Rather than some designer’s flashy vision of the future, Windows 98 icons made the operating system feel like a place to get real work done. They had hard edges, soft colors and easy-to-recognize symbols.
It’s obvious that the icons were meticulously crafted. Each 256-color .ico file includes a pixel-perfect 16×16, 32×32 and 48×48 version that looks equally good on the taskbar and desktop.
They are, indeed, quite good. Most platforms from that era had exquisite icon design – think Mac OS 9 or BeOS – and we really seem to have lost some of that usability. I feel like Haiku’s current icon set best captures that same aesthetic, but in a modern coat (and a unique, custom-designed vector icon format).