Microsoft changed the world 20 years ago.

Words by Neil Hughes, The Tech Blog Writer

Although, younger readers might chuckle at our quaint ways, it was recently 20 years ago to the day that tech was about to get cool and maybe a little cheesy. The Rolling Stones belted out “Start Me Up” and took home a rumoured $8m paycheck while former CEOs Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates officially brought the concept of dad dancing to a mainstream audience.

Meanwhile, thousands of people queued patiently at midnight to get their hands on a CD-Rom containing the game-changing Windows 95 that would launch the golden age of both home computing and Microsoft. The modern equivalent of this kind of tech mania is when Apple release yet another iPhone or iPad, but it wasn’t always like this.

You can only fully comprehend Microsoft’s success when you take into account that at their peak they secured $613bn market capitalisation in 1999. Analysts point out that this would have been enough to crush even the mighty Apple in 2015.

At the time, it felt like Microsoft had purchased every TV advertising slot, and even the Toronto’s CN Tower and New York’s Empire State Building were lighting up the skies with Microsoft’s colours. This is the first moment that tech started to feel cool and that there was a movement developing before our eyes.

Physical media might be on the decline, and thankfully there are no longer half a dozen cd’s falling out of every magazine that you pick up. However, Microsoft is kindly giving away a download of Start Me Up from the Windows Store. You too can put on an old patterned sweater and dance like Bill Gates with wild abandon, should the feeling of nostalgia overwhelm you.

Whatever your opinion of this era, there is no denying this paved the way for the technology obsessed digital age that we all now reside. Windows 95 has been described by many as a cultural phenomenon, and we should all be grateful for it introducing us to the humble Start Menu and Taskbar that we all now take for granted.

Most tech lovers will remember the dark days of the 90’s and recognise that Microsoft handled moving the industry forward over the years. Sure, there is a strong argument that they ended up in a regulated mess, and a certain amount of greed, arrogance and general laziness ensured a rocky road ahead, but we mustn’t forget how they helped shape where we are now.

I think in hindsight, we can recognise that their strengths were in marketing and business, but their Achilles heel was innovating, writing software and good old-fashioned consistency. For every Win 95, XP or Win 7 there is a Vista, Win8 and Win ME.

There was also the unsavoury browser war where Microsoft bundled Internet Explorer with every copy of Windows in an attempt to cut off the air supply and destroy the superior NetScape Navigator.

If I were to take my rose tinted glasses of nostalgia off, I know that Windows 95 contained more than a few bugs and was not the best experience in the world. However, when looking at the evolution of Microsoft and operating systems, in general, it’s clear to see that this was a defining moment in tech history.

Thankfully, I no longer live in the world where PC’s have only 4MB of Ram or installing operating systems from 13 floppy discs. However, it has been an incredible journey, and I'm glad to have been a part of its evolution where technology is now ingrained into every aspect of our lives.

This ageing tech lover has more than enough war stories of 56k modems and creating websites on Geocities before Google was a household name. But don’t worry, I'm not going to bore you about the good old days because the truth is they weren’t that great at all. It's where we are heading that excites me, and that’s one part of me that has not changed at all in 20 years.


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