Remember the 90s? Computers were slow, and connected over dialup, but we loved them anyway. If you ever feel nostalgic for that era you can revisit it online, right now, without leaving your web browser.
There are several sites out there that re-create classic software in your browser, and a bunch more that let you emulate it. Here’s where to find them, and what to expect.
Hey, remember that time the media thought Microsoft Paint was going to disappear? Well it didn’t: there’s still a version of Paint on your Windows 10 computer right now, though it’s not the Paint you remember. At some point Microsoft added the ribbon interface, taking away roughly 35.4 percent of the charm.
All the tools you love are here, from the pencil to the spray can, and everything works just the way you remember. Heck, they even re-created the Help screen.
It’s honestly hard to ask for anything more. Anytime you miss good old mspaint.exe, just open this site: you’ll be right back in the 90s.
Before iTunes came around and made life boring, one media player ruled the world: Winamp. Winamp 2 was the best version of this media player because it stayed out of your way: just drag your MP3s onto the playlist panel and away you go. Winamp2-JS re-creates everything about that experience.
Drag music from your computer’s file browser to the playlist pane and it starts playing, just like Winamp did back in the day. All three panes are here: the main one, the equalizer, and the playlist. You can drag things however you like—just as you could in 1999—and you can double-click the top of any window to see a mini version of it.
But the pièce de résistance here is full skin support.
That’s right: you can grab some classic skins, drag them to your browser window, and make Winamp look just the way you customized it back when Napster was king.
Even cooler, if you’re a developer: you can embed this version of Winamp on your own website, if you want. Check Github for instructions.
And now for something no one wants to re-live: Clippy. For those too young to remember, Microsoft Office used to come with an animated “assistant” who would “help” you do things. Mostly this meant interrupting you stupid questions, something everyone hated. But something lots of people loved were the various animations, and clippy-js lets you relive that.
Pick an assistant and you can watch any of the animations.
My favorite was printing, but I’m sure you’ll love reliving all sorts of them. You can even embed the feature on your own site, if you want. Just scroll down on their main page for instructions.
Interesting note: Bonzi Buddy, the internet’s favorite malware, was actually built using the same system as Clippy. Check out our retrospective to re-live that particular nightmare.
The above sites have all been web-based recreations of classic software. Now, let’s move into the world of browser based emulation. And we’ll start at the beginning.
The first version of Windows most people are familiar with is Windows 3.0, which was a shell that ran on top of DOS. You can emulate that entire operating system here. It’s an experience.
There’s not much to see here in terms of software, but it’s a full working version of Windows from 1990. Take some time to explore.
Of course, operating systems aren’t what you remember from the 90s: games are. The Internet Archive has you covered, offering an extensive collection of shareware from the Windows 3.1 era. Pick a title to have Windows 3.1 load in your browser, and then launch your game.
There’s so much to check out here: dive in and explore.
If Windows 3 was the first widespread version of Microsoft’s OS, Windows 95 was the first blockbuster. Seriously: people lined up outside stores like it was an iPhone or something.
You can relive this greatness at win95.ajf.me, which emulates a full version of Windows 95 right in your browser.
Getting this to work is no small technical feat, and firing it up will show you just how far Windows has come (or, if you’re the sort of person who hates Windows 10, how far they’ve fallen).
Not all nostalgia is PC-compatible, which is what makes James Friend’s emulation site so awesome. It offers a collections of fully emulated versions of Mac OS from the 90s (back before it was renamed to macOS), and many of them are complete with popular software from the era.
If you had a Mac back in the day, or just occasionally used one at school, you’ll feel right at home. Give it a spin!
Cool as these sites are, they can’t bring back everything. First of all, these sites all offer sterile versions of old operating systems, and everyone’s computers back then were a mess. If you want to re-live that, along with some warped humor, check out Windows 93.
This is a fictional version of Windows you can run in your browser, and it’s staggering how complete it is. There’s lots of fake software to try, and there’s even an entire hard drive full of files to explore.
Another feeling that emulators can’t offer is the anxiety of using AIM, the messenger AOL never wanted. Saying hi to your crush, waiting to see if they responded, knowing you could lose your connection at any moment because dialup is terrible. Emily Is Away by Kyle Seeley is a game that captures that feeling perfectly, recreating the sounds of computers from the early 2000s while also offering a complex story.
Another game that captures the feeling of using early computers is Digital, a Love Story by Christine Love. This game is basically set on Usenet…until you start hacking stuff. Trust me, this game is worth it.
And if old games that came with Windows are more your thing, you can grab Space Cadet Pinball from Microsoft’s website. You’ve got to jump through some hoops, but it’s worth it.