The biggest event in Microsoft history was the launch of Windows 95. Make no mistake about it. I don’t care what Ballmer, Sinofsky, Turner or whatever other exec you want to parade out and say xyz product was bigger. I don’t care that Microsoft says Windows 7 is the best OS they have ever made (they would be correct on that point). Windows 95 was huge. To put it all into perspective before we get to the launch event itself we should understand where the industry was at the time before Windows 95.
From a OS perspective one needs to remember that even though Windows 3.0 and Windows 3.1 had been huge successes there were essentially two things that limited it, primarily visa vi when you were comparing to a Mac.
- Windows 3.1 and earlier all had one thing in common, they were built on top of and dependent on DOS. Memory Management which was so critical in those days was controlled by the Mac killer — DOS. I will say this over and over again. You can love your Mac it’s great stuff, but to lose to DOS, from a technical perspective, is shameful. Don’t tell me Microsoft was stupid when Apple had it burnt in their forehead.
- Windows to this point was a 16 bit OS. The Mac was 32 bit which meant theoretically the Mac should be much faster than a Windows-based system. Windows 95 was going to a be a 32 bit OS. For the non-technical folk the easiest way to think of this is a 2 lane highway versus a 4 lane highway.
The PC at the time of launch was really starting to take its place in day-to-day like. The vision of a PC on every desktop and in every home was starting to come into view. People in general were getting used to and excited about technology. To work at Microsoft at this time was like being a rock star. Did not matter what you did you were there. You were at the cutting edge. the nineties was the golden age of the geek.
Windows 95 was code-named “Chicago” in beta. We had played around with it in my group. It was cool. The UI was radically different from Windows for Workgroups 3.11, which we were all running at the time. It really took the graphical user interface to the next level at Microsoft. It really has not changed a whole lot since that release. The best story from the beta was in Chicago, when BillG had his demo guy, Chris Capposella launch the demo only to have the “big” crash occur. Chris has gone on to become a successful exec at Microsoft, but that was his shining moment of fame.
Two of the primary drivers behind Windows 95 were Brad Silverberg and Brad Chase. When they stood onstage earlier that summer in Toronto for the Microsoft Global Sales Summit (I was not there but I saw the video), they received the loudest and longest standing ovation from the Microsoft sales force I had ever heard. I realized watching that neither would likely ever accomplish something so huge again in their life. Both have since left Microsoft, Brad Silverberg launched a venture capital firm. He leads a cushy life from what I understand.
One of the key new features to Windows 95, which remains in the OS to this day was the “Start” button. Leading up to launch Microsoft needed to do advertising. As the story goes BillG was at an event where also in the crowd was Mick Jagger. Bill liked the idea of using the Rolling Stones classic “Start Me Up” for the ad blitz so he asked Mick, “How much would it cost?”. Keep in mind today we take these type of Rock Star meets corporate America for granted. In those days it was not quite so common (not to say it did not exist – Michael Jackson and Pepsi had been around for years).
The launch day that October was truly amazing. Starting at midnight with crowds lined up all over the country the amount of media buzz was overwhelming. Granted I was local, so in the Seattle area the coverage was over the top. Every TV station was covering the event and the soccer fields at Microsoft had been transformed into a circus seen complete with a big top tent. The event had a host, none other than Jay Leno. The Stones, “Start me up” was blaring everywhere and all the time. Helicopters were flying overhead all day long. It turned into a complete frenzy as radio reports stated to say that Keith Richards had been sighted at the airport (this proved to be false), which just added to the hysteria. Outside the tent were booths set up for Microsoft partners to show off demo’s of their Windows 95 products. Billg was on TV from that morning until the evening, doing interview after interview. There was food for everyone. It was just a huge party.
Compare all this with the Windows 7 launch, it was just a different ball game. I also think the metrics of success have changed. When I watched Steve Ballmer on the today show at the launch of Windows 7. Matt Lauer asked him, “So why should I buy Windows 7, I mean what is so great?” Without hesitation Steve responded “Faster boot time”. As I get older perhaps I get jaded, but that was not exactly the most exciting or interesting of answers. I honestly do not get tha excited about OS upgrades anymore. At the end of the day the OS needs to support my devices and run my apps. Beyond that there is not a whole lot of excitement in an operating system. But when the industry was younger and before the internet the OS was a really big deal.
The Windows 95 launch was one of those events that will likely not happen in the industry again. Within the month a IPO would launch for a small company called Netscape. The dawning of internet time was upon Microsoft and the industry would march toward overdrive, but that is the next blog. Have a great weekend:-)
Hans Henrik Hoffmann December 12, 2009