Technologizer

See Windows in Action — Two Years Before Windows 1.0 Shipped

What Microsoft's graphical interface looked like in 1983.

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Dan Bricklin, the co-creator of the first spreadsheet, VisiCalc, liked to shoot video — back when that involved lugging around not only a great big camera but also a separate tape deck. His interest in the medium led to the Boston Computer Society taping its meetings, which is how we ended up with the historic 1984 video of Steve Jobs demoing the Mac I shared over the weekend.

Over at Dan’s site, he has something more arcane, but also remarkable: video he and a colleague shot at the 1983 COMDEX trade show in Las Vegas, which took place from November 28 to December 2. They strolled the floor randomly capturing the exhibits they came across, and one particular bit is especially intriguing: a long demo of Microsoft Windows.

It’s early. Really early — Windows had been announced about three weeks earlier, on November 10. (Here’s InfoWorld’s piece on the news, by a very young John Markoff, who quotes one “Steve Bulmer.”)

The relevant section begins at 6:55 in the video above, which should jump directly to that time when you press play.

Here in the 21st century, there’s been such a long tradition of bashing Windows as a knockoff of the Mac that it’s easy to forget that Microsoft announced its product — which was an add-on for MS-DOS at first, not a full-blown operating system — before the Mac arrived on January 24, 1984. It’s just that it didn’t have anything fit to ship until November, 1985. (Tandy Trower, the product manager who finally got Windows out the door, wrote about the product’s bumpy birth for Technologizer back in 2010.)

The early Windows was shockingly crude — compared to the Mac and compared to what it evolved into by the time of Windows 3.0 (1990) and Windows 95, the first hugely popular versions. I wasn’t a user myself until the 1990s, and Dan’s video is the best peek I’ve gotten at its earliest, most rudimentary form.

Dan’s site has a lot more COMDEX 1983 video, complete with shaky camerawork (which somehow adds to the charm and atmosphere), both recognizable PC models and forgotten ones, signage for companies such as Bell & Howell, shots of his cheesy Vegas hotel room and even a cameo by Bill Gates. For tech history nerds, it’s heavenly stuff.