After noticing how Doc Searls was doing a bit of reminiscing on his blog (warning, it takes you back to 1965), I realized that August 1995 -- exactly ten years ago -- is not a period of time I will soon forget. On August 24 in that year, the computer industry witnessed what, up until that time, was the most anticipated and most lavishly marketed product launch of all time -- Microsoft Windows 95. I remember that day well, as well as the period leading up to it -- during which I was working in the Labs at PC Week (now eWeek). For over a year, I had been living with the beta version of the operating system, the new builds of which were distributed on CD on an almost weekly basis (I still have all the CDs, see photo above right). Back then, with no broadband in place, you didn't download operating systems over the Internet.
After working with the operating system for countless man hours and then coming up with a testing methodology that could produce a report card with letter grades for five major categories of OS functionality (one of which wasn't security -- imagine that), PC Week Labs gave Windows 95 an overall grade of a B minus and the publication sent me down to New York to explain on about five nationally televised news broadcasts why. That was a whirlwind day as I was whisked in a town car from one TV studio in Manhattan to another. Hurry up and wait. Hurry up and wait. Oh, and get make up (it was the first time I ever wore make-up). Say what you will about Microsoft. That was a pretty exciting time to be a part of the industry.
On August 24 at the launch on Microsoft's Redmond-based campus, I couldn't help but marvel at how the blue skies over Redmond resembled the images of blue skies that were a part of Windows 95's branding. What were the odds that Microsoft would get a day like that for the launch? Who did Bill Gates know? I remember walking from one event on campus to another (a day that ended with an outdoor comedy performance by Jay Leno) with Microsoft's two top guys on Windows 95 -- Brad Chase and Brad Silverberg. At PC Week, we called them "the Brads." Nothing sticks out more in my mind than when Chase said "Give me your honest opinion David. Isn't it the best of all worlds -- Windows 3.11, Mac, OS/2, and even Motif?" Of course, the answer wasn't as simple as that. There were some things that Windows 95 was very good at -- particularly for a graphical operating system that ran on pretty cheap hardware. But, there's always room improvement and we said as much back then. Little did we know what was coming on the security front.
In the following year, Microsoft would launch the first version of MSN -- a non-Internet version that had chat rooms and was designed to compete with services like CompuServe. While playing around in one of those chat rooms on July 13, 1996, talking to the moderator about the technology, I engaged another chatter -- a woman who, three years later, would become my wife. We actually have a copy of the very first words we exchanged. For all its faults, I still have Microsoft and its technology to thank for forever changing my life (for the better).
So, why reminisce? Here we are in 2005, approximately a year away from the launch of what could be Microsoft's most important operating system release ever and the circumstances are remarkably similar. Back then, my boss and the editor in chief of PC Week -- the one who sanctioned the year long testing of Windows 95 -- was Dan Farber. Today, my boss and the editor in chief of ZDNet is Dan Farber. Two weeks ago, the e-mail came. "When does your testing on Vista begin?" Talk about yer' flashbacks. Even though it was in beta for longer than a year, I used Windows 95 as my production system starting when it wasn't even called Windows 95 and the CDs just said "Chicago" on them. I can't count the number of beta related crashes and catastrophes I had. Am I prepared for that again? I guess so.
To test Vista, I decided it would be best to subject it to an environment that stressed some of its most important and advanced features. The two that came to mind were mobility and 64-bitness. Looking around my garage and basement, I didn't see any 64-bit notebooks laying around so I turned to ZDNet head honcho and my Mr. Money Bags Stephen Howard-Sarin for approval to buy one. The answer was yes, as long as I publish lots of pictures of the things I encounter during testing. Sold. Now, the only question was, which system. There aren't many 64 bit notebooks out there. Of the ones out there, only AMD makes the chips in them. Having recently interviewed AMD officials about its newest Turion mobile 64-bit processor, I thought I might as well go for broke and get the latest greatest 64 bit mobile technology.
So, here I sit, waiting for an AMD Turion-based Acer Ferrari 4005 notebook that I found on Buy.com through CNET's Shopper.com. The first thing I'm going to do -- and it's going to kill me to do this because of how nice and bug free a fresh version of Windows XP is -- is wipe out Windows XP, load up VMWare's VMWare Workstation 5 virtual machine software in hopes of running Windows XP and Vista side-by-side (I'll need to check with the VMWare folks to make sure it's possible). Then, I'll reinstall XP on one partition while also installing the Beta 1 of Vista 64-bit on the other. But not before I take pictures of the system and follow Howard-Sarin's orders to publish them. Hopefully, I'll have those tomorrow. If you have thoughts on my testbed, or on things to look for while testing, use the comments below or send them my way at firstname.lastname@example.org. It's deja vu all over again. It's gonna be a long year and if there's one thing I can guarantee, it's that there won't be a wedding at the end of this road.