Something Really Old VIII: The Man From Microsoft

As the piece will make clear, from 1995, and my Fresno Bee column.


There was a knock on the door. It was the man from Microsoft.

“Not you again,” I said.

“Sorry,” he said, a little sheepishly. “I guess you know why I’m here.”

Indeed I did. Microsoft’s $300 million campaign to promote the Windows 95 operating system was meant to be universally effective, to convince every human being on the planet that Windows 95 was an essential, some would say integral, part of living. Problem was, not everyone had bought it. Specifically, I hadn’t bought it. I was the Last Human Being Without Windows 95. And now this little man from Microsoft was at my door, and he wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“No,” I said.

“You know I can’t take that,” he said, pulling out a copy of Windows 95 from a briefcase. “Come on. Just one copy. That’s all we ask.”

“Not interested.” I said. “Look, isn’t there someone else you can go bother for a while? There’s got to be someone else on the planet who doesn’t have a copy.”

“Well, no,” The Microsoft man said. “You’re the only one.”

“You can’t be serious. Not everyone on the planet has a computer,” I said. “Hell, not everyone on the planet has a PC! Some people own Macintoshes, which run their own operating system. And some people who have PCs run OS/2, though I hear that’s just a rumor. In short, there are some people who just have no use for Windows 95.”

The Microsoft man look perplexed. “I’m missing your point,” he said.

“Use!” I screamed. “Use! Use! Use! Why BUY it, if you can’t USE it?”

“Well, I don’t know anything about this ‘use’ thing you’re going on about,” The Microsoft man said. “All I know is that according to our records, everyone else on the planet has a copy.”

“People without computers?”

“Got ’em.”

“Amazonian Indians?”

“We had to get some malaria shots to go in, but yes.”

“The Amish.”


“Oh, come on,” I said. “They don’t even wear BUTTONS. How did you get them to buy a computer operating system?”

“We told them there were actually 95 very small windows in the box,” the Microsoft man admitted. “We sort of lied. Which means we are all going to Hell, every single employee of Microsoft.” He was somber for a minute, but then perked right up. “But that’s not the point!” he said. “The point is, EVERYONE has a copy. Except you.”

“So what?” I said. “If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you expect me to do it, too?”

“If we spent $300 million advertising it? Absolutely.”


“Jeez, back to that again,” the Microsoft man said. “Hey. I’ll tell you what. I’ll GIVE you a copy. For free. Just take it and install it on your computer.” He waved the box in front of me.

“No,” I said again. “No offense, pal. But I don’t need it. And frankly, your whole advertising blitz has sort of offended me. I mean, it’s a computer operating system! Great. Fine. Swell. Whatever. But you guys are advertising it like it creates world peace or something.”

“It did.”


“World peace. It was part of the original design. Really. One button access. Click on it, poof, end to strife and hunger. Simple.”

“So what happened?”

“Well, you know,” he said. “It took up a lot of space on the hard drive. We had to decide between it or the Microsoft Network. Anyway, we couldn’t figure out how to make a profit off of world peace.”

“Go away,” I said.

“I can’t,” he said. “I’ll be killed if I fail.”

“You have got to be kidding,” I said.

“Look,” the Microsoft man said, “We sold this to the AMISH. The Amish! Right now, they’re opening the boxes and figuring out they’ve been had. We’ll be pitchforked if we ever step into Western Pennsylvania again. But we did it. So to have YOU holding out, well, it’s embarassing. It’s embarassing to the company. It’s embarassing to the product. It’s embarassing to BILL.”

“Bill Gates does not care about me,” I said.

“He’s watching right now,” the Microsoft man said. “Borrowed one of those military spy satellites just for the purpose. It’s also got one of those high-powered lasers. You close that door on me, zap, I’m a pile of grey ash.”

“He wouldn’t do that,” I said, “He might hit that copy of Windows 95 by accident.”

“Oh, Bill’s gotten pretty good with that laser,” the Microsoft man said, nervously. “Okay. I wasn’t supposed to do this, but you leave me no choice. If you take this copy of Windows 95, we will reward you handsomely. In fact, we’ll give you your own Caribbean island! How does Montserrat sound?”

“Terrible. There’s an active volcano there.”

“It’s only a small one,” the Microsoft man said.

“Look,” I said, “even if you DID convince me to take that copy of Windows 95, what would you do then? You’d have totally saturated the market. That would be it. No new worlds to conquer. What would you do then?”

The Microsoft man held up another box and gave it to me. “‘Windows 95….For Pets’?!?!?”

“There’s a LOT of domestic animals out there,” he said.

I shut the door quickly. There was a surprised yelp, the sound of a laser, and then nothing.

26 Comments on “Something Really Old VIII: The Man From Microsoft”

  1. Goodness. My parents are still running Windows 95 on their computer at home. Having admitted that, do you think someone from Microsoft will show up to offer them an island in the Carribbean?

  2. gadzooks, john, i remember reading this in print, in the Fresno Bee.


  3. Callous, I tell you, absolutely callous in leaving the man from Microsoft to be reduced to a smouldering pile of dust on the doorstep.

    I wonder if he was wearing a red shirt?

  4. Only one answer to that, Scalzi –

    GET A MAC!

    Gods and Goddess, I remember that time. And you were wrong about being the last person on Earth who didn’t have Win95 – Tamora Pierce didn’t upgrade her writing PC from DOS Win 3.1 until Windows XP Second Edition…which she’s still using. Makes doing tech support for her a treat, let me tell you….

  5. All of us Mac users (who have refused to get Windows for Mac) are very proud of your ability to say no!

  6. Would you like Windows with Bacon?

    I am Bill
    I am Bill
    Bill I am

    That Bill-I-am
    That Bill-I-am!
    I do not like
    that Bill-I-am

    Do you like
    Windows and ham?

    I do not like them,
    I do not like
    Windows and ham.

    Would you like them
    Here or there?

    I would not like them
    here or there.
    I would not like them
    I do not like
    Windows and ham.
    I do not like them,

  7. Forget the Amish–I’m impressed by their abiliity to get Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation and the GNU project (GNU’s Not Unix), which lead to Linux, to switch. He considers it a moral imperative to avoid closed-source/non-free software, and in ’95, was still refusing to use a graphical web browser, because Netscape for Linux didn’t come with source.

    Not to mention Steve Jobs, although, honestly, that would have been a much easier sale.

    I did actually own a copy of Win95, but in my thirty+ years as a software developer, I have yet to use any form of Windows or Mac. :)

  8. LOL! I read it and loved it some time in the 90s, translated into my native Polish and published as “The last man who didn’t have Windows 95”. I’m afraid you weren’t credited as the author, though…

  9. I’m with Agusta. What is the sound of a laser? And is my laser pointer defective, am I defective, or do I just need a bigger laser (pointer)?

  10. Used every version of Windows from 3.0 to XP. Windows blew up once too many times, and I got smart. I switched to Linux and Mac OSX on my computers.

    Switching made me more productive. A lot more productive, because I didn’t have to worry about maintenance, only backups.

    And since I had to worry about backups anyways…


  11. @ Agusta & Warren Terra

    High-powered lasers do lots of humming. The beams make a nice POP sound for the most part, unless they’re in vacuum where there’s no air to heat/ionize, in which case the beams are silent. Assuming you could penetrate enough the entire atmosphere from orbit-to-ground, a Microsoft salesman would probably make an audible mid-ranged boom accompanied by enough overpressure to damage John’s door, and leave a sort of tangy aroma rather than a pile of ash, though there might be some residue burned into the ground directly beneath and John would probably need to get his porch repaired and fumigated. I’m sure the copy of Win ’95, however, could only be improved by the experience.

  12. Yep, yep, yep. The late 90s. That’s when I started to give up on writing code. DOS was great, because it let you take control of everything about the OS. Well, anything that mattered to your application. It also left you to do all the work, the GUI, the translation, scaling, rotation, clipping. You name it, you had to do it. Lots of assembler routines embedded in the C/C++ code too. It was all there for you to play with. Matrix math, chipsets and input/output calls from specific port thingies (sorry, it’s been a long time now). And then came Windows 95 and its little pal, Directx. Ah well, it was fun for awhile.

    Good story, John.

  13. Oh, yeah, very true. What’s the sound of a laser? Okay, possible edit: ‘I shut the door quickly. There was a surprised yelp, the sound of a bacon frying, and then nothing’.

  14. I always wondered why people got so religious about tools. Operating systems in particular. I use what is appropriate. My Macs are used for recording and music production because they are way better at it than anything else. My Windows laptops are used for business because Microsoft Office is still the single best office tool suite in existence, and it runs better in it’s native environment. My Linux servers do just that, serve applications, and provide a platform for software development. It’s generally a terrible desktop OS, although for the sake of full disclosure, this post is being written on a Linux based laptop.

    Do you guys get all weepy over your hammers and saws, too?

  15. @ gleonguerrero

    And now the enigma: what is the sound of one bacon frying?

    @ Jerome O’Neil

    Do you guys get all weepy over your hammers and saws, too?

    Depends whether the hammer is a Mallet.

  16. Pretty funny article. Apparently Microsoft operating systems used to crash alot, although I haven’t really experienced much of that. Due to what my employers have had, I have been using Microsoft operating systems since the late 90s. Last time one crashed on me would be 1998.
    I have been using Microsoft XP Professional at home since it came out and it has not crashed once, even though my home PC is 11 years old now. We are going to buy a new computer this year – a laptop – and will probably buy a Mac. However, we have a lot of Microsoft Excel, Word, and PowerPoint files in existence now, and more that we will create on our PCs at work. So I guess we will have to get Office for Mac.

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