Personal Archaeology: I Stood in Line for Windows 95

Windows 95, WelcomeAs being reported everywhere (arstechnica.com, engadget.com, gizmodo.com and many others) Windows 95 is 20 years old today. I stood in line for it. First, perhaps, we should set the stage.

I was living in Boston at the time, having followed my lovely bride out from upstate New York when she started her Master’s program at Emerson College. At the time, I was pumping gas at a tiny little gas station across from Mass General hospital which was just recently torn down to make way for a new office building.

This was a new job for me, one I started after being fired from working at a 7-Eleven (now the “Charles Street Market“). I got fired for something I didn’t do, but hated the job anyway. Admittedly, I likely would have gotten fired, eventually, for punching the customers. Hey people, how about we all agree not to treat clerks like shit? I digress.

The Micron P90PCI Powerstation! Click to enbigger.

The Micron P90PCI Pwerstation!

One very good thing did happen then, in the fall of 1994, was that I hit big on a lottery scratch ticket. $10,000 big. It wasn’t enough for me to go and punch my boss in his big stupid face, but it was enough to help out a little with my bride’s tuition and send her on a trip to visit her family. More to the current point, it allowed me to buy the beast to the right.

That’s the Micron P90 (as in a screamingly fast Pentium 90MHz CPU) PCI (as in super fast graphics) Power (as in godlike capability) station (as in the place where I’d park my ass for the next few years). It had 16 Megabytes of RAM, a 500 Megabyte hard drive, a (Double Speed!) CD ROM drive and a floppy drive! I got a tower, not a desktop like in the ad, but the rest is close enough.

It also came preinstalled with MS DOS and Windows for Workgroups, which just meant “Windows 3.1 with networking”, because “networking” was an extra feature back then. I was using WordPerfect 6 to write things and CorelDraw 3 to draw things. I was spending most of my online time across a couple of popular BBS and, via a paid shell account, USENet. I was also learning about this brand new thing coming down the pike: the World Wide Web.

Windows 95 was going to change the universe for the better. It was going to heal the sick, cure the crippled and turn us all into beings of perfect, pure energy made of light and love. It would be whatever you needed: your friend, your lover or your whore. Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry both wanted me to have it!

Yes, their stars may have faded slightly since then, but in 1995 you did what they said. Even when they’re embarrassing themselves and making fat jokes.

Reportedly Microsoft’s marketing push for the new release cost over 300 Million Dollars (about the equivalent of a half-billion today). They licensed The Rolling Stones “Start Me Up” as the unofficial theme of the OS and paid “The Tonight Show” host Jay Leno to emcee the release event with Bill Gates.

So, on August 24th (or, really, August 23rd) myself and hundreds of others crowded around the CompUSA in Brighton, MA and waited for midnight. There was a camaraderie in the line as we all sweated through the evening and into the night. We were all there to share the privilege – NAY, THE HONOR! – of being able to purchase the greatest Operating System that ever, or ever would, exist!

It was $100 for the upgrade version and an additional $50 for the “Plus Pack” that offered additional tools and extras, including extra themes and games, better disk compression and the very first release of Internet Explorer. I also bought a new hard drive, which bankrupted me but also brought past a full Gigabyte of storage for the first time in my life.

Windows 95, WelcomeAn hour later I was home installing it; my bride having long since abandoned me for bed. That night the OS… worked fine. There are some things that are hard to get excited about in a short period of time. My old programs worked, my computer screen looked nicer and I was tired. I played the new pinball game for a few minutes and went to bed.

It was only in the following weeks and months that I slowly realized what a sea-change I had been a part of. The new OS didn’t need to be cajoled to go online: it just did it. I didn’t have to spend hours struggling with DOS settings to get a CD-ROM to run: it was all built in. I could finally a name a file using more than eight letters! The Start Menu and Taskbar made things easier… hell, it made them easy!

Windows 95 was a legitimate revolution in computing and I use that word in no way lightly. It dominated the market completely. The design elements it introduced here would influence the next two decades of computing and beyond. It remains the only operating system that I’ve ever stood in line for.

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