Saying Good-Bye to Windows 9x
Slamming the Door on the First Age of PCs
04/14/2006 by Rob Enderle
Microsoft is pulling the plug on Window 9x about 5 years after the product had become obsolete. I started as an analyst with Dataquest in the same year as this product and was there for its launch. It was an amazing time, the skies actually matched the clouds on the box on one of the rare dry days in Seattle on launch day. The excitement for those of us flown in and at a number of remote sites around the world was the most similar to an Apple event I have ever seen and vastly larger then anything Apple has ever done.
At the event they had music from the Stones and Jay Leno on stage. One very memorable moment was when they brought up the development team to the cheers of what appeared to be an adoring crowd. The environment was intentionally designed to look like a circus and there were vendors providing free popcorn, drinks, and sweets using circus like carts around the event. In the smaller tents there were demonstrations of technology, new games, and excited vendors clearly convinced this was the beginning of a golden age.
Millions of copies of Windows 95 were pre-sold and there were lines around the block with people waiting to buy the product on the day of launch. Who would have known that this was probably the highest point, in terms of interest and excitement that any Microsoft product, including Windows, would reach in two decades. Even the Xbox 360 launch, which was clearly very powerful, didn’t match the magic and power of Windows 95. If only the follow through had been as amazing.
Some times tone is set at the outset and while the launch for Windows was amazing what came after was not and this is a good lesson for anyone doing a large product launch.
In Microsoft’s case they didn’t have a plan to do sustaining marketing and support. After the product was launched, a lot of people that knew the product went on long, and likely well deserved, vacations. Unfortunately when you are selling millions of technical products to millions of non-technical people small percentages of issues result in massive numbers of problems and most of the people that could have helped were gone when they were most needed.
This was made much worse when the person running Windows support decided that the wait times for people wanting support were getting too long and so busied out the lines. This resulted in a massive, unmonitored, increase in dissatisfied Windows users.
Sales volume, after the first week, dropped off a cliff.
The busy out the lines thing was an old IBM trick I ran into while I worked at IBM to manage metrics. The service managers were measured on wait times and by busing out the lines you could lower the reported wait times, of course the trade off was you really pissed of clients but that, apparently, was almost never captured.
As a result, as we exited 1995 Windows 95 had gone from an iPod like product to an Edsel like product because the customer experience wasn’t well managed. The importance of managing the customer experience shouldn’t be forgotten, for most of the 90s Sony built a much higher quality PC then Dell did, but Dell did a vastly better job of managing the customer experience. The result was people clearly went back to Dell and didn’t with Sony.
There was never another launch like this one however the issues surrounding the lack of sustaining marketing continued to repeatedly plague Microsoft through much of the 90s. Windows 95 was followed by Windows 98 and finally, the line ended sadly with the most dreadful Windows version of all, Windows ME. This was a last minute refresh of a dieing line and it was arguably the least desirable.
With the advent of Windows 2000 Microsoft said good bye to the Windows 9x code base putting the product line on life support. After July the product will no longer be supported. This is a state that many of the OEMs wished had happened around the end of the last decade.
As we look ahead to Vista, which really is a substantial change from its predecessors, we shouldn’t forget that Windows 95, as old as it looks today, was an amazing thing in 1995 and the launch was an event that may never again be matched in the Industry.