Were you in line to buy Windows 95 fifteen years ago?

Were you in line to buy Windows 95 fifteen years ago?

Summary: It was 15 years ago today, August 24, that Microsoft launched Windows 95. Since then, a lot has changed, to put it mildly.


As a couple of my Twitter buddies have noted, it was 15 years ago today, August 24, that Microsoft launched Windows 95.

I remember exactly where I was on that perfect, blue-sky summer day: I was in the third row inside the tent where Chairman Bill Gates and Jay Leno launched the operating system (to the tune of "Start Me Up.") Outside, on the grounds of the  Microsoft Redmond campus, was a full-size ferris wheel. The night before, thousands of people had lined up at Best Buys and other retail stores to buy their copies of Windows 95 at midnight. (As I recall, more than a few in line didn't know what they were lining up to buy, but they queued, figuring it must be something big.)

Gallery: Windows 95 - 15 years later

A whole different cast of characters were in charge of Windows and the newly-launched Internet Explorer 1.0 at the time. Paul Maritz, Jim Allchin and Brad Silverberg were running the show. (Maritz is now heading up Microsoft rival VMware. Allchin has been recording music. Silverberg is one of the founding partners of venture firm Ignition Partners.)

Leading up to the Win95 launch, there were months on end of public and private beta test releases that went out weekly on CDs. I was the Microsoft reporter for PCWeek (now eWEEK) at the time, and my assignment was to write a story about what was in those builds every single week leading up to the release to manufacturing (RTM). It was a challenge (though not an insurmountable one), given I was not one of the sanctioned testers myself.

In 1995 (which also happened to be the year that Microsoft launched Bob, for you Redmond history buffs), Microsoft had $5.9 billion in sales and 17,800 employees. (In 2009, Microsoft reported $62.5 billion in revenues and had about 89,000 employees.) In 1995, Bill Gates was still the President and CEO of the company. The current head of Windows, President Steven Sinofsky, was Director of Program Management for the Office product unit, which was formed in 1994.

Today, the Windows team is in the midst of developing Windows 8. The IE team is prepping the first beta of Internet Explorer 9 (due out September 15). The Windows Live team is continuing to update the betas of the fourth release of Windows Live services -- a collection of software/services that might have actually ended up bundled into Windows had not a number of antitrust watchdogs intervened. And Sinofsky is running the combined Windows/IE/Windows Live organization.

What's changed most of all, in my opinion, in the past 15 years is how Microsoft makes the Windows sausage. There are far fewer public or private test builds of Windows. Instead, the new modus operandi is to make sure features are almost completely baked before letting anyone outside the core team look at or play with a new Windows build. Schedules are meant to be secret and include padding to prevent targeted ship dates from becoming slip dates. Service packs -- even ones that are almost entirely comprised of previously released fixes and updates -- also are subject to the same rules. (Microsoft officials said this summer that SP1 for Windows 7 is due in the first half of 2011, but I can't help but wonder if we might see it sooner, possibly this year.)

Windows -- in spite of Microsoft's best efforts to detangle it via MinWin and other initiatives -- has gotten a lot more complex over the past decade and a half. It has to run on a lot of device types (netbooks, tablets, slates) that didn't really exist back in 1995. It has to work for a billion users who are running everything from 10-plus-year old legacy business apps, to the latest social-networking offerings and games.

We don't know a whole lot yet about Windows 8 -- beyond what has leaked out so far in the form of early planning documents. From that early info, it sounds as though the Windows team understands that it needs to get more serious about making the next release of Windows work well on touch-centric slate devices. The team also seems to be intent on building Windows 8 to be more of a virtualized/virtualizable release, easing backward compatibility and management headaches. We also don't know when Windows 8 will ship, as Microsoft execs still haven't said which year (2011? 2012?) to expect Microsoft to deliver the product.

Whenever Windows 8 does ship, I seriously doubt there will be lines out the door of any brick-and-mortar stores, even Microsoft's own. Most users these days upgrade to a new operating system when they buy it installed on new PCs. With many consumers and business customers choosing to buy new machines now, with Windows 7 installed, will they be in the market, yet again in a couple of years, for another Windows machine? Will slates really evolve to be a completely new category, in between phones and PCs, and become the primary target for Windows 8? Will Windows 8 and its successors become more personal-cloud-centric (whatever that really means)?

Were you one of those in those midnight madness lines 15 years ago? If so, you've seen lots of Windows good, bad and ugly. Do you think the days of the big-bang OS release are over -- or should be --for once and for all?

Topics: Operating Systems, CXO, Microsoft, Software, Windows


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Yes! I was in line!

    I remember that day.. I was at my local Egghead Software (remember them!?) at 12Midnight waiting for them to open.. I also remember it was a huge decision as to if I should purchase the 3.5 floppy version or the CD-Rom version.. I went with the 3.5 floppy and spent 3 hours installing it from 12 disks. I went back the next day and exchanged it for a CD version.

    Ah. Memories
    • RE: Were you in line to buy Windows 95 fifteen years ago?

      @explorer5 I was the bored college grad behind the register, selling it to you. (If you were on Winchester Rd, in Memphis TN, anyway.)
      • RE: Were you in line to buy Windows 95 fifteen years ago?

        Yes, I remember the day well, anxious to get my hands on the best OS of the day, except it wasn't 15 years ago and it wasn't Windows 95. It was actually May 13, 1991 and it was Mac OS 7. Unfortunately for all the PC folks, they ended up stuck in line for an extra 4 years of DOS, and they're still waiting for Windows to catch up with Mac and Linux. I guess when you huddle with the ignorant masses, that's what you can expect.

        3-2-1... Let the flame wars commence!
      • RE: Were you in line to buy Windows 95 fifteen years ago?

        @geotopia: you must be kidding. System 7 was a very unstable O.S. I remember clearly all the times the dialog box with a bomb appeared. I hated that.
      • RE: geotopia

        Yeah, I remember those early Macs very well. It was a good day it you only had to reboot 3 or 4 times because of crashes. No wonder most stayed with DOS!
      • RE: Were you in line to buy Windows 95 fifteen years ago?

        @ nomorebs & itpro_z (or can I just call you lemmings and be done with it!?)

        You can compare Win32's Bluescreen of Death with the early Macs' frozen stopwatch cursor and we'd both be correct... OSes have come a long way since 1991 (1995 for Windows).

        Sure the Mac had its memory leaks, but Windows from 95 on has had the perpetually corruptible registry. But in 1991 I was cranking out computer graphics through Photoshop and Illustrator that my DOS friends could only dream about. I was daisy chaining 4 or 5 hard drives while they were trying to figure out which was slave and which was master. I was editing wave forms to create custom system sounds (precursor to ring tones) while they were trying to install a sound card. I had moved on to high resolution laser printing while the PC crowd was getting by with dot matrix, or if they were lucky HPGL, loading font cartridges. I was typing in Japanese and Chinese within the OS while they were adding unworkable hacks just to READ Asian languages.

        So, for me, 1991 was much more memorable than 1995 because by then the gap was even more wide, OS 8 versus Win95. But thank you for legitimizing my thread by comparing Mac 1991 with Win 1995, because it's obvious you couldn't compare Win95 with anything contemporary and get more than a sympathetic chortle.
      • RE: geotopia

        So, geo, your point was that you could do things with your Mac back in the day that DOS machines could not? Are you naive enough to believe that the opposite was not also true?

        I was installing professional CAD systems back in the 80s and 90s. Gee, I wonder just how much CAD work was done on Macs back then? None, of course, since there were no CAD programs to speak of for the Mac.

        I was installing accounting systems for CPAs and businesses back in those days. Once again, geotopia, how many of those were Macs? Why none, of course, because virtually all of the accounting software was written for PCs, not Macs.

        What about Lotus 1-2-3 and WordPerfect? You would scoff at them because they were text based, but they were the standards for business for many years, but not on the Mac.

        Project management? Games? Educational software? Networking? Need I go on (and on and on)? While you were playing with pretty pictures on your Mac, businesses, homes, and schools were getting their work done on DOS and the early versions of Windows. If you want to argue that the Mac revolutionized the publishing market, then I would agree, but everything else was the domain of the PC for many years, and to a large extent still is today.
      • Steve Jobs said that Jobsless MacOS was not a real MacOS

        @geotopia It was just a ripoff. He said himself the it's a bad OS which would have been dead without porting to NeXT. How dare you mention it and even said that it was good. You have insulted the whole Jobs-worshiping community. <br><br>Shame on you.
      • RE: Were you in line to buy Windows 95 fifteen years ago?

        @ itpro_z CAD, Finances, Word Processing, Data Crunching. Yah, you're right, you couldn't do any of that stuff on a Mac around 1991...

        Although Word was already at Word 4.0 on the Mac (released in 1989), Excel was at 3.0 by 1990 and 4.0 by 1992, both far ahead of their crippled DOS cousins. There was also FileMaker and Fox Pro, Informed, and for finances, Quicken, MacinTax, Peachtree, Big Business,... For CAD, yes it was pretty weak, but with MacDraft and SnapZ I could output IGES and DXF, and combining Illustrator 88 (shucks, you lemmings had to wait 7 years for the tasty goodness of Adobe Illustrator) with Alias on IRIS, I was doing 3-D modeling with laser deposition molding and rendering 3D animations. Of course, Photoshop 1.0 came out in 1989 and by 1994 when I was working at Adobe we were recompiling for Windows WG and about a year later for Win32...

        I'm sorry, I totally forgot what point you were making. Oh yeah! There have always been great games for PCs! Yah, on the Mac, we had to wait 2 years to play Doom! Those were the longest 2 years of my life, man! Of course, me and my Mac got lots of other great stuff done in the mean time.
      • RE: Were you in line to buy Windows 95 fifteen years ago?


        Yeah I remember MacOS7, mostly the bomb dialog. To me eyes it read: "Do you want to lose all your work?" with the no button grayed out.
    • RE: Were you in line to buy Windows 95 fifteen years ago?

      definitely, windows 95 was a major upgrade from windows 3.11 at that time if I remember correctly, a really huge step forward into the os world of dos-prompt-free environment in my opinion.
      • RE: Were you in line to buy Windows 95 fifteen years ago?

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    • RE: Were you in line to buy Windows 95 fifteen years ago?

      @explorer5 you must be kidding. System 7 was a very unstable O.S. I remember clearly all the times the dialog box with a bomb appeared. I hated that.

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      • RE: Were you in line to buy Windows 95 fifteen years ago?


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    • RE: Were you in line to buy Windows 95 fifteen years ago?

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  • RE: Were you in line to buy Windows 95 fifteen years ago?

    Nope. I was using OS/2 back then. My first post-Win 3.1 version of Windows of Windows NT 4.0 which I ran in a dual boot configuration alongside OS/2.
    • RE: Were you in line to buy Windows 95 fifteen years ago?

      @Mike (not Cox)

      Same here....loved David Bernes marketing....around the world with OS/2! Also got the 93 NT/OS2 shootout on youtube!
  • no more lines in future?

    Well, I remember the run on Windows 95 - but I was not part of waiting in the line in Austria, I believe there were no lines. ;-)

    Windows 95 was great with the starting logo, the green-blue background and you knew that there was DOS under it, but it felt completly new: Windows with Close button in the right top corner, icon-shortcuts and a real desktop...! A long time ago - but I can also remember Windows 1 to Windows for Workgroups 3.11...

    Today I think, running on any kind of OS will no longer be that important for users - because the modern OSes can do a lot and it?s simply expected for them to work - similar to Smartphones.

    So, let?s see if any IT-company can manage to create such an hype again!