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Historical Microsoft Relics Found in Smithsonian and Google Museums

Posted September 3, 2021 | Beta | Google | Microsoft | Windows

If you could pick anywhere on earth to roam freely for a day with unfettered access, where would you pick? For me, that place would be the Redmond-based Microsoft Archives: a sprawling landscape filled with many-many thousands of items dating all the way back to the inception of Microsoft.

Outside of the Microsoft Archives, I’ve generally assumed that the only Microsoft-related memorabilia purposefully gathered/kept for historical purposes was relegated to employees and enthusiasts/collectors (like me). But as it turns out, all sorts of historical Microsoft treasures line the coffers of at least two reputable museums: Smithsonian Institution and Google Arts & Culture!


My discovery of the online component of these museums began as so many of my other discoveries do: scouring the web for Gollum-approved preciouses to add to my own collection.

By the grace of Google, I managed to indirectly query my way to The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History website. With low expectations but a curious mind, it was there that I searched for “Microsoft”, and…HUZZUH: Buttons! Pins! Betas! SDKs! VHS and cassette tapes! And more!

Yes, the results were plentiful and filled with relics I’d never before seen — all viewable in high resolution, no less. Click on any of the pictures below to see for yourself:

Credit: Smithsonian Institution

Doubtful as I am that I’ll ever add a specific few of those discs to my collection, the three pictures below represent some SERIOUSLY museum-worthy Microsoft history!

The first picture is the actual NT OS/2 design workbook — yes, the book that would inform the development of Windows NT 3.1, thus setting into motion — among many other things — the same Windows kernel that’s still in use today (albeit continually improved upon, of course). Additionally, here are the original Intel i860 (aka “Dazzle,” as related to “Razzle”) and MIPS r4000 motherboards that Windows NT 3.1 was developed on:

Credit: Smithsonian Institution

Ridiculously awesome Windows history there!


Next on my journey, I somehow found my way to Google Arts & Culture, which fancies itself a, “non-profit initiative . . . to preserve and bring the world’s art and culture online so it’s accessible to anyone, anywhere.”

I had no idea such a thing even existed where Google is concerned! It’s a really neat site to get lost in for awhile, so I highly encourage you to do so at some point. For our purposes here, though, I’ll go ahead and show you some of what I found in relation to Microsoft.

Once more, click on any of the images below to visit the actual page they respectively reside on:

Credit: Google Arts & Culture

Quite a few games there — my personal favorite being the Asheron’s Call disc since it’s referenced as “Beta 0”. Wouldn’t that almost be the equivalent of something like “retail”? Or “not Beta”? Or how about just “Beta” with no number! Whatever it is, that’s the Microsoft I miss being confused by.

I also REALLY dig the Microsoft Picture It! beta disc. Why? Well, if you look closely, the last item in the menu bar of the design is labeled “Microsoft Confidential”.

To elaborate on why that’s noteworthy, pre-release media from Microsoft by and large contains the word “confidential” somewhere. However, this is perhaps the only instance I’ve personally seen of “confidential” woven into the design like that. The one thing that’s unclear to me is if the beta version of the program itself actually had that item in the menu bar, or if it was done solely for the disc design.

You could say it’s almost as mysterious as calling something “Beta 0″…

Anyway, I’m somewhat befuddled by how those particular items ended up with Google Arts & Culture — especially as compared to everything else the site seems to be primarily comprised of. Also, some of those photos really leave something to be desired. Beggars can’t be choosers, though, so I’m just thrilled to see things like that at all instead of them remaining cooped up in someone’s dusty attic or some such.


Hey, you! Yeah, you! Do you have any beta media or other relics that you perhaps exiled to boxes now longing to see the light of day? Do you know someone else who fits that description? If so, then now is the perfect time to #FreeTheBetas!

That’s right. Send me an email, tweet, or DM including that hashtag and show me what you’ve got hiding around there! If you no longer particularly care about your betas, or if you’re looking to pass them on to someone who will love them and care for them as his own, then I’d love to be a new home for those old bits.

In all seriousness, physical beta media has gone the way of the dodo. As such, I’m on a mission to dredge up as much as I can so as to preserve it — and not just the data, either! As you’ve seen here, there’s wonderful information to be captured from the design as well.

To that end, it’s great to see the same goal being shared by at least two museums of prominence. It’s one thing to own and cherish items like this, but it’s a whole other thing to dedicate time and resources to document, preserve, and share them with the public. Since so much of what’s in the Microsoft Archives will likely never be seen publicly, it’s up to the rest of us to piece together and preserve as much of that history as we can.

Finally, to cap things off, here is a handful of miscellaneous links to other items you might also enjoy seeing from each museum:

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed and I’ll talk to you again in the next one.


For a sneak peek into more of my collection and some of what’s to come, you can follow me on Twitter at @beta_collector!

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