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Microsoft’s Lost CD-ROMs

In the 1990s, Microsoft produced a wide range of multimedia CD-ROM educational and entertainment titles under the “Microsoft Home” brand. These guides covered topics as diverse as dogs, dinosaurs, wine, and gardening. Back to some of these forgotten classics.

The origins of Microsoft Home

In the 1980s, Microsoft put a lot of emphasis on the future of CD-ROM format, even organizing the first major industry conference on CD-ROM in 1986. At a time when the Internet could not deliver unlimited research materials to your PC, CD-ROM media, with its massive capacity of 650 megabytes per disc, promised to bring great reference books and multimedia to personal computers.

After the successful release of Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia on CD-ROM in March 1993, Microsoft launches the “Microsoft Home” brand under its consumer products division in October of the same year. Led by Patty Stonesifer, the Home brand would encompass hardware products like mice and dozens of entertainment and educational titles.

Each Microsoft CD-ROM title was a lavish production, with hyperlinks between slides of interactive information. They often involved audio narration, music, and short video clips. For some titles, Microsoft has used licensed material from the publisher Dorling Kindersley (DK), known for its lavishly illustrated educational reference books.

Today, with resources like Wikipedia and YouTube at your fingertips (thanks to the Internet), it’s hard to imagine a time when companies produced rich multimedia reference products frozen in time on CDs, even for people who lived at that time.

Microsoft Complete Gardening CD Jewelery Box.
Benj Edwards

But Microsoft’s CD-ROM products were well received and filled a critical gap between the era of reference books and the Internet. A generation of kids grew up loving them, and industry critics, like the Byte columnist Jerry Pournelle, recommended them. “You can’t afford to be without a current Microsoft Home Products catalog,” he said. written in 1995. “They add great titles every few weeks.”

Let’s take a look at a handful of these titles below.

Microsoft Dinosaurs (1993)

As one of the first Microsoft Home CD-ROM products, Microsoft Dinosaurs set a pattern that later titles followed. You can explore dinosaurs by species, see where they lived by location on a map, and even watch commented cartoon videos about them. Dinosaurs has received great reviews in general and sold fairly well, setting the stage for future CD-ROM releases from Microsoft.

Microsoft’s Dangerous Creatures (1994)

Contrary to Microsoft Dinosaurs, dangerous creatures focused on living animals that could hurt or kill you these days (like piranhas, scorpions, bears, and tigers), which made it a particularly popular title in the mid-1990s. watch commented videos of the animals in action (including a blood-drinking mosquito) and read illustrated articles about them.

Microsoft Dogs (1995)

This comprehensive guide on CD-ROM includes images, videos and even audio barking clips of 250 different dog breeds. You can also learn about the evolutionary origins of man’s best friend, or just how to groom and feed them properly. In 1995, Entertainment Weekly assigned a “B” rating to this title.which was quite impressive for a reference CD at the time.

Microsoft Wine Guide (1995)

Wine expert Oz Clarke hosts this guide to types of wine and how to drink them (including explanations of all glass shapes and which regions produce which varietals). Like Clarke said in an animated video on the title screen, “There’s never been a better time to be a wine drinker.” This timeless advice is as true today as it was in 1995, proving that Microsoft Wine Guide will never truly become obsolete.

Microsoft Complete Gardening (1996)

After having produced Microsoft Complete Baseball and Microsoft Complete NBA BasketballMicrosoft follow these titles with the following logical CD-ROM: Microsoft Complete Gardening. This guide includes a plant encyclopedia with photos and videos as well as information on insect pests. In 2000, gave this title a mixed review, citing slowness and cumbersome guides. This one didn’t knock it out of the park for Microsoft, but at least the company had an operating systems company Fall back on.

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There’s a lot more where that came from

The five titles listed above are just a small sample of a much larger library. From 1993 to 1997, Microsoft released at least 32 benchmark titles on CD-ROM (some in multiple annual editions), including dozens of games, productivity titles, and more. (Even the poorly received Bob Microsoft the interface was a Microsoft Home product.)

Here is a partial list of some of the reference products, if you wish search them on the web:

  • Microsoft Encarta
  • Microsoft Encarta Africa
  • Microsoft Library
  • Microsoft Cinemania
  • Microsoft Music Center
  • Microsoft Complete Baseball
  • Microsoft Complete NBA Basketball
  • Microsoft Reader’s Digest Complete DIY Guide
  • Microsoft Oceans
  • Microsoft 500 nations
  • Microsoft World of Flight
  • Microsoft Ancient Lands
  • Microsoft Musical Instruments
  • Microsoft’s Ultimate Robot Isaac Asimov
  • Microsoft Art Gallery
  • Microsoft Julia Child: Cooking at home with top chefs
  • Microsoft The Ultimate Frank Lloyd Wright: The American Architect
  • Microsoft Composer collection

Recently, an American software collector by the name of Jared Albert posted a photo from his impressive collection of Microsoft Home boxed software on Reddit. Its shelf of mostly shrink-wrapped titles is a great visual indicator of the depth and breadth of Microsoft’s underrated series.

Jared Albert's Microsoft Home Software Collection.
Jared Albert’s Microsoft Home Software Collection. Jared Albert

In a short interview with How-To Geek, Albert recalls seeing Microsoft Home products in CompUSA and admiring the Microsoft brand. He also played some of the Home Series games as a kid in the 1990s.I thought I was the only person interested in the Microsoft Home line,” he said, glad we reached out.

We suspect that as more people who grew up in the 1990s begin to look back to the CD-ROM era, we’ll see a much wider appreciation for Microsoft’s pioneering multimedia series.

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