Windows version 1.0, which did not set the world on fire, is now 25 years old this month, and I’d like to share a few remembrances of the OS.

First of all, it was useless. Like, seriously useless. But it was strangely interesting at the same time. You had to have a special graphics card to run the thing, and when compared to DOS, it did look better although it was not as attractive as the Mac OS or anything done today including Linux GUI’s. I wonder if there is a machine in existence that still runs it.

Steve Ballmer made a hilarious video promoting Windows 1.0 like a used car salesman.

When it shipped in 1985, the product had its sights not on the Mac, but OS/2 which Microsoft was co-developing. The company finally decided that the success of OS/2 was not in the best interests of Microsoft, so it did this parallel development. But originally, in 1983, when the product was first announced, it was a panicky reaction to the 1982 Comdex announcement of VisiOn by VisiCorp which was a similar shell idea.

At first, Microsoft called it “Interface Manager.” Later, a marketing guy in the company came up with the name “Windows.” The thing wasn’t originally designed as an OS but as a shell program with a zippy GUI that could manage all of the device drivers through a common API. People forget that by the mid 1980’s device drivers for peripherals were a nightmare. Interface Manager, now Windows, would take care of this problem.

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The product roll-out centered around a huge “celebrity” roast of the product at the 1985 Comdex. I was hired to be the roastmaster. The idea was that because the product was so late, humor needed to be injected. Like all roasts, the material was professionally written by a bank of comedy writers whom I gathered. The material consisted of typical “roast” jokes. Only one guy, the then CEO of Businessland (long since defunct), refused to use the professionally written material and decided to do his own presentation. He didn’t even try to be funny, and I suspect he didn’t actually know what a roast was. Everyone else played along, and it was quite humorous. I recall one of my lines: “When they began coding the product, Steve Ballmer still had hair.”

One curiosity from the event is that Microsoft wanted to have fog envelop the rollout and had about a dozen buckets of water into which they tossed dry ice. Curiously, the air is so dry in Las Vegas, where the event was held, that the water vapor dissipated instantly. It was quite funny, as everyone was baffled by the phenomenon.

The original product came with various small programs, such as a calendar, calculator, clock and notepad, plus a few games. These evolved into what are now the accessories.

A slew of interim versions of Windows products, many collectible (I think), were rolled out before the product began to get traction. It all led up to Windows 95, now 15 years old, which catapulted the OS into prominence. Microsoft played with the idea of chip-specific versions of Windows with Windows286 and Windows386. At one point, the company talked a big game about making the software portable and had versions running on the PowerPC chip and other non-Intel platforms. This direction was eventually scrubbed. Through all these changes, it has developed into the Windows we know today.

Happy Birthday Windows!