Razorback Covers the Windows 95 Launch Event
April 3, 2022 at 2:05 PM
The Internet Archive link to this video is available at the bottom of the article.
Just yesterday, a higher quality version of Steve Ballmer's overly enthusitastic sales pitch for Windows 1.0 surfaced thanks to recent archival efforts of my friend Blue Horizon, and is available to download by itself on the Blue OS Museum. Now that the complete tape has been digitized and submitted to the Internet Archive, well... I imagine a fuckton of YouTubers will be scrambling to tell their own versions of the story in what amounts to glorified PowerPoint presentations (and beg you to subscribe to their channels) pretty soon, but I'm going to give you the real deal here.
Even for how earth-shattering the Windows 95 launch was, somehow, a lot of people who actually attended it must have fuzzy memories about the whole thing. It's been buzzed about so much in the press like "whoa, what's like like, uh... show business?" and I've seen others talk about it as if it was this really weird joke where Steve Ballmer's dancing like a madman... but apart from that Windows 1.0 "commercial" reused in the official tape, I don't think I saw Steve Ballmer anywhere in the video! Just goes to show you how much of this seems to have been forgotten... but it is no longer. At last, the untold story can be told.
Me and Blue Horizon, as well as one other person, got a chance to watch this video before much of the rest of the world will. As such, we've been talking over it quite a bit during the private screening, so I haven't quite absorbed all of the details of the video at this point. One of the first things that came up in the video was a section covering thoughts of the Windows 95 development crew on July 14th, 1995, when the operating system went gold and was shipped to system manufacturers. (Yes, it says that in the video straight out of Microsoft, so that means Wikipedia's claim that it was on August 15th is wrong!)
This section is oddly reminiscent of that Windows 95 video guide from GT Interactive, though not modeled like an episode of Friends. What it does have is sound effects dubbed under various dialogues from the developers, most notably a stock scream when some people are talking about someone who broke his neck doing backflips trying to fix bugs in Windows 95. Where have I heard that before? But I have a lot more questions about the part where pig noises were being dubbed over geese... 90's video editing was really fucking weird, though it's still a lot better than the painfully dishonest stuff that brews up today.
Another thing that stands out is one of the rooms in the background; it seems to be the same as the one featured in Microsoft's later video Windows 98: The Daily Test Cycle, possibly the so-called "engine room" where many of the machines are concentrated in for testing daily builds. There's not too much else to this section, as it's very humor-centric above all else, telling the story of those who had to sacrifice their pet dolphins to make Windows 95 happen.
The other section, "Windows Then", is basically a reusing of Steve Ballmer's bombastic parody of certain overly energetic commercials from the 80's, where he talks about some of the very impressive features of Windows 1.0. Well, were they? "Hahahahahasdagiow Windows 1.0 is Trash it onluy has Wrtie Cardfile and calendar anmd reverse !!!" is what you'll hear from most people talking about Windows 1.0, and indeed, it could not deliver much given the Compaq Deskpro 386 would not drop for almost another year.
You have to think more about what it debuted on, though... given Windows was initially designed to run entirely in real mode on an 8086 or 8088 CPU, and most systems of the time did not reach beyond 640KB of memory, it really is impressive for what it could do. It wasn't the first graphical environment for the IBM PC, but as Charles Petzold describes Windows 1.0's memory management in the introduction of his "Programming Windows 3.1" book:
Petzold describes this as an astonishing feat of software engineering. Indeed it is; as someone who is currently developing a new program designed to run in real mode on an 8088 CPU, I've learned that managing all of the system's memory yourself is a delicate task that requires exact precision. While at this point I am more so describing my own amateur mistakes and oversights from debugging my program, I can say that learning to work with memory in your program is no small task, and can be especially catastrophic without the conveniences of hardware features made famous by the 80386, such as memory protection and 8086 virtualization. A sloppily programmed piece of software can easily bring a system down to a halt, so for one to be able to juggle other programs within itself competently... try doing that yourself, and then say to my face that Windows 1.0 is just Reversi and Notepad.
Steve Ballmer's pitch presented internally at Microsoft really didn't account for all of Windows 1.0 (nor was it trying to, I'm pretty sure it was just trying to be funny). Windows was designed to grow, and by April 1987, it was already capable of displaying multimedia - motion graphics and sound, straight off of a CD-ROM, as shown in this video. And, if you look through some of the "Sick Windows Tricks" pages on ToastyTech, you'll see that Microsoft wasn't the only vendor of software for Microsoft Windows 1.0.
But enough about that... I think at least everyone can agree that Windows had come a long way since its initial release.
UH - OH ! NET SCAPE ??? YOUE CANT YOUSE THAT WE HAVE TO MAKE M$INTEXPLORDIO THE ONLY PROWSER IN WORLD !!!!! DEPLOY THE SPACE BROOMS
When I saw that Netscape logo in the background of an internal Microsoft video, it really indicated the stark contrast between the development of Windows 95 and 98. One was focused on pushing other operating systems out of the market, so it was designed primarily to have a superior user interface, reliable multitasking with DOS, Win16, and Win32 programs, and greater ease in application and hardware driver installation and uninstallation. The other wanted to push a once dominant web browser out of the market, so it took what was already great and shoehorned some heavyweight web UI into an interface that's supposed to be used for browsing directory contents.
Even then, Windows 95 was still pretty controversial at launch, particularly for including an advertisement to Microsoft's own online service, The Microsoft Network, in the form of a desktop shortcut. Competing services like CompuServe and Prodigy saw it as Microsoft exploiting their dominant position in the operating system market to push their other products unfairly - not unlike the issue that would arise from Internet Explorer 4.0's tight integration in Windows 98, but also nothing like the kind of shit we're hearing about now. You can remove the desktop shortcut at will like (almost) any other.
The Windows 95 launch begins with Jay Leno from NBC's The Tonight Show, primarily to show that Windows 95 is so easy to use that even a bumbling idiot like him could use it. I would've cast someone more remarkable for the event if I could call the shots, really. For instance, if Macaulay Culkin hadn't already grown tired of acting after Richie Rich, I think he would've been perfect for this job; he has that background of portraying a kid who was forced to fend for himself like a responsible young man, so imagine he ran into a scenario where he had to start working at the type of boring day job Microsoft Excel helped create. But Windows 95 makes it easy for him to manage!
Or better yet, they should've got Leslie Nielsen in there. He established himself as an incompetent cop with a pan-tone delivery to match that of Gates himself. I think it goes without saying that would've made for something that would've had us shitting ourselves all the way through. I do think it would have cost at least $100,000 extra for the gags, though.
Even so, there were some pretty interesting moments to come from Jay's performance. In particular, him opening a video clip from the Documents menu within the Start menu leads to a video of him running out the door to the top of some building and singing something glorious-sounding. Isn't it something, to think this would predate small clips on YouTube with titles like "My reaction to YouTube Channels 2.0 being delayed" where M. Bison goes "YES! YES!!"
A really interesting character would show up around 30 minutes into the tape. He didn't say much, but he seems to have been pretty heavily involved in the Chicago project given he walked in wearing a bunch of prerelease discs, which some beta enthusiasts ought to recognize. He mainly kicked around backstage to help audience members to upgrade Windows 3.1 computers to Windows 95 and what not.
The Technical Stuff
Bill Gates explains some of the most important features of Windows 95 upfront to the attendees, appealing to the perspective of a Windows 3.1x user looking to upgrade to Windows 95. The essentials are as follows:
Bill Gates also explains his visions of Windows from the past and for the future across several slides. When Windows first initiated development in 1983, it was clear to Microsoft that a graphical environment would one day be essential to computers as they grew more powerful, and so the company had to get to work on Windows to ensure that Apple wouldn't be hoarding all of the credit from Rob Pike and those pioneers at Xerox. It wouldn't be until 1990 that Windows would really start to take off, when more powerful computers started being sold at more affordable prices. Windows needed a 386 and its features to be a robust multitasking environment.
Compatibility with existing MS-DOS and Windows applications is one of the things Bill brings up regarding Windows 95. I've found that Windows 95 and its successor deliver on this very well; as mentioned earlier, it manages both 16-bit and 32-bit programs a lot better, even if some DOS programs do run more slowly unless you switch to MS-DOS mode. I think Win32s programs (programs for Windows 3.1x which used a 32-bit version of the Windows API but were limited to the same 16-bit functions otherwise) also gained certain benefits from an upgrade to Windows 95, such as the ability to use long filenames... don't quite recall off hand.
One thing that stuck out to me was Windows 95 being designed to appeal to both home users and businesses. It's funny, because the same case would be made again when pitching a version of Windows NT six years later, but would be arbitrarily split into two versions with practically identical kernels. Windows 95 used a DOS-derived kernel, making it several steps behind Windows NT, yet it still offered all of the same features for both home and business users in one simple product, like NT domain logons. Even Windows ME had that!
Any features which were exclusive to one medium were exclusive for logistical reasons; even with the clever DMF format and improved compression, there was no way one could cram every bit of the Windows 95 retail product into a set of floppy disks affordable enough for consumers without making compromises. Some features, such as the multimedia sound schemes, were CD-ROM exclusives.
Microsoft was already performing artificial market segmentation in 1993 with the first release of Windows NT, with one version being for workstations and another for servers. Like how modern versions of Windows are split into home and professional editions for no other reason than money, the server editions of Windows NT used the exact same kernel as the workstation ones; all they offered were additional components appropriate for a server. This became especially controversial when Windows NT 4.0 released with some terms apparently insisting that using the workstation edition as a publicly accessible web server is not allowed, as described in an O'Reilly article.
Speaking of servers, Bill Gates also talked about the importance of applications being identical on client and server platforms. I'm not sure if he really knew what he was talking about there; time has proven that graphical applications are not appropriate for servers which are designed to be left running unattended 24/7, including Razorback's own. On one side, it's hilarious, because it means you get to say "oh yeah, thanks to how this was designed for the client-server infrastructure, I can now play Unreal on an oversized Pentium Pro server with six full height SCSI disks".
But can you imagine the nightmares that would ensue if VPS providers only had the option to provide Windows Server machines to their customers? So much bandwidth wasted on displaying graphics remotely through VNC or RDP, not to mention immense licensing costs... one more reason to thank Linux and OpenSSH for providing free, robust, and secure means of installing and managing server applications. Just because they're all text-based doesn't mean they're hard!
Bill Gates proceeded to demonstrate one of the features of Windows 95 that helps businesses manage workstations by controlling their users with system policies and and then Jay randomly pops up to interrupt him. Bill demonstrates the System Policy Editor by "managing" his employee Jay Leno, who is playing that Hoover vacuum game. With the power of local area networking, Bill smites Jay by using Windows 95's policy editor to disable the Hoopy game on his end. Jay responds with a bad comeback that doesn't even make any sense, "what are ya, the Bob Dole of V-Chips now?" Yeah, you're gonna be more like the Ronald McDonald of potato chips! ...who wrote these jokes, Gex?
I didn't really cover the System Policy Editor in Hardcore Windows 95 or its successors; I had thought about it, but never got around to such a thing - probably one of my regrets with the series. I did, however, receive one testimony about the program regarding how it could be used against itself. To quote a channel going by 4TheRecord:
That sure is a hell of a way to make a user control program explode on itself! I still have yet to try the policy editor myself at some point, but being able to bypass such restrictions like that with such a simple action sounds awesome. In my high school we had LanSchool installed, just before Windows 10 released. In my experience, they've been surprisingly lenient there compared to junior high. I could get away with running portable programs, remotely connect to my own machine at home, and I even learned that anyone could easily access YouTube just by making sure to use the HTTPS protocol - an oversight in the network's URL restrictions!
They've probably addressed that by now, but such accidental permission for students to access YouTube did come full circle to aiding in some academic work. I think I used youtube-dl on the school computers twice to download an episode of Shark Tank for an economics assignment, and again for a web design project where I had to obtain some background music for a fictious Disneyland site as part of my final exam. I forgot the official cirricular textbook tag for adding such background music, so once I got the classic Donald Duck theme taken off of YouTube, I ended up using the simpler-to-remember HTML5 <audio> tag.
Background music for a site... now that's a trope that's been long forgotten, thanks to modern browsers blocking autoplay by default on certain types of content. Of course, for better or worse, my web design class was falling way behind; the HTML books still used HTML3 standards in the 2014-2015 year. Even then, I don't think I have reason to be grateful to that class, as I learned a lot more about outdated site design on my own.
Where was I? Ah right... so after Jay finally drives away in his car... um... is that a refridgerator? Oh, no, it's a mouse.
Bill cuts to one of Microsoft's largest customers, Ford Motor Company, also one of the largest customers of Dell, that other computer company with a stoner problem. It's basically a premade video where Ford employees talk about some of the ways Windows 95 has already vastly improved their working environment. The conventional memory problem is solved in Windows 95, and the introduction of the Network Neighborhood makes it a lot more convenient for users to browse network shares and access shared files as if they were just like local disks in the same Explorer interface which Windows 95 pioneered.
They talked a lot about such networking here. Sure, Windows 95's networking is better than that of DOS and Windows for Workgroups 3.11, but I wouldn't give Windows 95 all the credit there. TCP/IP has been been around for a long time already, and as the protocol really picked up momentum in the 90's (in part thanks to the World Wide Web), its interoperability with just about any modern system you throw at the network, be it a Unix box, a Macintosh, a DOS/Windows machine, or even some kind of embedded device, it is the real champion of networking innovation. Windows 95's defaults assumed users would still be using legacy NetBIOS-based networking locally, but this would be corrected in Windows 98, which installed TCP/IP only by default.
While later on the video Bill Gates was talking about Office 95 and Schedule+, we ended up cracking our own joke about how Windows 95's networking capabilities make it easier to transfer hacky jokes about Bill Clinton and irrelevant celebrities across NBC's offices, following a skit about writing cue cards that left us rather perplexed at the possibility that it may have been plucked straight out of The Tonight Show.
As it seems clear Ford had been using Windows 95 well before its appearance in store shelves, perhaps due to a strong partnership with Microsoft, we can see some instances of prerelease software in the video, particularly the beta icon of Internet Explorer.
The Microsoft Network
Although this is the first time most people will get to see the bulk of the Windows 95 Launch Event as it is, plenty of fragments from it have been scattered about elsewhere, on YouTube and in various press broadcasts, as well as on the mighty tech show Computer Chronicles. There's also some footage of the launch event which is strangely not on the tape, including a timelapse of the pavilion tents being built for the event where people got to test drive Windows 95.
One clip I recall seeing somewhere else many years ago is an end user testimony vaguely describing the AutoPlay feature: "I take the CD, put it in, click it on the 'puter, and the big circle comes, and then the bird comes." It really was that easy to understand, as simple as putting the cartridge in a Game Boy to get the game I wanted to play. I came back to that Computer Chronicles episode covering the Windows 95 launch, and there it was. What I didn't see of it until now was her brother talking about using that same computer for playing games and doing homework, emphasizing the use of an online version of Encarta on The Microsoft Network.
The Microsoft Network as it was really doesn't have a lot of documentation anywhere preserving its contents. Although it was advertised right on the desktop of Windows 95 on a fresh install, I still question how many people actually used the service. AOL was a much bigger name in content services, thanks to it being an absolute pest of advertising as it smuggled itself into numerous CD-ROMs, and its services lasted a lot longer. Though Microsoft was on a roll with NBC after getting Jay Leno on the launch event as they convinced them to create a network called MSNBC, these days that name is now known only for trashy stock politics. How sad!
The only real footage I've seen of MSN operating is as much as a segment from CNET that was published to their YouTube channel around Windows 95's 20th anniversary, at least to the extent I recall. There's a lot more new footage of MSN that comes from here, and it's gotten me thinking about something...
As you should see in the above screenshot, The Microsoft Network shares a consistent interface with that of the regular Explorer in Windows 95, albeit with some decoration like a header and custom folder icons. You know what else has these? Windows 98. It doesn't seem like the back/forward buttons were part of Explorer itself, as they seem to be present only in web browser windows MSN opens; the idea wouldn't come around until some time during Nashville's development.
It just leaves me wondering, though: was that raw idea of integrating the internet or something which amounts to it always in Bill Gates' mind? I'm under the impression it was, but at this time it wasn't really worth an uproar because nobody I know of used MSN back then, and the Explorer interface runs fairly quickly on my 386DX-40 anyway. Even with that in mind, MSN 2.0, which was released in 1996, shares a few lesser "webby" similarities with what would eventually become the Windows 98 interface, so it would seem.
Yes, even back then, MSN had live chat. Not an extraordinary thing, but it leads us to the next pa-- oh, and Jay Leno shows up again. He talks about how someone was tragically killed in a live action game of Doom... what does "live action" mean in this context? Was it some play, or some kind of movie? Or maybe it was just a deathmatch... what became of that event?
There's also footage of the Windows 95 website on Microsoft's domain from the day it launched, real juicy stuff that is nowhere to be found in any sort of archive, for the Wayback Machine did not even exist in 1995. I assume Microsoft still has all the assets for the site locked away somewhere, and simply won't bother releasing them. It's more important that they post dumb memes on their Twitter account of Pikachu crying because someone wants to Alt+F4 out of Windows 11! Making nobodies like us have to do the dirty work of actual archival for all to appreciate, risking hundreds of dollars in the process?! God damn!
Bringing a launch event online sounds like a really interesting concept, especially given the logistics of 1995's internet. Streaming video had to be out of the question, but being able to take live tours of Microsoft in some other form leaves me wanting to see what that all is really like. Will we ever get to see it? I hope so... given Microsoft's current state of mind, it doesn't seem possible, but I'm just glad we finally have a much deeper glimpse into the physical launch event than we ever did before.
We're close to the end of the tape, and this time he's demonstrating Microsoft Plus, the add-on pack for Windows 95 that's used to enhance the user's experience with desktop theming, disk compression, automated overnight maintenance, Internet Explorer (which was also available through other means), a dial-up server, high color icons, and of course, the unanimously recognizable Space Cadet Pinball. My favorite themes are Windows 95 and More Windows, but Bill Gates' own favorite is Leonardo da Vinci. I wonder why.
I never really used task scheduling all that much, but it's nice that such a thing is available. Some of the features in Microsoft Plus would end up becoming available for free later on in certain installation packages; for instance, Dial-Up Networking 1.3 and 1.4 come with the Dial-Up Server component, while I know Internet Explorer 5.5 comes with the task scheduler. I think it's also possible to forcefully enable high color icon support in Windows 95 with a simple registry setting, though the high color icons that ship with Microsoft Plus would still not be available without the presence of COOL.DLL.
Bill fires up 3D Pinball, which appears to be the final version in contrast to an earlier version from GT's Windows 95 Video Guide when it was called Maelstrom. Before he can even get a chance to put the ball into the field, however, MOTHERFUCKING JAY LENO comes out of nowhere yet again to interrupt his nice presentation with a challenge on betting the ownership of NBC... man, isn't that pretty fucking extreme? Bill Gates really needs to get better friends.
The End, The Start
After a long streak of dangerously awkward jokes, the presentation does end on a high note. Three years of hard, hard work have been building up to one of the most important moments in software history. Bill Gates summons the senior vice president of the personal systems division, Brad Silverberg. He carries a jumbo-sized Windows 95 upgrade box to the stage, and expresses astonishment for just how much attention was being turned to Windows 95, a non-gaming software product. All around the world, people have been lining up to be some of the first to obtain their copy of an operating system.
It really speaks volumes as to how this program was a major deal. A damn large number of people knew what they were wanting; Windows 95 really was something that allowed existing customers to get a lot more out of their 486 and Pentium machines. It's not the first time there's been a long lineup for some kind of software; Dragon Quest III had that level of enthusiasm back when it launched in 1988, but that was just a Famicom cartridge that was designed specifically to be fun! An operating system like Windows 95 being able to crowd entire computer stores on a Wednesday night was unimaginable back then, as it is now! We still see long lineups for Apple's telephones today, but that seems more like a cult with a broken spirit surviving on trivial annual rehashes rather than a genuine desire to witness something great and purchase something great - nothing like the energy that surrounded me when I attended a local Mac OS 10.5 launch event. I wonder if I still have my shirts from there...
Did you know that my friend Blue Horizon was also a beta tester of some of these Microsoft products? He was one of the only people to figure out that Memphis 1387 had gradient title bars! I could say that Microsoft paid some of their higher-profile partners like Ford a lot of money to help beta test Windows 95, and it's probably true, but I have a feeling that there are a lot of people, mere individuals, who went out of there way to beta test Windows 95 because they believed in the product. I sure as hell would've been one of them had I been around for such a thing!
We're then treated to what would be the first look at the famous "Start Me Up" commercial, followed by Brad cracking a joke about the Rolling Stones having the incredible foresight to create a song for a program to be released 14 years later. From there, we get to see what would end up remaining the absolute pinnacle of Microsoft...
The entire Windows 95 development team, or at least the vast majority of it, was gathered up for a standing ovation in honor of the program they worked so hard on to incidentally become one of the best operating systems of all time. This specific footage has been out there before in a highlight reel, but seeing the complete buildup to it made me estatic. For the first time, we got to see the full picture of an operating system that has basically become part of my blood.
As the beta testers come on up to enter the world of Windows 95, the camera cuts to one final shot of a Windows 95 flag waving above one of the pavilions, fading to a 3D render of the Windows 95 logo. And that... that is gorgeous. It effortlessly blows the Windows XP OOBE intro out of the fucking water.
Even though Windows 95 was eventually canned by Microsoft on December 31st, 2001, its energy never really waned off. Though most of us have moved on to using other operating systems as our daily drivers, I continue to use Windows 95 on the side to this day, and will for decades to come. I have even taken the liberty of repackaging Windows 95 for new generations to enjoy, and for the older guys to save their precious time, and it all stems from some modest experimental work of mine combined with Blue Horizon's heurisitic beta testing procedures that have led to the unexpected discovery of gradient title bars in Memphis 1387.
Long after the frantically speculative retro tech fad dies off among the masses, we will continue to demonstrate our solidarity for DOS and Windows 95. We will make more legacy-friendly web pages, we will write more software optimized for 8088 CPUs, and we will show the world that an old machine has the potential to do far more with less. For the past couple of months, I have been undertaking my most ambitious project to date, and I have yet more in the queue following that.
After a post-screening talk with Blue Horizon, he basically told me that it was because of those videos I made of Windows 95 back in 2015 that he was even compelled to acquire that Windows 95 launch event tape in the first place. To this day, it still comes as a shock to me that my earlier works in the form of online videos could go so far as to even make something like this possible. The efforts he makes to ensure his VHS captures are of the highest quality possible are something I could never match, and his determination to acquire a historic VHS tape never seen before by the general populace is unreal. I would have brushed it off as "ah, that much money for a video tape?" Yet here we are now.
He's one of the few who really gets what I've been saying about how exactly Windows got to where it is now, so far from its former glory. Revisionists have come in to try to rewrite the story out of nostalgia bias, but we only side with the truth, even if it is uncomfortable. That is why we do things our own way.
I hope that through my website and future projects, I can inspire yet more people to do far more to help keep those Socket 5 machines going, and to one day unearth the complete picture of Windows 95. YouTube has proven a futile route for such a task, but with the programming knowledge I am accumulating on a regular basis now, I am confident that I can use it to reach out to far more people than I ever had a chance to there.
Ladies and gentlemen, and everyone in between and beyond, it has been my honor and privilege to present to you, on behalf of the vigilant archival efforts of the Blue OS Museum, the complete Windows 95 Launch Event... before any of the smug YouTubers, right here on Razorback.
Download the full tape here: Microsoft Windows 95 Launch with Bill Gates & Jay Leno (1995)
But what really became of the jokes Bill gates wrote? Why were Jay Leno's jokes unfunny? After taking more time to rethink the whole thing, I think it's starting to make more sense... god damn it, Bill...!
Windows 95 is truly something that Microsoft themselves now can't ever dream of topping. They had a somewhat good start with Nashville, but that was also the real point where they started to run wild with the "desktop being a webpage" idea.
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