Throughout the 1990s, Microsoft developers were in a high bid to produce the most elaborate secret “Easter eggs”. These included pinball games, racing games and even flight simulators, all hidden in Office and Windows. Let’s go back to some of the best.
What are “Easter eggs”?
“Easter eggs” are developer credits, stupid features, or internal jokes hidden in the software. Because you can only access it through a series of mysterious Easter egg-like steps, that’s how they got their name.
Easter eggs were a fun and entertaining way for writers to secretly immortalize themselves in their work, even if individual programmer credits were discouraged for corporate unity.
Microsoft’s story with software Easter eggs began as early as Commodore PET BASIC in the 1970s. Over the decades, it has grown dramatically, continuing through MS-DOS and reaching maximum complexity in the late 1990s in Microsoft Office applications.
Microsoft Management officially put the kibosh on the practice in the early 2000s, citing security and customer confidence issues.
For a while there, however, the eggs were on a roll – and they got pretty wild!
Excel 95: Hall of tortured souls
In the 1990s, Excel attracted a large portion of the elaborate Easter eggs. For example, in Excel ’95, if you follow a series of complex steps, a window titled “Room of tortured souls” appears. In this apparent reference to Doom, you can actually browse a 3D environment in the first person. After crossing a zigzag bridge, you discover a room with the names of the developers of Excel ’95 and a low resolution photo of the team.
Windows 3.1: Microsoft Bear Credits
During the development of Windows 3.1, one of the programmers worn around a teddy bear. It has become an inner joke and an unofficial mascot for the operating system.
When the team hidden developer credits in Windows 3.1 Program Manager, the bear naturally appeared. The Easter egg normally shows a man in a yellow suit next to a drop-down list of names from the developers’ internal messaging system. If you perform the trick repeatedly, however, you might see the head of the bear in the yellow costume instead.
Excel 97: flight simulator and credit monolith
Once the word is out Easter egg “flight simulator” hidden in Excel 97, it spread quickly in the press because it looks so sensational weird.
In truth, however, it is not exactly a flight simulator in the sense of gauges and aircraft controls. Rather, it is a surreal first-person 3D flight experience over a purple landscape. If you fly around enough, you find a black monolith with the scrolling names of the developers of Excel ’97.
Windows NT Pipes screensaver: Utah teapot
If you set joint style to “mixed” in the settings of the screen saver, one of the joints will sometimes be replaced by the famous Utah teapot. The teapot was born in 1975 at the University of Utah and later became a standard reference model for testing 3D rendering on many platforms.
Word ’97: Pinball
Not to be outdone by the Excel 97 team, the developers of Word 97 included a simple pinball game that you could access via a series of obscure steps. It included a drop-down list of development team credits on a pinball-style false LED dashboard.
The players used the keyboard (Z for the left pinball and M for the right) to control the game. It was simple, but fun.
Windows 95: Animation of music credits
Windows 95 delivered with hidden musical tribute to its developers. If you created a new folder on the desktop, renamed several times, then open it, you saw the moving and pale names of the Windows 95 team accompanied by a MIDI musical score. Windows 98 included a similar developer Easter egg tribute.
Excel 2000: racing game
According to some Microsoft insiders (see comments on this blog post), Office 2000 was the last version of the software to include Easter eggs, sanctioned by the direction of Microsoft.
However, this may be true only for Windows versions, as a developer has hidden a game of Asteroids in Office 2004 for Mac.
Excel 2000 has made Easter eggs come out with a fanfare! A 3D racing / car shooting game recalls the arcade classic Spy hunter was included in the software. You ran on a road with the developer’s names while shooting other cars.
Imagine how complex hidden games could have become over the next few years if Microsoft hadn’t stopped in practice.
Windows Vista DVD: Microsoft Security Team Photo
Finally, there was a physical Easter egg! In 2007, a Spanish blogger with the pseudonym Kwisatz discovered something stunning on the Windows Vista Business DVD holographic anti-piracy label. It was a very small photograph (less than 1 mm wide) of three men. The news of this discovery rocked the blogosphere until Microsoft formally replied about four days later in a blog post.
It turns out that the three men were members of Microsoft’s anti-piracy team. They hid their photo and several paintings in the public domain as part of the label’s anti-piracy technique. These details were far too small to copy without specialized equipment, and most hackers who duplicated Vista DVDs probably didn’t even know they were there.
Lots more Easter eggs to find!
As more computers connected to the Internet in the early 2000s and the global infrastructure became more dependent on Microsoft software (voting machines, ATM, point of sale terminals, and US Navy ships have all run a version of Windows at some point), the existence of undocumented secret code in applications has taken on a new meaning. As a result, Microsoft’s elaborate Easter eggs fell out of favor.
During the 80s and 90s, Microsoft developers put hundreds of fun Easter eggs in their products. If you want to know more, check out the Wikipedia page list of microsoft easter eggs and the Easter egg archive website. Good hunt!