When Rachel and Chandler helped you with your computer

The 1990s were a different time, to be sure. We take personal computers for granted now, and even consider them to be “old-school” when compared to our phones. We’re trained these days to embrace new technology on a fairly regular basis. But 25 years ago, that wasn’t the case.

First a little history

It wasn’t until the 1980s that computers really found a place in your average business. Before then, computers were either very large things that scientists and huge companies used, or hobbyist devices that had no practical purpose other than looking cool (for the time.)

More than anything, it was the original IBM Personal Computer that brought this kind of technology to businesses.

It may look impossibly square now, but think of this as the height of technology in 1981. Its specs, by today’s standards, are laughable. But at the time it was full of superpowers. Two of its most important ones were the ability to type and erase what you’d typed, and to have tables of numbers that automatically performed math for you. Believe you me this was amazing.

Computers, barely seen in the early part of the decade, were ubiquitous by the end. But, they still weren’t easy to use. That would take a few more years.

A window into the world

Even in the early 1980s, everyone knew that “windowing operating systems” were the future. The idea that you could use a mouse beside your keyboard and get a graphical view of what you were doing was really high-tech back then, even if the result looks laughable today:

It took a while for Windows to become the dominant force it is today, and the real key moment was the introduction of Windows 95.

The coming of Windows 95

Windows 95 may look drab, but look closer. Pretty much everything that you see on today’s desktops is there. There’s a start menu, a taskbar, the Windows Explorer, and even a way to get on line. Windows 95 was a huge change from everything that came before, and set the stage for everything that came after.

Even though businesspeople were used to things changing by this point, Windows 95 was a big change. If people in the 1990s were going to get on board with this new way of thinking, they were going to need a few friends to help them understand.

Enter a few friends

If you wanted to learn Windows 95 when it shipped, you bought a VHS tape to tell you how to do it. There was no YouTube back then. There was no DVR. This is how you learned stuff.

Microsoft teamed up with Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry from, well, Friends, for an instructional video. I’ll give you a few minutes to revel in the purely 90s-tastic nature of the video you see below.

Ms. Aniston and Mr. Perry play themselves, not their Friends counterparts, although it’s a little hard to tell the difference. They show up for an “interview” with Bill Gates, who still helmed Microsoft back then. They end up learning some of the interesting things about Windows 95.

It wasn’t a big deal then…

In fact I don’t remember seeing the Windows 95 Video Guide anywhere back then. I’m sure you could probably find it at your local Blockbuster Video, Computer City, Crown Books, or Borders. But it didn’t really move the needle for me. It could be due to my already being pretty “computer literate” back then.

So no, it may not have been a really important thing back then, but it’s become a bit of pop culture that’s really held up. Windows 95 may be nothing more than an obsolete OS, Friends and its stars have stood the test of time. While you wouldn’t spend a lot of time running Windows 95 on your computer, you’ll almost certainly enjoy watching your friends on Friends when HBO Max launches as the exclusive streaming home of Friends. 


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.