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.)
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.
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?