While I will be writing separately about several of the products mentioned in this article, it’s worth stepping back a bit and considering what an amazing year 1995 was. As the year began, I was just starting what would become a career in writing about Microsoft technologies, and the software giant had by mid-year unleashed a torrent of in-development products and services such as Windows 4.0 (95), MSN, Plus! 95, Office 95, and more.
Ah, 1995. Simpler days. No kids. No mortgage. And we were a few years into living in Phoenix, Arizona.
My wife and I had originally moved to Phoenix so that I could go back to school, but a fateful meeting with a professor at Scottsdale Community College (SCC) got me going on a new career much more quickly than I had planned. I’ll never really know what Gary Brent saw in me—”I could just tell,” was his cryptic reply when I ask him what made him think I could even write clearly—but he got me started, with a book about Visual Basic 3. And then Excel. And then Windows 4.0, which became Windows 95.
And then 1995 happened.
We all knew Windows 95 was going to be the biggest event in the history of the PC industry. Windows was already dominating the market, but Windows 3.x basically sucked, unless you were willing to dive pretty deep into Windows 3.11/Windows for Workgroups and enable 32-bit disk and memory access, two configuration changes that basically provided the same underlying system we later got in Windows 95.
Back then, Microsoft beta testing required you had a paid Compuserve account. I really preferred that system, because it kept the looky-loos out, and because literally paying by the minute to use the service meant that all of the interactions between testers were both thoughtful and helpful.
Gary and I spent much of that year plugging away on what would become “Projects for Windows 95″—Addison Wesley had the worst book title names—and were already in over our heads by the time the other betas started falling.
The first was Office 95. No surprise there: A 32-bit version of Office designed for Windows 95.
Then we got an NDA for something codenamed “Frosting.” This turned out to be Plus! For Windows 95, a neat add-on pack that provided some games, Internet Explorer, DriveSpace 3, and screensavers and wallpaper.
Finally, there was the most mysterious beta of all: “Marvel,” which became “The Microsoft Network,” or MSN. This is sort of hard to explain, but the original MSN integrated directly into the Windows 95 file system, and as you opened folders, new windows would appear (at the time, Windows 95 behaved like the Mac did then, where each folder opened a new window) and you could dive deeper into the service. MSN doesn’t make a lick of sense today, but at the time, most people accessed the Internet through services like AOL and Compuserve. And Microsoft’s implementation was indeed unique.
(MSN raised some antitrust issues, naturally, so AOL (and I think other services) eventually secured a spot on the Windows desktop too.)
1995 was also the year I started an email newsletter called WinInfo, which was originally aimed at the instructors and computer lab personnel at SCC. I would forward industry news blurbs I thought were important and would add my own comments to them—”this is why you need to know this”—or what we would today call “blogging.” The instructors liked it so much they asked to let their students in. And the students liked it so much that they asked to let friends and family in. And it kind of took off from there: I still write news stories every day, 20 years later.
20 years. Geeps.
Tagged with Throwback Thursday