10 Windows Interfaces That Are Burned Into Your Brain Forever

10 Windows Interfaces That Are Burned Into Your Brain Forever

Take a trip down memory lane with a few Microsoft-y images that you will never, ever be able to forget, for better or for worse.

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"Bliss," the default desktop background of the Windows XP operating system.
Pure XP Bliss
Image: Microsoft

As I lay on my death bed, the last image that flashes before me will be of a menu on Windows XP, seared into brain cells that are supposed to be used for memories of loved ones. I’m sure of it.

Windows ain’t what it used to be. Twenty years ago, Microsoft was so powerful that the full force of the US government came down on the company for forcing people to use Internet Explorer. Remember when US regulators used to do something about monopolies? But compared to competitors like Apple, Google, and Meta, the Microsoft of today feels almost quaint, a faceless corporation that just wants to sell you the latest version of Excel (Though Bill Gates’ baby is still worth $1.68 trillion.)

Still, for so many of us, our formative years came at the height of Microsoft’s computing dominance. Even the youngest Gizmodo readers probably spent a lot of hours staring at Windows 7. The screens, buttons, images, and apps of old Windows interfaces are with you forever, even if you can’t see them on your iPhone or your fancy MacBook Pro.

Here are 10 Windows interfaces you’ll never be able to forget, no matter how hard you try.

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The Control Panel

The Control Panel

Screenshot: Thor Dekov Buur

Back in the days of Windows 95, computers were not sexy. For a category of products that were so revolutionary, I spent a lot of time sitting in front of the family computer bored out of my mind. Now I have my phone for that, thank you very much.

If you were anything like me, though, there was one surefire source of entertainment: changing the desktop background. For that, you’d find yourself here, at the Control Panel. It’s a picture of just how rudimentary operating systems used to be; compare the number of options here to the menus and toggles on a modern system. Windows 95 also crashed—a lot—and you’d constantly have to tweak settings to get things to work, which made the Control Panel a frequent (and often frustrating) companion.

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Winamp

Winamp

A screenshot of Winamp
It really whipped a llama’s ass.
Screenshot: Thomas Germain

I can’t remember why I disliked Windows Media Player so much, but decades later, the hatred still courses through my veins. Winamp was just better. Look at it. I’ll wait.

I got my first copy of this glorious program on a CD that came with PC Magazine (I was that nerdy in middle school). It was all down hill from there. The unlimited smooth access that comes with music streaming services is a pleasant change, but there was something special about the early days of digital music. If nothing else, it felt subversive to pirate MP3s, as opposed to supporting giant corporations like Spotify or Apple.

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The Found Hardware Wizard

The Found Hardware Wizard

The found new hardware wizard telling you it's found a "computer"
Thanks for the help, Windows
Screenshot: Bre Pettis

It’s easy to forget how good we have it now. I get mad at my laptop sometimes, but until a few years ago, computers were nearly non-functional. The “Found New Hardware Wizard” was supposed to help. It didn’t.

These days, you hook something up to your USB-C port or connect over Bluetooth, and there’s a very good chance that it will just work. That would have sounded like a utopian dream if you’d described it to me in 2004. For most of computer history, plugging in a new device entailed an excruciating dive through drivers and settings, praying that this time, finally, your printer was going to work.

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Microsoft Entertainment Pack

Microsoft Entertainment Pack

A screenshot of the game SkiFree
Just watch out for the Yeti
Screenshot: Thomas Germain

In the mid ‘90s, this was the peak of gaming. The pleasure of the Microsoft Entertainment Pack floppy disk, and its numerous squeals, are hard to compare to a modern world where an unbridled access to dopamine has left me unable to experience any semblance of real joy.

But things were simpler in 1995. Each edition of Microsoft Entertainment Pack had around 8 games, with classic titles like Chip’s Challenge, Minesweeper, Rodent’s Revenge, JezzBall, Pipe Dream and, of course, 10,000 different versions of Solitare.

But SkiFree was the mother of them all. I’ve played some other cool video games since then, but I’m not convinced things have gotten better. You can play an emulator of SkiFree here (though I can’t promise this link will work if you’re reading this 5 years from now).

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I don’t feel safe though.

I don’t feel safe though.

A Windows XP screeshot reading "It's not safe to turn off your computer."
Screenshot: DigitalIceAge

I am a professional tech journalist, but I never did figure out why you couldn’t just hit the power button. It was made very clear, though, that things would end in disaster if you didn’t go through the proper shutdown process. Weirdly for something once so ubiquitous, this just isn’t a part of using a computer anymore. Did you even shut down you laptop once in 2022? Give the little guy a treat and restart it.

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It looks like you’re writing a letter!”

It looks like you’re writing a letter!”

A screenshot of several Microsoft Office programs.
Save as
Screenshot: Isi96

Microsoft Office is dead to me. These days, I do all my writing in Google Docs, and I have to say the experience is a lot better. The autosaving alone, my god. But even if I’m not using Times New Roman, I’ll never for get my old friend Microsoft Word.

Clippy, on the other hand, can stay in the Recycle Bin of time. Was anyone ever actually writing a letter?

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Il Schermo Blu Della Morte

Il Schermo Blu Della Morte

The Windows Blue Screen of Death in Italian
Screenshot: Zacchi4k

You knew the Blue Screen of Death was coming in this slideshow, but did you expect it in italiano? I’m having a trauma response just looking at this right now, even though it’s in a language I don’t understand.

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Paint me like one of your French computers

Paint me like one of your French computers

Microsoft Paint
Screenshot: Navarr Barnier

Say what you will about Windows, but Microsoft Paint slapped, and it still does. Why the hell do I have to download a new app if I want to do simple image editing on a Mac?

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What Were Screensavers Even For?

What Were Screensavers Even For?

A screenshot of the Windows 95 Display Properties menu
Screenshot: Thomas Germain

On old (now very old) CRT monitors, an image could be burned into the screen permanently if it displayed for too long. To prevent that, the computer God’s brought us screensavers—they literally saved your screen.

Thanks to the glory of LCDs and newer displays, we don’t have to worry about this 20th century problem. But screensavers were also about self expression. There’s less of a need for that in the screensaver department now that you can change your Instagram profile picture. But for a while, “Flying Through Space” wasn’t just my screensaver, it was my identity.

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3D Space Cadet

3D Space Cadet

The 3D Space Cadet Windows pinball game
TILT
Screenshot: Thomas Germain

True heads know. I think I could draw 3D Space Cadet from memory and perform all the sound effects a capella if you held a gun to my head. That’s how many hours of it I played.

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