Now I am scared. It isn’t clear to me how we respond to this. –SteveSi email, Cornell is “WIRED!”
Great story, really enjoying reminiscing about this time. Everyone was so busy with Win95, NT, etc and yet somehow made the time to respond to the internet. An incredibly hectic but fun time at Microsoft.
I arrived in Amherst at the tail end of this era--Fall 1996. While everyone was running Netscape on Windows with Trumpet Winsock, our e-mail was still on VMS servers accessible via telnet and POP (by the time I graduated they had IMAP up). I worked as a student computer center supervisor and spent many, many hours on a VT220 wrangling print queues and poking around the system. We made extensive use of plan files and Usenet. It was an age of wonders.
I think my favorite manifestation of Microsoft's reaction to The Internet was the release of the TCP/IP stack in Windows for Workgroups. WFW3.11 was my favorite version of Windows until 2000 shipped, and the TCP/IP stack had a really solid feeling of quality to it. I know that sounds strange, but it really was one of the best networking experiences I ever had. I delayed upgrading to WIndows 9x until my senior year because I was so happy with WFW.
They installed Windows 95 in the computer lab during my freshman year and I remember asking how to troubleshoot and deal with the registry. The reply from the Windows specialist on staff was, "You don't." And it was true--it wouldn't be until the "95B" release that we felt it was stable enough to go poking around in. During those days the most dreaded error messages were all about corrupted hives ...
I do miss the software universities built for themselves and then made freely available--much of it was really high quality, and it feels like every institution decided to build one specific thing to fill a niche. I still use Fetch (originally from Dartmouth) for file transfers even though Panic's Transmit is probably a more full-featured and modern program (although I do use their Nova for some web development, so it comes out in the wash).
I was on AOL in 1994. (Steven, how do you still have your screen name? I'm sure we would all like to hear that story!) I "graduated" to the full Internet within a year, using the built-in Dial-Up Networking in Windows 95. I wasted many hours on USENET, IRC channels, and comparing browsers down to the minutiae, from the BLINK tag in Internet Explorer 2.0 to the built-in HTML editor in Netscape Navigator Gold 3.0.
What struck me while reading this was the general sentiment on the Internet towards Microsoft during these early days. It often wasn't positive, with lots of reference to M$, MicroSloth, etc. Many had the opinion that the Internet and all that came with it was the New World Order and Microsoft was stuck in the past likely unable to catch up. At work we wouldn't dare count Microsoft out (we would often say "Can't beat Bill"), having seen the success within the enterprise.
It's fascinating to read this and see what was going on behind the scenes at Microsoft at the time.
Ahh.... Gopher, and Macs that would hard-freeze constantly and were reset every use, and Mosaic, and the early internet (I spent soooo much time searching for and downloading Delphi modules!). Add X Terminals running OpenStep in black and white that were maddeningly slow and subtracting the snow (my uni experience in the early to mid 90s was in Canberra, Australia) all of this brings back very warm memories!
This was an especially fun read for me as a fellow Cornellian (ECE '15). It's fun to see how many of the Cornell systems you witnessed (like whoami, cuinfo) still existed with the exact same name in the early 2010s.
It's also fun to hear how the Hot Truck experience never changed. A random conversation, satisfyingly greasy food followed by inevitable regret...
I remember first experiencing the Web around 1996, I must have been 8 years old or so (memories that far back are a bit fuzzy!). I had already used computers for four years, but my early experience using Netscape (which also roughly coincided with my first experience of Windows 95, which the family 486 struggled with) felt like Star Trek compared to the closed, finite world of a DOS machine. Web search was in one way terrible (the search engines were crude at best, and often you needed to run the same search on multiple sites--I usually tried HotBot, then AltaVista, then Lycos), but in another way magical in a way that is lost forever because every result was a unique website with a real person behind it, with no SEO, no domain parking, no content farms, no bots, and no attempts by the search engine to "help" you by rewriting your niche query into something more marketable. Of course, being eight, I was most interested in searching for information about Doom, Wolfenstein, and Descent than anything actually useful! Through that I discovered a certain Duke Nukem 3D but for some reason my parents didn't want to buy that one...can't imagine why... 🤣
I sometimes wish I had been around to see what a VMS or Unix box was like in actual production and what people actually did with them. I'm sure if I really wanted to I could make a very irresponsible purchasing decision and try one myself, but without any work to do nor a corporate network to interface with, what point is a workstation? I guess I could torture myself by attempting to install OpenVMS x86-64 on my ThinkPad...