Coding Horror

programming and human factors

The Windows 95 Startup Sound

Did you know that the Windows 95 startup sound was composed by avant-garde electronic musician Brian Eno? I had no idea until I saw it referenced on music thing. Eno describes the process in a 1996 San Francisco Chronicle interview:

Q: How did you come to compose "The Microsoft Sound''?

A: The idea came up at the time when I was completely bereft of ideas. I'd been working on my own music for a while and was quite lost, actually. And I really appreciated someone coming along and saying, "Here's a specific problem -- solve it.''

The thing from the agency said, "We want a piece of music that is inspiring, universal, blah- blah, da-da-da, optimistic, futuristic, sentimental, emotional,'' this whole list of adjectives, and then at the bottom it said "and it must be 3 1/4 seconds long.''

I thought this was so funny and an amazing thought to actually try to make a little piece of music. It's like making a tiny little jewel.

In fact, I made 84 pieces. I got completely into this world of tiny, tiny little pieces of music. I was so sensitive to microseconds at the end of this that it really broke a logjam in my own work. Then when I'd finished that and I went back to working with pieces that were like three minutes long, it seemed like oceans of time.

The rest of the tiny music makers series are just as interesting, and a few of them are computer-related sounds you've probably heard before.

I distinctly remember the massive media blitz around Windows 95, including the use of the Rolling Stones' Start Me Up. I expect a similar media blitz for Windows Vista, which is arguably the most important consumer OS out of Redmond since 1995.

I'm not aware of any famous musical pedigrees for subsequent Windows start up sounds in Win98 and beyond. But I'm definitely glad we don't have this startup sound.

Written by Jeff Atwood

Indoor enthusiast. Co-founder of Stack Overflow and Discourse. Disclaimer: I have no idea what I'm talking about. Find me here: