Created on April 13, 2023 (Updated on April 13, 2023)
If you want to get a Windows 95 machine up and running as quickly as possible, the best way to do it is with Windows 95D Lite. It's intently designed to cut out a lot of the overhead involved in installing Windows 95 OSR2, as it integrates plenty of newer drivers and updates that are ready even before the installation completes.
Windows 95D Lite can be installed in one of two ways (well, three if you count upgrading in-place, which is not advisable) - one, you can do it the old-fashioned way by booting to a DOS prompt as you would, partitioning and formatting a disk and running the setup program manually, and two, using batch scripts Windows 95D Lite provides to perform an express installation, walking you through a lot of the steps and defining some good default options upfront.
The Windows 95D Lite CD-ROM is bootable, but you can also use rawwritewin or dd to write the boot image to a floppy disk if necessary; some systems may not support booting from a CD-ROM.
Make sure to change the boot device order in the BIOS setup utility so that the floppy or CD-ROM drive takes priority as you are installing Windows 95D Lite. After the first portion of Setup completes, remember to remove the boot medium or rearrange the boot device order.
When booting Windows 95D Lite from either the CD-ROM or a floppy disk, you're given four options on how you want to boot the system.
Partitioning the Hard Disk
If your hard disk has not yet been partitioned, you can select option 2 to skip loading the CD-ROM drivers to save some time; they're not needed right now. Run FDISK and create a primary partition spanning the entire disk, or otherwise partition the disk to your liking. If you need to create a large partition (greater than 2GB), make sure you choose Y when you run the program.
If your hard disk is already partitioned, skip this section.
FDISK is controlled by typing numbers and pressing <ENTER> to select choices. The first screen will ask which operation you wish to perform. Choose 1 for Create DOS partition or Logical DOS Drive.
Create a primary DOS partition by selecting the first option, and FDISK will check the condition of the disk. To make things easy, you should use the maximum available space on the hard disk for the primary partition and make it active; this can be done just by typing Y and pressing <ENTER>. After FDISK completes its routine, exit and restart your computer.
Formatting the Primary Partition
After the hard disk has been partitioned and you've restarted your computer, you should return to the boot menu. This time, choose option 1 to load the CD-ROM drivers.
After everything is loaded, run the command FORMAT C: to format the primary partition. This will clear out the partition, preparing it for a 100% clean installation of Windows. If any data already exists on the partition, it will be lost, so check if you have any valuable data to retrieve before you do this!
Here's a couple of things you can do to save time: you can append the command with the /V switch to define a volume label upfront, so you're not prompted for it after formatting completes. To give the label WIN95DL to drive C:, type:
Should the partition have already been formatted previously, you can append the /Q switch to perform a quick format for every subsequent wipe you need to do. It'll save you a bountiful of time, especially on large partitions. This cannot be used if you have just created the partition after rebooting.
Hopefully everything should look good and your hard disk isn't growing bad sectors. If it looks clean, you're ready to install Windows 95.
Before you start the setup program, it is advised that you copy all of the setup files over to the hard disk, and run the setup program from that location. Many people have recommended creating the path C:\WINDOWS\OPTIONS\CABS OEMs often used that to store the setup files, but it would really be better to place them at a different directory like C:\WIN95 to avoid complications involving conflicts with the C:\WINDOWS directory Windows 95 wants to install to by default. Run this command:
Then, copy the setup files to it, replacing E: with the drive letter which the setup CD-ROM is loaded in:
This may take a while. After it's done, run the setup program from the location on the hard disk:
The /IS switch tells Setup to skip the execution of ScanDisk, which it normally runs before Setup starts. Skipping this saves some time, and is in fact required in cases where a high memory driver may not be loaded (for instance, if you decide to transfer the DOS system files to the hard disk, boot from there, and load the setup program without any DOS drivers upfront).
Upon loading the setup program, you'll be walked through the usual steps as you would with any other version of Windows 95. Click Continue, and wait for the program to run through some additional preparations.
You'll be prompted with a jargon-loaded license agreement. Click Yes here even though you have ignored the terms. And no, I didn't bother altering them.
Setup will ask you to input some data upfront before it can begin installing Windows 95. Thanks to some small modifications in Windows 95D Lite, you do not need to enter a product key in this routine.
In most cases, you should pick the default option, C:\WINDOWS. If you have already created this directory and populated it with some setup files in a place like C:\WINDOWS\OPTIONS\CABS, Setup may pick a different default option like C:\WINDOWS.000. You'll need to select the Other directory option and define your installation path there. Installing over an existing installation of Windows could lead to unpredictable results.
Windows 95 offers four different setup types. I recommend going with either Typical or Custom, with the latter giving you a little bit more control over the setup procedure.
Type your name, and optionally the name of an organization. You can make something up here.
Normally, you should have Setup detect all the devices on your computer here. If Setup hangs during detection for a long time, use the reset switch on your computer to perform a hard reset, then reload the setup program as you did before. Use Safe Recovery, run through the preceding steps again, and Setup will skip the device that caused the system to hang. Hanging doesn't usually happen during device detection, but I have experienced it on one of my Pentium 4 computers.
On top of the standard devices Setup will scan for, it can additionally scan for other devices like network adapters, sound cards, and proprietary CD-ROM drives (not using the IDE bus). I advise you do not check any of these listings unless you know you have ISA cards installed which you know are not operating in Plug and Play mode. Any ISA cards which operate in Plug and Play Mode, either always or by user configuration, as well as all PCI and AGP cards, will be detected later in Setup when it boots into the new installation.
From here, you can select which optional components to install. You may wish to load most of the components in the Accessories category, except for Quick View, as it is not useful. If you have a sound card installed, you may also want to install the Multimedia category to get the system sounds that carry over from Windows 3.1 as well as the four extra sound schemes. Note that Windows 95D Lite alters the list of available components compared to what Windows 95A/B had, because it strips out some components from the distribution that are no longer useful, such as The Microsoft Network.
If you selected the Custom setup option, Setup will prompt you to configure your network devices. You may configure any ISA network cards that were detected upfront over here if need be, and you can also specify a Windows NT domain to log on to if you have one in your network. If you plan to connect to the Internet or another computer that does not support NetBEUI or IPX, and the TCP/IP protocol is not listed here, you'll need to add it. Don't do this right now if you don't have legacy ISA network cards installed.
In most cases, you can leave everything as is and click Next.
You may also be prompted to specify a name for your computer in the network. You should pick a name unique to your local area network. For the Workgroup field, usually it's best to pick the name WORKGROUP since that's usually the default. If you're connecting to a Windows NT domain, the workgroup name should match your domain name for best results; this will allow you to browse the network in Network Neighborhood. A computer description is optional and only useful if you plan to enable file sharing on your computer.
If you selected the Custom setup option, you'll be prompted to tweak additional settings you want for Windows 95. You shouldn't really need to change any of them, but you can do it in case you believe something is not right in the settings defined upfront.
One thing I tend to do out of habit is select the Plug and Play Monitor device, just because sometimes when I go to adjust display settings, there's the off chance I might be prompted to specify a monitor later if I don't do it here. This tends to be more applicable for monitors which don't support DDC.
Don't create a startup disk unless you really need one matching your version of Windows 95 (any versions based on Windows 95B "OSR2" should be installed with a Windows 95B startup disk, as it comes with a new version of MS-DOS that supports FAT32 partitions). In the majority of cases where you're running a clean installation, you probably have an appropriate startup disk already.
From here, just click Next, and Setup will begin installing Windows 95 to your hard disk.
As Windows 95D Lite includes plenty of enhancements, the Setup billboards have been modified to describe the new additions. You may want to take time to read these, but you can leave the computer unattended for a while, depending on the speed of your computer. This process usually takes around 2-10 minutes for reasonably fast computers.
After all of the essential files have been loaded to your computer, you're ready to reboot. Click Next. If a dialog appears complaining that there is a floppy disk in the drive, remove it. If you're booting from the CD-ROM, it uses floppy emulation, so disregard this dialog box and instead change the order of your boot devices in your BIOS settings; the hard disk should take priority over the CD-ROM drive. Or, if you copied the setup files over to your computer, you can eject the CD-ROM now unless you want to install some goodies from there afterwards.
The First Boot
If you have any network devices installed, you may be prompted to enter a username and password. As no user profiles exist so far (nor has Windows 95 been configured to use individual user profiles unless you enabled the option via a batch setup INF), you can create an account simply by entering the username in the dialog box, and optionally a password. If you will be connecting to a network share, this password needs to match the one being used in that share, or the username and password need to match the credentials residing on a Windows NT computer.
If you're not connecting to any network shares and you don't want to see the logon dialog box in future startups, leave the password field blank. You may also click Cancel to skip logging on, but this does not skip the prompt in later startups, and you may not be able to access the local network.
Logons in Windows 95 have been kind of ambiguous because of how many forms they take. There's technically two of them - one for networking, and another for user profiles where each user has their own desktop settings. That may be worth breaking down in the future, as it is a bit of a mess, hence the advice you would've gotten from most people is "just click Cancel".
Wait for Windows 95 to detect the rest of the devices in your computer, such as PCI, AGP, and Plug and Play ISA cards. If you did not install any network drivers beforehand and Windows 95 detects a network card here, you will be asked to specify some details about your computer on the network now. In Windows 95D Lite, it's much more likely that your network card will be detected
Should you have trouble getting past device detection or the network identification prompt, you may need to restart Setup, making sure the Dial-Up Adapter is installed; this may be done automatically in a normal installation. Usually, you don't need to worry about this happening, but I have encountered this issue with some Intel PRO/100 network cards.
You may also be asked about real mode PCMCIA drivers if you're installing to a laptop; normally, you won't be, so you can answer "no" to this dialog. You may wish to not restart the computer at this point.
Select your time zone at this dialog.
In 99% of cases, you won't want to install a printer in Windows 95 unless you happen to have a really old one that you really want to use. In such cases, you may want to install the driver later, anyway.
That's it! Click OK when prompted, and Windows 95 will now restart. In very rare cases, such as when you're installing Windows 95 on an extremely primitive configuration with all ISA devices on, say, a 386 or early 486 build, Windows 95 may not need to reboot at all; it'll just throw you into the desktop straight away! For such systems, Windows 95A really makes a lot more sense as opposed to Windows 95B or Windows 95D Lite.
Upon booting into the Explorer shell for the first time, you'll see a welcome dialog like this, unless you've installed Windows 95C, as that wants to load a different dialog box via Internet Explorer.
One thing you should do when you first load the desktop is open the System control panel; one way to do this is by right clicking My Computer and selecting Properties. A faster way to do this, if possible, is by pressing <WIN> + <PAUSE>.
Click on the Device Manager tab, and check to see how many of your drivers have already been loaded. Windows 95D Lite comes with an abundance of drivers, so they should already be loaded as you'd expect them to. If so, you're all set! Otherwise, you'll see some listings in the Other devices category, and you'll need to manually load the drivers one by one.
Windows 95 never had a true express installation routine like Windows 3.1x did, but its ability to read from an INF file to execute Setup largely unattended permits creating the same effect.
Boot to the Windows 95D Lite CD-ROM or floppy disk, and select option 3, Start Windows 95 Setup from CD-ROM. This will load a batch script that handles partitioning and/or formatting your hard disk, copying the setup files, and running the installer.
If your hard drive has no FAT partitions, you will be asked to create a new one. The batch script can call FDISK to create a new primary partition on the first hard disk on your computer, either using FAT16 or FAT32. Press Y to create a FAT16 partition, or F to create a FAT32 partition. If you prefer to partition the disk yourself, press N and run FDISK manually.
After the partition has been created, it is required to restart the computer so the new partition will register in DOS. The batch script will do this for you. When booting back into the DOS environment, select option 3 again.
You will be prompted to format the logical C: drive. If this drive has just been created, it is necessary to press Y to perform a full format. If your hard drive has been formatted previously, you can press Q for a quick format to save time, or, if the formatted partition does not already have an existing Windows installation, you can press N to skip the FORMAT utility entirely.
The script will attempt to create a new directory and copy the setup files to it for convenience. If this fails, you probably didn't format the C: drive and should go back and do it. After the files are copied, you should keep the floppy disk or CD-ROM in the computer until Setup reboots the computer; the BIOS always expects the CD-ROM to be in the drive to access the contents of its floppy image; it's not copied to RAM like how Memdisk in SYSLINUX would work. Windows 95 Setup will try to access the floppy at certain points, and will throw an error if it can't read from it.
You will be asked if you want to run an express installation. If you press N, the script will load Setup normally after requesting if you want to run ScanDisk. Type Y to run an express installation. An INF called EXPRESS.INF residing in the floppy disk will be copied to the setup directory as MSBATCH.INF.
Using a command line tool callled Infsect, the script requests a few lines of user-specific details, including your name, an organization, and a name for your computer on the network. Specifying these here will save you extra time later, where you would otherwise be prompted for them in other parts of Setup. The aforementioned program modifies the new copy of the INF with the names you provide.
You'll be asked if you want to run ScanDisk. You can press N to skip it. Windows 95 Setup will be loaded, and it should run through all of the steps on its own using the default settings defined in the supplied INF.
If all goes well, Setup will reboot once, detect some devices in your computer, and then ask you to specify your time zone. After you specify this, it'll reboot again, and you should have a fully operational Windows 95 machine with little effort on your part.
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