Remembering Windows in History

Opinion: Politics, video games, and operating systems … Your milestones may vary.

Ill never forget where I was when I heard Windows 1.0 had been released.

OK, thats a crock. I have no earthly idea where I was on Nov. 20, 1985. Most likely I was working the night shift at the Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, swapping crypto cards for the war-game scenarios and resetting 14.4K-bps Racal Milgo modems the size of toaster ovens.

We had a satellite downlink from Hall Beach, Nunavut, and a bank of network monitors streaming hexadecimal, but, as far as I know, there were no machines capable of running Windows nor anyone who had heard of Microsoft in my neck of eastern Kansas.

So while going over assignments for this weeks coverage of the Windows anniversary, it helped me get my bearings to set the Windows milestones against things I do recall. Of course, my memories revolve mostly around politics and video games. Your results may vary.

/zimages/5/28571.gifeWEEK Labs columnist Jim Rapoza muses on the unusual longevity of Windows 98. Click here to read more.

While I may have missed the Windows debut, I do recall that 1985 was all about the Soviets. Mikhail Gorbachev had just been picked to lead the USSR, and the unraveling of the Soviet Union was under way. But the most important Russian development to me was the introduction of Alex Pajitnovs Tetris, complete with martial soundtrack and splash screens of St. Basils Cathedral.

I spent hours at the arcade fitting falling blocks into neat rows and columns, as Gorbachev taught the world his language in the form of glasnost ("openness") and perestroika ("restructuring"), two terms Microsoft would be forced to confront in its own way years later.

By May 1990, I was making night cop checks for a small city newspaper. I have no recollection of Microsofts rollout of Windows 3.0 that month, but I recall clearly seeing my first Nintendo Game Boy, which a friend had just bought for $110. I was still gaga over Segas new 16-bit Genesis, which finally made home video games feel like arcade games.

The other thing I remember about that period was Iraq invading Kuwait. There will be several more versions of Windows before that mess gets settled.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here for Peter Coffees picture of a world where Windows never happened.

May 1993 saw the launch of Windows NT and is also one of those rare points in history where politics and video games come together. Games such as Night Trap and Mortal Kombat had caught the attention of Sens. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and Herbert Kohl, D-Wis. The pair launched an investigation and hoped to bury violent games. They couldnt. But the result was the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) system we have today.

August 1995 gave us Windows 95 at the same time that Mark Fuhrman was tanking the prosecutions case in the O.J. Simpson trial. Which do you remember better? I do recall deeply coveting the first, minty-fresh Sony PlayStations.

Its hard to think of anything associated with the summer of 1998 other than the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. But Microsoft did, indeed, trot out Windows 98. It was at this time that Wal-Mart weighed in on the violent video game debate by refusing to sell 50 titles deemed inappropriate. Oddly, the first Grand Theft Auto wasnt among them.

Windows XP was different.

Ill never forget where I was when XP was released, and not because it coincided with the debut of the Xbox/GameCube battle.

The XP launch on Oct. 25, 2001, was, for most of us in tech journalism, our first foray back into the field following Sept. 11, 2001. That Gates held court in Times Squares Marriott Marquis in the heart of a city still reeling from the attacks seemed gutsy and patriotic.

I doubt that next years release of Windows Vista will be as memorable as the XP festivities. But surely there will be something going on—in the games we play or the wars we wage—that will remind us where we were when someone told us a desktop operating system would change the world.

Executive Editor of News Chris Gonsalves can be reached at