I came across this photo recently, and it struck me: that’s twenty years ago!
I remember that time well. I was working for Microsoft Denmark as a member of a novel 6-man team called the Microsoft ShowTeam that toured the country for months and held hands-on Windows 95 experience sessions. We also presented Windows 95 at Denmark’s biggest IT fair which coincided with the Win95 launch. It was awesome – being part of this milestone is my personal little claim to fame.
The IT fair was a huge success. Besides the normal Microsoft booth, we had a giant booth where I worked. We’d usher in 30 lucky people from the long waiting line and give them a half-hour guided tour of the system. There was a computer for each person, and we’d take turns presenting features and showing them on the big screen what they could try out on their own. Never before have I seen people that curious about tech but it can be compared to the curiosity around the iPhone launch. It was huge. Every session ended with a lucky draw of the Plus Pack (which obviously required the winner to go buy Win95 in order to use it!).
After this big launch, the ShowTeam toured the country with the same setup. We had an enormous tour truck that drove from venue to venue, and again the team itself took turns among the venues. We flew to some locations and drove to the rest. (Flying nationally in Denmark is funny: they hand you a paper bag with a sandwich before you get in, because the flight itself is so short that there isn’t time to serve and eat and collect before landing. It’s not a big country.) Each venue was a Microsoft partner, vendor, or computer store, and each was filled with curious and impatient people. And some went home with a Plus Pack.
Prior to the launch, we spent months installing the newest beta versions on the more than 30 desktop pc’s that we’d need for the IT fair and the roadshow that followed. Working with Win95 was an incredible improvement over Windows 3.11 (do you even remember that?) while at the same time, the beta versions were still full of bugs or simply blank areas marked “tbd” (to be developed).
We had to get those machines up and running, and at times we fought valiantly against the groundbreaking “plug and play” installation wizards that easily earned themselves the nickname “plug and pray.” Graphics and network drivers were always the biggest challenge (and I’m still fighting with graphics drivers in 2015, on Linux… perhaps world peace is easier than making solid graphics drivers). We ended up scripting a lot of repetitive tasks to simplify our on-tour procedure.
Despite the unavoidable troubles, Win95 was absolutely incredible – more of a leap forward than any Windows version that followed. We demoed true multitasking by opening a window that just contained an animation, and then opening the same again in another window – lo and behold: both windows kept playing the animation! I see you smirking but back then, this stuff was revolutionary, I tell you. Win95 also introduced the concept of a Start Menu that has become standard in most operating systems since then.
The concept of the ShowTeam turned out to be very successful and similar teams were created in the other Nordic countries. We went on to present MS Office 95 and later MS Office 97, as well as many other products. That’s also how I came to present MS Flight Simulator 2000 at a press event in an aircraft hangar, followed by taking a real plane for a spin over the city. I found it surprisingly easy, especially the landing wasn’t as hard as I had imagined it to be.
I worked at Microsoft from the launch of Windows 95 until the launch of Windows 2000. I also wound up being webmaster for microsoft.dk – all 15 000 pages of it – which was another great adventure that led me to my next employment, starting a web development agency in Copenhagen as a subsidiary of the web agency that had Microsoft as a client – but that’s another story!