1995: The year the future began
It’s hard to think of 1995 as a turbulent or troubled time.
Not when Seinfeld and Friends were among the year’s most-watched TV shows.
Not when Mars Inc. ran a two-month campaign urging consumers to vote for a new color for M&M’s — pink, purple, or blue.
(Blue won, and replaced tan.)
But no event of 1995 — a watershed year in ways serious and substantial — was as hyped and contrived as Microsoft’s late August launch of the Windows 95 computer operating system.
As I discuss in my book, 1995: The Year the Future Began, the launch was preceded by weeks of unrelenting advertising and marketing hoopla. Not since “the first landing on the moon — or, at any rate, since the last Super Bowl — has America been more aflutter,” a U.S.-based correspondent for London’s Independent newspaper observed on the eve of the launch.
So successful was Microsoft’s pre-launch campaign that Windows 95 had become a topic of conversation even among computer illiterates, the Washington Post pointed out.
Microsoft spent lavishly on touting Windows 95. It reportedly spent millions for rights to the Rolling Stones hit Start Me Up, the anthem for the launch.
Microsoft bought out the print run of the venerable Times of London on August 24, the day of the launch, and gave away newspaper — fattened with advertising for Windows 95.
A huge banner, stretching some thirty stories and proclaiming “Microsoft Windows 95,” was suspended from the landmark CN Tower in Toronto.
In New York, the Empire State Building was illuminated in red, yellow, and green — three of Microsoft’s four corporate colors. (Blue was the other, but that color could not be displayed due to technical problems, the New York Times reported.)
It was, as I say in the book, “a burst of contrived giddiness and worldwide extravagance that would be unthinkable today.”
Unthinkable because few people would find much to celebrate in the introduction of a computer operating system, let alone wait in line to buy a copy. Of course, shrewd observers in late summer 1995 understood that Windows 95 was, as the New York Times put it, not greatly unlike “a more efficient transmission for a car.”
Just as inescapable as the hoopla was the obvious nature of Microsoft’s campaign — to establish Windows 95 as the industry standard and encourage users to move from older Windows platforms and embrace the new operating system. In that, Microsoft largely succeeded. Windows 95 was a decided upgrade for personal computers.
It was the platform on which Microsoft introduced its Internet Explorer browser.
Years later, Walter Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal ranked Windows 95 the dozen “most influential” technology products he had reviewed for the Wall Street Journal since the early 1990s.
Windows 95, Mossberg wrote, “cemented the graphical user interface and the mouse as the way to operate a computer. While Apple’s Macintosh had been using the system for a decade and cruder versions of Windows had followed, Windows 95 was much more refined and spread to a vastly larger audience than the Mac did.”
True enough. Apple in 1995 was a modest player, commanding just 8 percent of the worldwide computer market.
But it was undeterred and ran a cheeky counter-campaign to Microsoft’s extravagant hype in 1995, noting that many features of Windows 95 already were available on Macintosh machines. “Been there,” Apple proclaimed in its publicity, “done that.”
Microsoft’s big day finally arrived and just after midnight on August 24 in Auckland, New Zealand, a 19–year–old student named Jonathan Prentice made the first retail purchase of Windows 95. Five television crews were on hand. “It sounded like it would be a bit of fun,” he was quoted as saying.
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