The Windows 95 launch is a cringey ’90s time capsule

Pleated khakis eveywhere! It’s true: we got our fashion cues from Jerry Seinfeld in the 1990s.

Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of Windows 3.1 — the version where Windows started to show its true promise — but the truly entertaining bit of Windows history is Blue OS Museum’s recent posting of the Windows 95 Launch show, starring Bill Gates and special guest host Jay Leno!

I put the video on another screen to use as background noise while editing some articles this afternoon and found myself unable to look away, as if I were watching Plan 9 From Outer Space or The Room. It’s a so-bad-it’s good time capsule of technology and popular culture.

Some observations:

  • Jay Leno’s schtick was a combination of his usual topical Tonight Show gags and of being someone who didn’t use a computer regularly. This may seem weird to present-day viewers, but you have to keep in mind that this was 1995, when having a computer in your home was still an unusual thing, and sound cards and CD-ROMs were still new features. The original Microsoft goal of “a computer on every desk and in every home” hadn’t been reached yet.
  • The video is definitely a news time capsule too — Jay cracked a lot of Bill Clinton and OJ Simpson jokes, and I wonder if the references are lost on younger viewers. Early in the video, when joking about the limited memory of the Altair 8800 (for which Microsoft wrote a BASIC interpreter when they were getting started), he joked that it had better memory than Rosa Lopez. The name rang a bell, but I had to Google her (she was OJ Simpson’s housekeeper, and called to be a witness at his murder trial).
  • It’s also a fashion and hair time capsule. A painful one.
  • Multimedia on a computer! This was truly possible for the first time on Windows 95 (or Macintosh ’89), which was perfect timing as I was entering the job market at the time and landed a job developing multimedia CD-ROM applications.
  • Pre-emptive multitasking as the new hotness — wow, we lived in the stone age!
  • MSN, as in the Microsoft Network, which was their answer to AOL. They’d pivot to the internet shortly afterward.
  • And oh, that bit near the beginning where the programmers talked about life (and lack of hygiene) during crunch time while working on Windows 95 was straight out of Douglas Coupland’s novel, Microserfs. The only difference is that the Microserfs characters dated more.

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