The Day Microsoft Went Hollywood with Windows 3.0

The introduction of Windows 3.0 on May 22, 1990, marked the day that Microsoft turned the release of a PC operating system into a spectacle on the scale of a major Hollywood film debut. Microsoft would keep stoking the hype and glamour engine that was Windows for most of the next decade. But today an invitation to the latest Windows launch is no longer the hottest ticket in town.

When Microsoft introduced Windows 3.0 on May 22, 1990, it did more than simply roll out a new product, it started the brief era of the rock star PC operating system.

Microsoft was so determined to make Windows 3.0 the biggest hit in the PC industry that that it turned the introduction into something more like a major Hollywood film debut than a computer product launch. Microsoft easily spent millions on formal product rollouts, customer briefings and parties around the country to maximize media attention.

This was before the days of ubiquitous Internet access. The virtual company was just a concept. It didn't exist yet. If a computer company wanted to sell a product, the company had to go visit the customer or bring all the customers to see the product. Hence Microsoft had no reason to be stingy about spending money on blockbuster events to promote a product it was counting on to secure its growth and prosperity for the next decade.

Windows 3.0 had to succeed. The rapidly aging MS-DOS simply didn't have the features and strength to support the new applications for business and home that would be possible on the latest Intel processors, the 386 and the 486 that was coming fast on its heels.

The computer industry was still at the heights of the PC boom in 1990. Expense accounts were generous. It was long before people worried about airline-borne terrorist attacks, expensive air travel reservations or endless air terminal security lines. People didn't hesitate to fly halfway across the country to witness the introduction of a new PC operating system.

What was true for the computer industry at large, was also true for PC Week, the predecessor publication of today's eWEEK published by Ziff Davis. It seemed like more than half of PC Week's numerous editorial staff boarded the New York shuttle from Boston to LaGuardia airport to attend the rollout events at a midtown hotel.

I was there to cover the software development and enterprise software industry angle of the news-my beat at the time. But no matter where the event was held in the country and no matter what the excuse for being there, people mainly came to party; to rub shoulders with the computer industry rock stars of the day, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, and to take part in something they were made to believe was history in the making.

And it was a history-making event in the sense that Windows 3.0 triggered an economic phenomenon-the mass migration of millions of PC users from the old text-based MS-DOS to a graphical interface that made computers easier and arguably more fun to use while making computer users more productive at work.

John Pallatto

John Pallatto

John Pallatto has been editor in chief of QuinStreet Inc.'s since October 2012. He has more than 40 years of experience as a professional journalist working at a daily newspaper and...