Remembering the Iconic Windows 95 Launch
Rolling Stones, Jay Leno, and simpler times
It’s hard to imagine an operating system, by itself, garnering the kind of near-global attention the Windows 95 launch attracted in 1995.
Journalists arrived from around the world on August 24, 1995, settling on the lush green, and still relatively small Microsoft Campus in Redmond, Washington. There were tickets (I still have mine) featuring the original Windows Start Button (“Start” was a major theme for the entire event) granting admission to the invite-only, carnival-like event. I can’t remember if Microsoft mailed it to my New York office or if I picked it up when I arrived in Washington.
I do recall getting bused to the campus, where we weaved our way through a series of greeting tents and were handed special name tags featuring a redesigned Windows logo and the iconic clouds and blue-sky background.
Few of the assembled tech reporters were going into this event blind. We’d spent months picking apart what, at that time, was still code-named “Chicago,” and most were test-driving Windows 95 pre-release versions. Everyone knew it was a stark departure from Windows 3.1, a major update that would transform and unify the disparate interface elements. It was the first natively 32-bit Windows platform (software companies raced to keep up with 32-bit releases) with support for multimedia technologies and Plug and Play that ostensibly simplified adding and upgrading hardware.
Even so, there was palpable excitement on that day, which appeared tailor-made for the launch. Even with the large tents and presentation space, the launch was designed as an outdoor event. Washington State can be a rainy place but, on this day, the skies hewed close to the script, awash in brilliant blue with just a handful of fluffy white clouds floating over the campus.
On the ground, we marched into the presentation pavilion where Microsoft co-founder and CEO Bill Gates took the stage. The nerd king never had much of a stage presence, but he was reveling at the moment. Jay Leno, only three years into his 22-year The Tonight Show run joined Gates on stage. They traded forgettable jokes. At some point, Mick Jagger sang the new Windows 95 theme song, Start Me Up. I have a vague…