"What a Show! ...What a  set-up. It's great!

  This whole thing is mind-blowing."

       ~ Bill Gates, Microsoft CEO 

"Fan - f---ing - tastic!  Everything was perfect, spot-on!"

~ Steve Balmer, Microsoft Executive Vice President of Sales and Support


What better way to show how fun, and easy Windows95 was than to have Bill Gates demonstrate to irreverent computer novice and late night talk show host Jay Leno how cool Windows95 really is.  A TV star who knew almost nothing about computing, sharing the stage with a computing great who knew almost nothing about television. It was a match made in heaven.

Besides the humor of these two guys playing off each other, there were live video cutaways to Jay testing out new Windows95 software in the WIN95 product Pavilions: video roll-ins from large corporate beta testers such as Ford, Sprint and Dow Chemical. A live satellite demonstration of the new Microsoft Network from Paramount's Great America amusement park outside San Francisco where Microsoft was having one of a multitude of regional launch celebrations.

Even Microsoft's Win95 development team and the stage itself become players as the stage split and the entire back wall cascaded to the ground at the end of the show, revealing the 500 members of Windows95 development team, the Product Pavilions and Expo beyond.
The event was a cross between a High Tech Expo and a Carnival, with the inclusion of a playful "Midway Area" designed to let people simply have fun. It was here and in the pavilions where launch attendees experienced Windows95 and related products hands-on.

It took more than 20 days and a crew of over 200 to set up and strike The Launch which was directed by a production team who worked on-site from a series of office trailers.

It's difficult to collapse months and months of work into one ten hour time frame, but in the end that's what Launch Day boiled down to. The days leading up to the event were non-stop for the entire production team, scurrying to and from the various pavilions amidst the crackle of walkie-talkies, working out technical details in the main tent, holed up for long hours in office trailers and broadcast trucks behind the Launch Site, and waiting for the port-o-potties to be pumped out.
In the main tent, rehearsals with Bill Gates and Jay Leno had moments of hysterical laughter and moments of dread and loathing. In rehearsal, entrances were missed, electronic graphics were revised again. But considering that five months of work for a seven-camera broadcast were condensed into less than five hours of rehearsal, things went exceedingly well. Sure, Bill changed his script right up to the last moment and Jay rewrote some of his jokes. But the ideas worked. The videos looked great. The stage was elegant. The celebration broadcast was set.

The morning of August 24, 1995 was clear and bright. A smattering of perfect, billowy clouds punctuated the sky, an exact replica of the Windows95 theme graphic - Start button against blue sky with clouds.

At the final run through that morning, technical glitches melted away. The chemistry between Bill and Jay was gelling beautifully. Jay continued to fine tune his gags. Bill's delivery was clicking. The satellite count down started, and at 11 am, the show began.

Like magic, Bill and Jay played off each other perfectly. The broadcast came off without a hitch. The live hook-up to Great America came and went flawlessly. Everything received thunderous applause, even from an audience jaded by nearly three years of waiting and hype.

On cue, the back wall cascaded to the ground, revealing 500 cheering WIN95 developers, the Rolling Stone's "Start Me Up" theme music kicked in, and the stage parted as Bill Gates cheered the developers, inviting everyone to go outside to the pavilions to experience Windows95 for themselves.

It was a win-win moment for everyone - not to mention a standing ovation for the WIN95 Development team and the finale of the show.

And judging by press coverage of the event and the kudos that flooded in about the "biggest consumer product launch in history," success is an understatement.


Steve Balmer, Microsoft's Executive Vice President of Sales and Support called the event:

       "Fan - f---ing - tastic!... Everything was perfect, spot-on!"

Bill Gates himself was pretty darn enthused:

      "What a Show"

      "What a set-up. It's great. This whole thing is mind-blowing."


of Windows95
by Bob Johnson

Photos by Matthew Lawrence

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