What was a multimedia kit? Back in the early 1990s, a multimedia kit consisted of an internal CD-ROM drive, a sound card, speakers, a few CD-ROM titles, and possibly other stuff like a microphone. Kits from Creative Labs were probably the most popular. These transformed your PC from only emitting “beeps” and using floppy disks, to a world of CD-ROMs, motion picture, and quality audio. Multimedia was certainly the buzzword at the time, very much like how cloud computing is today.
Taking advantage of this multimedia revolution, Microsoft launched a range of software titles under the Microsoft Home branding that grew significantly over a relatively short period of time. As the name suggests these were aimed at the home consumer end of the market, and thus priced accordingly (usually below $100). Much of the software fell into educational, entertainment, and productivity categories.
Many of the educational titles (i.e. Ancient Lands and Dangerous Creatures) were relatively light on information and were not considered useful for serious research. The focus was on displaying photos, playing sound effects or voice overs, and watching short videos albeit at a very low resolution. That being said, these did find their way into schools for students to get a grasp of the subject.
Windows 3.1 and Apple’s System 7.x were usually the minimum operating system requirements, though later some were designed for Windows 95 and Apple’s MacOS 7.5. Only a couple of titles made it to MS-DOS.
The demise of Microsoft Home was mostly led by the uptake of internet connections around 1998 which made the need to source large amounts of data from a CD redundant to an extent. The internet also had the advantage of information not being out of date. Some of the software titles survived and continued without the Microsoft Home branding being associated to it, while others only ever saw a single release during this time.
Some titles such as Julia Child and Complete Baseball for instance I’m not so familiar with. It’s possible Microsoft didn’t distribute some of these outside North America.
I’ll take you through the list of titles that make up Microsoft Home. Over time I may look at these more closely with their own posts.
Microsoft 3D Movie Maker (1995)
Aimed for children, 3D Movie Maker allowed under a controlled environment to place and control 3D characters adding motion, sound effects, text, speech, etc. to create their own animated movies. Secondary spin-offs from the product emphasised cartoons found on the Nickelodeon cable TV channel, as well as a Japanese expansion pack with an anime focus.
Microsoft 500 Nations (1994)
Featuring the actor Kevin Costner, an interactive guide providing reference material regarding the North American Indians. I highly suspect Kevin was involved due to being the leading actor from the movie Dances with Wolves from 1990.
Microsoft Ancient Lands (1994)
An interactive guide providing reference material regarding the ancient Roman, Greek, and Egyptian civilisations.
Microsoft Arcade (1993)
Coming on a single floppy disk, Arcade was a small collection of games that were once seen on arcade machines during the 1970s and 80s. The games were Asteroids, Battlezone, Centipede, Missile Command, and Tempest. Arcade also was at one time included inside the box when purchasing a new Microsoft Home Mouse.
Microsoft Art Gallery (1993)
An interactive guide to showcasing and explaining art that was from the National Gallery of London.
Microsoft Automap Streets & Automap Road Atlas (1995 – 2013)
Both of these were separate products focussing on mapping and travel planning. There were only two geographic editions, North America and Europe. The product after the Home branding was defunct went through a few different names, ending with Streets & Trips for the North American market, and AutoRoute for the European market.
Microsoft Bob (1995)
Whenever there’s been an article on IT related products that have proven to have been a failure commercially, Microsoft Bob has a tendency to come up. The intent was to replace Windows 3.1’s Program Manager with something more “user friendly” for casual computer users by the theory of having a house full of items and being able to switch to different rooms. On top of that a dog named Rover would bother you. Not only Rover would have influenced having the paperclip assistant introduced in Microsoft Office 97, but also visually matches the dog found searching for files under Windows XP. It was released in March 1995 but sales were such a flop that it was removed off the shelves by the time Windows 95 came out in August that year. Despite this, it still managed to receive both a Great Greetings and Bob Plus Pack expansion packs.
Microsoft Bookshelf (1987 – 2001)
Possibly the first software title from Microsoft to be released on CD back in 1987, Bookshelf was collectively a group of reference titles (i.e. dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopaedia, dictionary of quotations, world atlas, etc.). The source of information did vary depending on which version was used, and what country it was released in. It was associated to the Home branding for the versions between 1993 to 1995 inclusive. While Bookshelf 2000 happened to be the last English version (Bookshelf ’98 for Macintosh), oddly enough Bookshelf 3.0 was released afterwards purely for the Japanese market.
Microsoft Cinemania (1994 – 1997)
With similarities with IMDb.com of today, Cinemania was a guide to Hollywood films. Cinemania ’94 contained movies and award listings up to 1992, mainly due to the time required for development. Later releases had the ability to download additional content for more recent films. Cinemania ’96 contained many of the same photos as Cinemania ’94 (i.e. Joe Pesci shown below), just that they were now in colour.
Microsoft Complete Baseball (1994 – 1995)
MBL fans can find out information about their favourite team and players, statistics, etc.
Microsoft Complete NBA Basketball (1994 – 1996)
In a similar theme to Complete Baseball and very much in the same format. The season summaries however only go back to post World War 2, when the inaugural season commenced in 1946-47.
Microsoft Complete Gardening (1995)
An interactive guide on designing, planting, and maintaining your garden. Also contains information on many plant species and diseases.
Microsoft Composer Collection (1995)
Based on the original titles sold individually, this comprised of Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert’s biographies and their classical music over 3 CDs.
Microsoft Creative Writer (1994)
A word processor application aimed for children with clip art and WordArt emphasised. Different sound effects would be heard depending on the tool used. An expansion pack named Ghostwriter Mysteries was released shortly after based on the Ghostwriter TV series at the time. Microsoft released a children’s graphics application named Fine Artist with a similar theme and both were bundled at one stage. A second version, Creative Writer 2 was released in 1996 with an updated interface and modified feature set.
Microsoft Dangerous Creatures (1994)
Frequently seen included with multimedia kits and new PCs, this was an interactive guide to living creatures considered venomous, or just down-right dangerous.
Microsoft Dinosaurs (1993)
An interactive guide for you guessed it, dinosaurs.
Microsoft Dogs (1995)
An interactive guide to different breeds of dogs, and being a good pet owner. Some cat lovers would have been disappointed as there was no equivalent for cats.
Microsoft EasyBall (1995)
Described as looking like a fried egg, EasyBall was an input device aimed for 2 to 6 year old children instead of using a traditional mouse. A child could place their hand on a large yellow ball that could spin around moving the mouse cursor. If you’re old enough to recall using a trackball on early laptops the concept is similar albeit much larger. The product managed to receive the 1996 Industrial Design Excellence Gold Award among others.
Microsoft Encarta (1993 – 2009)
One of most popular titles in the range as it often came with multimedia kits and new PCs, Encarta was for some time the go-to digital encyclopaedia. Depending on the year some extras were included such as a quiz maze game. Since 1993 an updated version had been released every year until it became defunct in 2009. Most releases had the ability to download additional content via the internet.
Microsoft Explorapedia (1995)
Explorapedia was two separate titles The World of People, and The World of Nature as an encyclopaedia aimed for children.
Microsoft Fine Artist (1994)
Alongside Creative Writer, Microsoft released Fine Artist as a graphics program aimed for children using a very similar interface. Although like Creative Writer it was also released for the Macintosh, it didn’t appear to gain the popularity as Kid Pix once did. It was bundled with Creative Writer for a while.
Microsoft Flight Simulator (1982 – 2006)
Dating back to the early 1980s, Flight Simulator was one of the longest running game franchises for Microsoft. Versions 5.0 (1993) and 5.1 (1995) received the Home branding and were one of only two product lines that ran under MS-DOS. Sold separately scenery packs were also available at the time for the Caribbean, Japan, Paris, and New York City regions.
Microsoft Fury3 (1995)
A space simulation air combat game developed by Terminal Reality and published under Microsoft. It was criticised for being much the same as Terminal Velocity apart from being able to run natively under Windows. A sequel was released named Hellbender the following year when the Home branding was waning.
Microsoft Gahan Wilson’s The Ultimate Haunted House (1993)
An adventure game catering for around the 9 to 12 year old aged children I presume to explore inside a haunted house with various activities and puzzles.
Microsoft Golf (1994 – 2003)
A golf simulation game initially known as Links before Microsoft acquired Access Software. Golf 2.0 for Windows 3.1 and 95 (1995) was the only version to really fall under the Home branding. I remember receiving Golf 2.0 with my new Pentium PC back in 1996 and hearing the repetitive sound effects such as “Ohhh, it’s in the deep stuff.” and “That’ll play.” from a mediocre swing. Only coming with two golf courses, it was possible to purchase expansion packs.
Microsoft Home Mouse (1995)
A basic 2-button serial and PS/2 mouse in dark turquoise colour. The packaging had changed since release and would occasionally come with an included games disk such as Microsoft Arcade. I suspect production ended in 1997.
Microsoft Isaac Asimov’s The Ultimate Robot (1993)
Russian-born Isaac Asimov was a biochemistry professor who wrote quite a number of science fiction novels during his life before passing away in 1992. This release provided insight into robotics, robots used in films, and a collection of short stories and essays written by Isaac.
Microsoft Julia Child: Home Cooking with Master Chefs (1993)
Julia Child was well known within North America as a chef and celebrity, although I question how well she was known elsewhere. This release encompassed her and 16 other chefs to learn new recipes, understand ingredients, and improve your cooking skills.
Microsoft Money 3.0 (1994)
A personal/SOHO finance application. Money was an application not originally associated with Home, but this particular version like Works 3.0 fell under the Home branding and was included with some new PCs.
Microsoft Multimedia… (1992 – 1995)
Mozart: The Dissonant Quartet
Beethoven: The Ninth Symphony
Schubert: The Trout Quintet
Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring
Strauss: Three Tone Poems
Five separate multimedia titles covering the mentioned musical composer’s bibliography and their music over their lifetime. Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert’s releases were collectively sold as a bundle named Microsoft Composer Collection.
Microsoft Music Central (1996 – 1997)
The musical equivalent to Cinemania. Downloadable content had been available to increase the number of artists and albums to browse through.
Microsoft Musical Instruments (1992)
An earlier Home multimedia title regarding musical instruments and their origins.
Microsoft Oceans (1995)
An interactive guide to living creatures found in and around the world’s oceans.
Microsoft Publisher 2.0 (1993)
Publisher was an entry-level desktop publishing application. This particular version also received the Home branding rather loosely. Some retail boxes showed it, some didn’t.
Microsoft Reader’s Digest Complete Do-It-Yourself Guide (1996)
An interactive guide for repairing and improving your home.
Microsoft Scenes 2.0 (1994)
Sports Extreme Collection
Brain Twister Collection
Sierra Club Nature Collection
Sierra Club Wildlife Collection
A Windows 3.1 application that came with a themed collection of various pictures to use as your desktop wallpaper or screensaver. After only two versions development ceased and became more or less irrelevant when Desktop Themes became available from Windows 95 onwards.
Microsoft SoundBits (1992 – 1994)
In a similar fashion to Microsoft Scenes, SoundBits was also a Windows 3.1 application that came with a themed group of sound files to be used for various events such as when a dialog box would appear. Again like Scenes, it lost relevancy with the introduction of Desktop Themes in Windows 95.
Microsoft Space Simulator (1994)
Released only once, and was the only product apart from Flight Simulator that ran under MS-DOS.
Microsoft The Ultimate Frank Lloyd Wright: America’s Architect (1994)
Frank Lloyd Wright was considered by the American Institute of Architects in 1991 to have been the greatest American architect of all time. This release showcased his works over his career.
Microsoft Wine Guide (1995)
The next best thing to having a sommelier in your home.
Microsoft Works 3.0 (1993)
Works was an entry-level substitute for Office. Although Works didn’t start off under the Microsoft Home branding, some copies of Works 3.0 became associated with it as it was often included with Encarta and Dangerous Creatures etc. with new PCs and multimedia kits. While later versions of Works were distributed in a similar manner, the Home branding was dropped. The exception to all this was that only Works 4.0 for Macintosh was associated.
Microsoft World of Flight (1995)
An interactive guide on the history and technological advancements concerning aircraft.