THROWBACK THURSDAY: Windows 95 Launch

It’s funny how memory works. I want to tell you about my experience with Windows 95. I’d seen it in beta at a special event at a software store some months prior, and I really wanted to have it on day 1. But if memory serves, it launched on a Thursday and I was working full time. So, I waited until Saturday and drove two towns over to the closest Target store to buy it. Remember folks, this was before online shopping and before downloadable software.

I bought the software on CD, which also required a floppy disk to boot the computer and make the CD work. I’m not sure it was the right call, because I think it still took well over an hour to install. It also didn’t really work terribly well out of the box. But, it did come with a cool Weezer video:

It played just like that, in a tiny window with really bad sound. We all thought that was utterly amazing at the time.

Start me up

Windows 95 launched with the biggest media campaign of any computer product up to that time. Microsoft licensed “Start Me Up” by The Rolling Stones for commercials, shown in restored form here:

The problem, at least for snarky folks like me, was that Microsoft very consciously edited around the song’s lyric, “You make a grown man cry,” and the thing is that the first month with Windows 95 tempted me to cry many, many times. But, it got better. Eventually.

The cringey launch event

Folks, remember that 1995 was a different time, and not necessarily better. Some of the things that we said very innocently land quite differently today. It’s ok to evolve, it’s ok to keep thinking about the past in new ways.

And that’s why it’s great to laugh, and cringe, at the worst moments from the Windows 95 launch event, brought to you by Gizmodo.

Whether it’s the goofy sales pitches, the casual jokes made about murder, or the random sexual harassment, it’s all played for laughs during this event hosted by then-arbiter-of-culture Jay Leno.

Windows got better, of course. Windows 98 was probably the last time Microsoft had two great launches back-to-back. Win98 gave us easy internet connectivity, better networking, and it didn’t mess with the then-new Start menu. It also didn’t require a floppy disk for install. If only Microsoft execs had paid attention, because for nearly the last 25 years they’ve been pitching a new bad idea every few years followed by walking it back in the next OS version. At least you can download stuff now rather than driving half an hour to get it.

Ah, a different time. Makes me wonder what we’ll cringe at in another 27 years. Will we find something inherently sociopathic in Windows 11 default wallpapers? Will the persistence of the clock and calendar remind us of how slavishly we follow time in the 2020s? I guess we’ll find out when Windows 18, or whatever they call it, launches.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.