"Windows 95 is a 32-bit extention
to a 16-bit patch for an 8-bit operating system
that was originally coded for a 4-bit microprocessor
by a 2-bit company that can't stand 1-bit of competition."
(Original Source: Unknown)
Windows 95 and 98 were Microsoft's desktop OS offerings from the mid-late 90s, intended primarily for use in lower-end markets. As such, they replaced Windows 3.1, and came installed on the vast majority of new desktop systems. Windows 98 was a further patch/update rather than an actual overhall of Windows 95. For that reason, when I speak of Windows 95, I also mean Windows 98 (and Windows ME).
Windows 95/98 is part of a long DOS tradition, and parts of DOS can still be found under the hood of Windows 95/98. Windows 95/98 is a GUI that sits atop DOS in the same way that Windows 3.1 sat atop DOS. However, compared with Windows 3.1, Windows 95/98 offered new APIs as well as a new "look and feel." In addition, it became harder to find the DOS hidden under Windows; many of the old DOS commands and files still seem to exist, but their functions and/or locations (within the directory structure of the hard drive) have changed.
Windows 95 was Microsoft's first 32-bit offering for the desktop PC, and is more stable and powerful than earlier members of the DOS/Windows line of products. Memory is protected (within limits), and Windows 95/98 also sports limited Plug & Play, allowing an easier installation of peripherals. Also, Windows 95/98 provides pre-emptive multitasking.
However, Windows 95 still contains large amounts of earlier, 16-bit code. Only fully 32-bit applications receive the benefit of Windows 95/98's protected memory, and even here exceptions exist. Windows 95/98, although clearly an improvement over Windows 3.1, is/are far from ideal.
Many users complain of Plug & Play that isn't. Windows 95/98's inherent instability (due to older code and incomplete memory protection) leads to crashes on some machines, especially those that are not well-maintained. In addition, Windows 95 is rather 'messy'—although the install and uninstall procedures for programs have been made easier with Windows 95/98, programs themselves often leave stray .DLLs laying around to cause clutter and conflicts.
In terms of ease of use, for new users Windows 95 was easier to use than earlier incarnations. Windows 95/98 also borrows elements from other OS interfaces: the "recycle bin" resembles the "trash can" of the Mac OS, the scroll-bars are modelled on those of the NeXT OS; the task-bar seems to have shown up years earlier in CDE and/or OS/2, etc.
If you have a PC from the mid-late 90s and you need to run one of Microsoft's operating systems, you might want to consider 95 or 98, as their hardware requirements are more modest than more recent Windows versions (specifically XP). DRM (Digital Rights Management) software designed to control how a computer user uses data and/or software appeared after the release of 95/98, and 95/98 are free of the registration shenanigans Microsoft has pulled with XP (and which one expects of future OS releases). If you need to run Windows in order to play computer games, Windows 98 (with the proper updates), is a sensible solution.
Windows 95 and 98 are 1) unstable; 2) resource hungry; 3) and inflexible.
Due to its combination of 16- and 32-bit code and incomplete memory protection, Windows 95 and 98 are less stable than Linux, OS/2, and Windows NT/2000/XP. Due to the fact that the Windows 95/98 code base has been added to, and added to, and added to for years and years, the operating system is quite resource hungry and bug-filled. Compared with Linux and OS/2, Windows 95 is rather inflexible. With both of the other OSes mentioned, the user has much greater control over the look and feel of the desktop environment.
Finally, supporting Windows 95 is the same as supporting Microsoft. As a company, Microsoft refuses to play fair in the market place, it refuses to listen to its customers, and goes so far as to break contracts (see the Sun Java lawsuit for this allegation), and bully the companies with which it works. If Microsoft were a person, our parents would scold us for having anything to do with such a shady character, and yet we put up with such behavior from a corporate entity. However, we do not have to—there are alternatives.
If you bought a new PC, Windows probably came with it, but that doesn't mean you have to use it. Please check out free alternatives such as Linux if you are using a PC. If you are considering buying a new computer, consider saving yourself much frustration; buy a Mac.
However, using Windows 95/98 is not all that bad. If you are lucky, your system doesn't crash very often, and you may very well have a lot of applications you want to use that work best (or only) under Windows 95/98. OS religious wars aside, the OS exists so that using the computer is easier for the user, and so that writing programs is easier for the developer. If it does what you need it to do, use it.
Below you will find a few links to some useful sites related to Windows