 2:13 am

    I still run a few important, non-networked apps in a Windows 2000 virtual machine. Very good classic desktop with economic use of space. Most importantly, the last Windows OS without the disruptive ‘validation’.

    Windows XP works better in dual boot with more modern hardware (say SATA drives). Still, new motherboards rarely come with XP drivers so it may be ‘off to VM land’ for my copy.

    MS-DOS, Windows 9X, bah humbug. I keep NT 3.51, NT4 and OS/2 Warp images around just to remind me how far desktop environments have come.

    1. Guest said on December 10, 2016 at 2:29 pm

      Well, strictly speaking the Volume License version of Windows XP doesn’t need any activation either – just plug in the Product Key and off you go, fully offline. But it does need a special version of the OS, which is different from the normal retails CDs, so you would have to locate a copy yourself via eBay or the usual means.

  6. Davin Peterson said on May 12, 2015 at 1:41 am

    This summer will be 20 years since Microsoft released Windows 95. Windows 95 changed the way we compute.

  7. Andrew said on May 11, 2015 at 11:28 pm

    I remember well the win 3.1 days … I was a kid and didn’t really know much except that pc games were better than nintendo games (in my opinion). I’m talking Arena (bethesda softworks) and Daggerfall (bethesda softworks) and Myst and others (Myst was windows based though I believe).
    So I would fight with .ini files trying to initiate sound cards, cd rom drives, and mouse drivers BECAUSE ALL THE GOOD GAMES RAN IN DOS MODE!! (see bethesda softworks!)
    And it was not a simple (1) “install” and (2) “play” environment (at least not back then.)
    So I DON’T miss the windows on top of dos days AT ALL. Yeah its nice to think back on those days … but now is so much better… so much better.

  8. Jungman said on May 11, 2015 at 10:01 pm

    WIN XP ’cause so much just made sense but mainly for Outlook Express 6 email client. It was so easy to copy the .dbx files to my laptop and I was ready to take a current copy on the road. Reverse the process on my return and my desktop email client is up to date. Using WinMail on WIN 7 (hacked workaround) but it’s just not as slick for backing up and copying to another machine. Don’t like MAPI as it’s a lot slower especially if the number of emails on the server gets too large plus that’s too much information to be left on the cloud with email accounts getting hacked all the time.

    1. Doc said on May 11, 2015 at 10:18 pm

      Go to PortableApps.com and grab a copy of Thunderbird Portable. Put it on thumbdrive or portable HD, and you’re good to go. :)

  9. Pants said on May 11, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    WinXP to Win7 was a horrendous jump in terms of end-user “usability”. The auto sorting of folders contents, the extra padding between items, the tab ordering and so on. For a power keyboard-driven user (who spent a lot of time in windows explorer) it was a nightmare (initially until workarounds, tweaks, 3rd party apps, changes in methods). Until said tweaks etc, almost everything was an extra two or three clicks or keystrokes ~ eg tabbing out of the explorer pane if on a media file (you end up in the media pane wasting time) – or in the explorer tree, you could use navigation keys (up, left etc) but you have to hit enter to actual change the content view. And not to forget the autosorting of files – the number of times I would paste a dozen files into a folder of 1000’s and then lose focus and track of what I had just moved (I know, I just neded to change my work flow). I can’t remember them all, but damned if WinXP keyboard driven was uber-lightening fast for me, and Win7 initially virtually killed my productivity.

    So WinXP speed back in the day :) That said, I would have to say (for the moment), Windows 7 – but only because I know it inside out and Windows 10 isn’t completed yet. I’m not fazed about any of the changes as I know it’ll be tweakable, 3rd-party-able etc – and I am not a dinosaur. :)

  10. Brian said on May 11, 2015 at 1:01 pm

    Win98SE will always be my first love. On 95 I’d BSOD so much I’d turn off the PC and go outside. Hey, maybe that’s what kids today need..

  11. Rik said on May 11, 2015 at 11:29 am

    Oh yeah, Geoworks Ensemble! Memories…
    Today? Win 10 is growing on me and I use elementary OS frequently (yes yes know, it’s a distro, Linux is the OS)

    1. krzh said on May 11, 2015 at 3:15 pm

      Actually, Linux is the kernel, not the OS.

  12. RossN said on May 11, 2015 at 10:17 am

    Favourite ‘windows’ was Geoworks Ensemble. Pre-emptive multitasking when Microsoft hadn’t yet figured that out.

  13. Chris Laarman said on May 11, 2015 at 9:59 am

    My favorite Windows version is 3.1.1.
    v3.1 (if I remember correctly) added Sound to the system, and 3.1.1 patched it.
    It ran snappily on my then hardware, and I felt comfortable editing the .INI files.
    I wasn’t that much interested in notification sounds, but rather in making music using MIDI. (I actually used Dynaware’s DynaDuet, a 1988 MS-DOS application that required a mouse and a VGA monitor.)

    My runner-up may be Windows ME. It felt as an ironed out successor to Windows 95 and 98.

    I’m currently on Windows 7, with an entry-level tablet on 8.1.
    I do appreciate 7, but its overhead (burocracy) has made me install Linux (dual-boot) on two systems, and I’ve become an Apple fan now.

    I have used all Windows versions. Of v2 only the /386 edition (in competition with DesqView, I recall), and v1 only on a 1987 AT that I granted asylum when abandoned.

  14. Winsight said on May 11, 2015 at 9:50 am

    Windows XP was the best liked and most problem-free OS which also stuck around for the longest time because it worked so well.

    1. krzh said on May 11, 2015 at 3:14 pm

      And the most unsecure.

      1. Andrew said on May 12, 2015 at 5:58 pm

        Well, i’d say XP’s biggest weakness always was Internet Explorer (or the lack of ability to upgrade it past IE8), and now that fact that it doesn’t get security updates (w/o a hack)

      2. Winsight said on May 12, 2015 at 9:32 am

        Yes before SP2 it was not secure. After XPSP2, it was secure enough although Vista was a step forward in security.

    2. Andrew said on May 11, 2015 at 10:11 am

      It stuck around for long because the goals for longhorn was too ambitious and they did a complete development restart in 2003, losing a couple years of development.

      1. Andrew said on May 12, 2015 at 5:56 pm

        Not really, vista was a very solid OS, the issue was it was too heavy for its time and the ‘vista capable’ campaign made it seem worse. The OS needed minimum 4GB oif ram to get decent performance when most computers were running about 1GB. They started trimming the OS in Windows 7, and moreso in Windows 8 which showed much improvement.

        I am not saying that Vista wasn’t without it’s bugs (e.g. file copying) but it was an improvement, especially in security and stability.

      2. haha said on March 30, 2022 at 12:59 pm

        haha “too heavy for its time”

        is that supposed to be funny because it is

      3. Winsight said on May 12, 2015 at 9:31 am

        @Andrew, yes they lost years of development but also produced a dud called Vista which was a regression in many ways to XP. But Windows 7 didn’t really fix all of Vista’s bugs either which is why the transition from XP to 7 was so slow.

  15. Andrew said on May 11, 2015 at 9:14 am

    I’ve used windows since 3.x, and always upgraded and ran the most recent one, with the exception of Vista because my computer couldn’t handle it. Occasionally I like to fire up my virtual machine and toy around with one of the old version, things seemed much simpler then.

    As for a favorite, I’d have to say windows 98/se was probably my favorite windows OS, most likely because of nostalgia and it when I was discovering a lot of new things I could do on my computer. I sometimes wish I had a little Win98 machine that I could play old dos and windows games on… as authentic as could be. Emulators are great, but nothing replaces the real thing.

    1. how to get a girlfriend? said on December 30, 2022 at 12:33 am

      also this is a fucking fake html and javascript not real os on there its all fake ALL FUCKING FAKE

    2. Not a real name said on June 6, 2016 at 11:20 am

      Windows 2000 FTW.

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