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Windows 96 is a throwback to classic Windows that runs entirely in the browser

Windows 96
(Image credit: Windows 96)
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The first time I saw the words "Windows 96" today, I questioned my memory—there wasn't really a version of Windows in between 95 and 98 that everyone had forgotten about, was there? Well, kinda—but it was canceled before being released publicly. Windows96.net, then, is a "what if" for '90s Windows, a fully browser-based OS that imagines what another version of the classic chunky Windows might've looked like.

At a glance Windows 96 could probably fool you into thinking it's the real deal. The old icons for Computer and Trash and Settings are dead on. The Start Menu is its classic self, with nested folders containing useful utilities like a terminal and also a "WTF" folder with a pretend Trojan in it. But there are lots of modern touches as well, like a link out to the project's Discord and a live chat program that connects you with everyone else currently using Windows 96.

There's also a Linux-style package manager you can use to install programs with a single click, including the shareware version of Doom and the Half-Life demo, too. The Javascript code powering Windows 96 is clearly slick and modern to let you do all this in the browser, even though it's trying to look decades old.

Windows 96 runs Doom

(Image credit: Windows 96)

My favorite touch is that Windows 96 lets you install emulators like DOSBox, which means you can also run Windows 95 inside Windows 96. Real Windows, inside fake Windows, inside Chrome—pretty wild. I also tried to boot up Internet Explorer inside Windows 95, but that crashed the browser. That actually felt appropriate. If it didn't crash, it wouldn't be classic Windows.

You can learn more about Windows 96 at the wiki here

Wes Fenlon

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games. When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old RPG or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).