I’ve been messing around with Windows 95 on a 486 PC. When people think of non-optional bloat and Windows 95 or 98, they usually think of Internet Explorer. But there were two non-removable components in the original Windows 95, when Internet Explorer was an afterthought in the plus pack, that date from Microsoft’s ambition to supplant Lotus Notes and AOL. Let’s talk about cutting the bloat out of Windows 95. Specifically, how to remove the inbox and MSN, and reduce the minimum requirements to 17 MB.
Why would you want to do this? Disk space isn’t a problem anymore, but the bloat does slow down Windows 95’s FAT file system. There’s no software you want or need to use today on a retro Windows 95 build that needs these components, so they are just wasting space and slowing down your disk. Even if you’re using a solid state solution. I covered this back in 1999 in my book about Windows 95 and 98, but it doesn’t seem like the information is easy to get anymore, so I want to revisit it here.
Removing the inbox and MSN from Windows 95
There are some options that the Windows set up program doesn’t make selectable. To cut that bloat from Windows 95, you have to hack one of the installation files.
First, copy the Windows CD to a hard drive. It’s easier if you use a modern PC, as a modern PC can open the CAB files. You can just open the cab file and pull the file you need. Open the file precopy2.cab and extract the file setuppp.inf.
Open that file in a text editor, such as notepad, and delete two lines. Look for a line that says mos.inf (as in Microsoft Online Service) and one that says msmail.inf (as in Microsoft Mail). Delete those two lines and save the file.
On your retro PC, copy the contents of the Windows 95 CD to a directory, and add the edited INF file you just made to the same directory. Run setup.exe to install Windows 95. It will install normally, but when you finish the installation, you will notice there is no MSN icon and no inbox icon on the desktop. And your Windows directory on your C drive will be a few megabytes smaller.
Other Windows tricks
The original Windows 95 CD was an upgrade, and it got really unhappy if it didn’t find a Windows 3.1 installation on your drive. But it’s a hassle to install Windows 3.1 and then turn around and install Windows 95. Plus, the result isn’t as clean. You really want a clean install.
To get around this, simply create a file called win386.exe on the hard drive. The contents of the file don’t matter. You can just make a copy of that hacked INF file and call it that if you want.
If you’d rather not enter a license key, there’s a hack to get around that too. Create a file called MSBATCH.INF containing two lines:
There are tons of other options you can specify in that file as well, to specify the option for your installation. I don’t use it because Windows 95 usually doesn’t like some of my hardware, but if your situation is different, and you reinstall Windows 95 a lot, it may be worth exploring.
These last two tricks weren’t in the book. I’m pretty sure my publisher would have found these two tricks more subversive than they would like. Today, I’m not sure anyone cares.