The Windows Roller Coaster: 10 Years of Highs and Lows

By Ed Bott  |  Posted 2005-08-24

The Windows Roller Coaster: 10 Years of Highs and Lows

Step aside, Six Flags. Move over, Magic Mountain.

For sheer, gut-wrenching highs and lows, even the worlds tallest, fastest, most technologically advanced fly-by-wire roller coaster cant compare with the last 10 years of highs and lows at Microsoft.

Whether youre a shareholder, an employee, a customer or a competitor, youve experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of BSODs.

In the year and a half leading up to the debut of Windows 95, I wrote more than 100,000 words about the upcoming operating system, mostly for the late, lamented PC Computing.

I was at the launch party on Aug. 24, 1995, and Ive been covering succeeding versions of Windows (and the controversies surrounding them) continuously since then. Its been quite a ride.

Read David Courseys commentary here on the last 10 years of Internet Explorer.


Aug. 24 kicks off an unprecedented celebration of Windows 95. Crowds line up at computer stores at midnight to buy copies of the software, and a million copies are sold in the first four days.

Jay Leno hosts the extravagant launch party under picture-perfect Redmond summer skies. Microsoft buys the rights to the Rolling Stones "Start Me Up" as its theme song. Its a high of giddy, dance-on-the-tables proportions.

In fact, maybe the hype is a little too much. Microsoft Vice President Brad Silverberg, whos in charge of the development effort, has to damp down expectations repeatedly, saying "Its only software. It doesnt cure cancer."

Next Page: Antitrust lawsuits rear their heads.

Antitrust Lawsuits Rear Their



A year later, after the hangover has worn off, the world realizes that Silverberg was right. It is only software, and it has plenty of bugs, which are partially dealt with in a service pack and an OEM version that includes Internet Explorer. Meanwhile, in a hint of things to come, the Windows 95 shell is grafted onto the Windows NT core to form Windows NT 4.0.


Oh dear. Wasnt that antitrust unpleasantness settled just before Windows 95 shipped? Apparently not. On Oct. 27, the Justice Department pops all the remaining balloons and sweeps up the confetti from two years earlier when it files a preliminary antitrust complaint. Opening arguments begin in December.


How low can you go? Very low, if you work at Microsoft. Practically subterranean, in fact. To Microsoft competitors, of course, its cause for cautious optimism. On May 18, the Department of Justice and 20 states file suit against Microsoft. In August and September, in a videotaped deposition, a sullen, disheveled Bill Gates almost single-handedly torpedoes Microsofts case.

Meanwhile, Internet Explorer passes Netscape Navigator in market share and Windows users are gratified to get an upgrade that fixes most of the problems in Windows 95. Nobody lines up to buy Windows 98, but it quickly outsells Windows 95 thanks to the explosive growth of the PC market.


The millennium is coming, the millennium is coming! The antitrust trial drags on. When Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson isnt dozing off in court, hes rebuking Microsofts lawyers and witnesses. On Nov. 5, the judge issues his findings of fact, which make clear that Windows is the product of an illegal monopoly.


The year starts on a very high note for everyone, as the clock rolls over to a new millennium and the dreaded Y2K crisis fails to materialize. Windows 2000 debuts to rave reviews in February. And then things head sharply downhill for Microsoft by midyear.

In June, Judge Jackson orders Microsoft broken into separate companies, and he instructs Microsoft to release a version of Windows that doesnt include Internet Explorer. July sees the release of Windows Millennium Edition. Roundly panned by reviewers, it earns the title of worst Windows version ever and ignominiously ends the Windows 9X era.

Next Page: Post-millenium virus and worm attacks.


-Millenium Virus, Worm Attacks">


Microsoft brings its business-class Windows NT kernel and a new user interface together in Windows XP, which is arguably the best Windows version ever.

The highs are short-lived, however: Windows XP launches in New York with a subdued press event six weeks after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Internet Explorer has an overwhelming market share, but for every positive review of the new Windows and IE there are disturbing reports of fast-spreading viruses.

Read more here about the past decade of Windows worms.

CodeRed shuts down corporate networks worldwide in the summer, and Nimda spreads like wildfire near years end.

Meanwhile, in the antitrust trial, Judge Jackson is gone, his verdict is reversed on appeal, and the new administration says they dont want to break up Microsoft after all.


The stream of Internet-borne viruses turns into a torrent (Klez is the years biggest hit), and Bill Gates clicks the Send button for an all-hands-on-deck memo, this one declaring that Trustworthy Computing is the companys highest priority.

The year ends with Gates and Co. on top of the world as Microsoft and the Department of Justice settle the long-running antitrust suit on Nov. 1. If youre in Redmond, its another high; among Microsofts competitors, its a very dark day.


On Slammer, on Blaster, on BugBear and Sobig! Whether you use Windows, manage Windows-based networks, or write patches for it, 2003 is the worst year ever for viruses, worms and security scares. The one glimmer of hope? Windows Server 2003, launched in April, is the first Windows version to take security seriously.


More positive news on the Windows security front, as Windows XP Service Pack 2 arrives. It includes a collection of new security features designed to block viruses, spyware and random hack attacks.

Windows continues to dominate the desktop operating system market, but users (especially technically savvy ones) embrace the Firefox browser with open arms, and weary Windows users start to look at Mac OS X. Windows XP Media Center 2005, a niche product, sells a million copies in the first quarter after its release.


Its supposed to be the year of Longhorn, but all those Windows security updates in 2003 and 2004 took their toll, and the new operating system is delayed to 2006. It gets a new name, Windows Vista, and a new, security-focused release of Internet Explorer arrives as a beta.

When Windows 95 was launched, browsers were a novelty and the Internet was an interesting concept. Ten years later, Web-based services and digital media are at the core of personal computing. When Windows Vista arrives in late 2006, it might be perfectly poised to take advantage of these trends, or it might be completely irrelevant.

Anyone want to go around again?

Author Ed Bott has covered the Microsoft scene for many years and he has authored books on most versions of Microsoft Windows. His Weblog offers a variety of Windows XP tips.

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