A mid-range OEM system released in 1996, when Windows 95 was beginning to hit its stride, and another system we can (mostly) recreate in 86Box
The S3 ViRGE is supported on 86Box, albeit a slightly different variant that the Packard bell had used, possibly an OEM exclusive model. The SoundCard differs, using the Aztech 2316R, whilst 86Box is able to emulate the Aztech SoundGalaxy Washington instead, being the closest match.
A floppy disk was required to initiate the installation, since the CD was not bootable, despite the motherboard BIOS supporting CD-ROM booting. Once started, a recovery version of Windows 95 started up, and we were presented with the Packard Bell recovery screen where we were given a list of a few options:
Restore the original boot files
Re-Install the Packard bell software
Re-Install the Windows 95 operating system
The only option that worked was the Windows 95 recovery since our virtual machine had currently lacked a formatted drive.
When starting the OS recovery process, we were prompted to enter the system serial number to identify the system that we were running on. Since we did not have this to hand, we were able to bypass this by entering a series of random numbers. A warning message popped up regarding the number not being recognized but offered to install anyway.
The recovery process then started, with a Windows 3.11 looking dialog box appearing to transfer various files to the hard drive.
After the file had finished copying over, the computer rebooted and started the Windows 95 setup utility, which looked the same as a generic install. You will be prompted to enter an OEM serial key, so be sure to have one when installing.
Once again the system reboots and performs the device detection process.
The motherboard BIOS has references to USB support, but this seems to randomly appear and disappear when entering setup, possibly an issue with the emulation?
I’m not sure if the actual system even had onboard USB ports or if they were even functional, this was early 1996 when the motherboard was designed.
Packard Bell Navigator
This serves as a replacement shell for Windows and as a way for novice users to navigate their system. From here you can open various applications that were bundled with the system itself, and add future applications that have yet to be installed.
Some of these programs require their own CD-ROM to be inserted, as only the minimal install files have been installed, and many were intended to be run off the CD-ROM to conserve disk space.
Navigator (Packard Bell, Not Netscape) uses a house metaphor to present the interface to the user, which was intended for novice users and was exclusive to Packard Bell computers of the era. Some other OEMs also provided their own interface such as Sony with the VAIO Space, which offered a 3D-like user navigation interface for advanced users.
You can see there are a few custom icons for launching the applications, with the facility to install more. Packard Bell presumably sold additional software packages that were navigator friendly and included icon art that suited the navigator interface, and would automatically add themselves to the software room
Also to note was Navigator only runs in 640×480 resolution, when running the desktop at 800×600, Navigator retains its default resolution, personally I prefer it like that since it lets you quickly jump back to the desktop, although it does break the immersion of the Navigator interface.
The example start menu items, organized by Packard Bell
Microsoft Works & Money
These two were very commonly bundled with OEM system bundles and serves as basic productivity suites for Office and accounting respectively.
Some sort of finance application that helps you keep control of your accounts. Bills and monthly payments, it’s a bit redundant considering Microsoft Money is installed, based on what I’ve seen so far.
It’s like Microsoft PowerPoint where you can create and showcase sideshows, although it has no compatibility with PPT files. There are a few premade templates available to choose from. Files are saved in either the Act format or (Player) ACP or (Stationery) STA.
There is an option to export the presentation to an external VCR, this would involve connecting the VGA output, or composite if the graphics card supported it to the VCR to record from. This is known as Print To Video.
Microsoft Word Viewer
For viewing Microsoft Word DOC document format, you would think Microsoft Works would be able to handle this format (It does, but I’m not sure if its fully compatible with certain features/formatting)
Microsoft Entertainment Pack
A few selections of games are included from the Best Of Entertainment pack, this is fairly common to be included in Packard Bell’s prebuilt systems. Skifree, Rodent Revenge and JigSawed are common games included here.
Looks to be some sort of modem/phone line dialer to make phone calls through your PC. Could also be used to contact Packard Bell support.
Stick Ups Lite
It’s the MacOS sticky notes but for Windows, you can create various sticky notes to help remind you of upcoming tasks and reminders. You can customize the colour of the note itself and the font/style of writing. This is kind of a good addition as its rather useful, and Microsoft wouldn’t bundle something like this in Windows until Windows Vista as one of the widgets gadgets, although a few third-party applications included similar functionality
Packard Bell was one of the few hardware OEM systems builders to make their systems unique from both a hardware and software perspective, despite the restrictions Microsoft had enforced following the use of alternative shells post Windows 95, however, Packard Bells’ bundled applications help give off a certain personality with the system being aimed for family and novice users.