This is, of course, software piracy. The developer of the app has no rights to distribute Windows 95 like this, and I’m a little surprised that the app hasn’t been yanked from GitHub yet. And for now, the app is just a toy; there’s no real reason to run Windows 95 like this, other than the novelty factor of it actually working.
But Windows 95 (and software that runs on or requires Windows 95) was an important piece of computing history. I think a case could be made that it’s Microsoft’s most important Windows release of all time, and its influence continues to be felt today. Not only was it technically important as an essential stepping stone from the world of 16-bit DOS and Windows 3.x to 32-bit Windows NT, and not only did it introduce a user interface that’s largely stayed with us for more than 20 years—Windows 95 was also a major consumer event as people lined up to buy the thing as soon as it was available. A full understanding of the computing landscape today can’t really be had without running, using, and understanding Windows 95.
Windows 95 is, however, built for the hardware of the mid-1990s. Compatibility with disk controllers, video cards, and other essential devices is already essentially non-existent. By 2020, it’s unlikely that it will even be able to boot on new PCs, as legacy compatibility is slowly discarded to make the PC platform faster and more secure. These hardware changes mean that, in the long term, very old software poses a challenge even for virtualization software such as VMware.
Systems like this are essential to preserving these important pieces of computing history. And yet, there’s no effective way to develop and distribute them without disregarding copyright law. This is, of course, the same problem faced in the console emulation world but with even greater historical impact: games are important cultural artifacts, but authentic access to Windows 95, Office 95, Netscape 3 (and the Web content of that era), and so on and so forth is arguably even more important, due to the wider influence these things ultimately had.
The software industry has shown at best indifference to preserving and safeguarding this legacy and, in the case of gaming ROMs, outright hostility. As silly as the Windows 95 emulator is—it was put together as a joke, essentially—it’s serving a purpose that is increasingly important. Rights holders and legislators should be working to ensure that work like this is legally protected at minimum or, better yet, actively supported by the industry itself. If they don’t? Our recent history will become lost and inaccessible, to the detriment of us all.