20 years ago today, Microsoft launched Windows 95 and forever changed the way people across the world use computers. While Apple enthusiasts will be quick to tell you that many of the more well-received Windows 95 features had long been available on the Mac, the far-reaching impact of Windows 95 simply can’t be overstated. Because the Mac at the time had a rather insignificant marketshare, Windows 95, for many people, represented their first introduction to the world of modern computing.
For those old enough to remember, Microsoft’s Windows 95 launch was a cultural event that unapologetically lodged itself into the mainstream news cycle. Backed by a multi-hundred million dollar ad campaign in the $300 million range, Microsoft pulled out all the stops in promoting Windows 95 to the masses.
Looking back, the pomp and circumstance surrounding the Windows 95 launch is hilariously draped in something of a nostalgic ’90s cheesiness. For starters, the Windows 95 launch had an official theme song — The Rolling Stones’ ‘You start me up’ — which Microsoft reportedly paid $8 million for.
What’s more, the official launch event featured Bill Gates hamming it up with a bushy haired Jay Leno who made an endless stream of eye-roll inducing jokes about technology while also tossing in a few zingers that were relevant at the time. Leno, for instance, remarked at one point that “Windows 95 is so powerful that it can keep track of all of OJ’s alibis at once.”
And that’s just the beginning of what can only be labeled a Windows 95 cheese fest. Case in point, check out this official Windows 95 video guide, or ‘cyber sitcom’ as it was called back in the day, featuring Jennifer Anniston and Matthew Perry who, at the time, were both basking in their new found celebrity thanks to their roles on Friends.
If you’re looking for some cringeworthy video, this one is hard to beat. From the feigned interest in features like faxing to the Seinfeld-ian music that accompanies an incessant barrage of cheezy jokes, one can only imagine the fun the Internet masses would have had with this if something like Reddit existed 20 years ago.
Shenanigans aside, Microsoft’s Windows 95 advertising push was all-encompassing and included spending some serious cash to light up the Empire State Building in red, yellow, green, and blue (to match the colors of Windows 95). There was a slight glitch, however, when the blue lights malfunctioned, as evidenced by the photo below.
A little farther north, Microsoft draped the CN Tower in Toronto with a 328 foot Windows 95 banner.
Even across the pond, Microsoft’s advertising efforts were creative and pricey. In England, Microsoft shelled out a reported $1.5 million to distribute a free daily edition of The London Times, complete with some Microsoft-heavy advertising, of course. In Australia, Microsoft launched a 4-story high Windows 95 balloon which sailed over Sydney Harbor, an event which was “accompanied by musicians and dancers.”
Meanwhile, in Redmond, the company went all out, securing free food, drinks, a ferris wheel, and hot air balloons for employees and upwards of 2,500 journalists. Suffice it to say, it was a full-blown carnival atmosphere.
Summing up the launch day festivities with one photo, I believe that this shot of Jay Leno driving around Microsoft’s campus in a “mouse cart” does the trick.
Say what you will about Microsoft or Windows, but it’s impossible to ignore the watershed moment that was the Windows 95 launch. Not only did the OS impact how millions of consumers used computers, it also catapulted Microsoft into the stratosphere from a financial perspective.
In the years following the launch of Windows 95, Microsoft’s annual revenue jumped from $8.67 billion in 1996 to $44.2 billion in 2006.
The chart below highlights how quickly Microsoft’s bank account grew in the years following Windows 95.