March 01, 2001, 11:13 AM — With the launch of Windows 95 a little more than five years ago, Microsoft assembled a group of beta testers into an organization called ClubWin, to evangelize the new operating system and act as volunteer support staff for the millions of users expected to flock to the 32-bit standard desktop system.
Hundreds were invited to join, and they joined enthusiastically. You could find them on CompuServe forums, in chat rooms on the brand-new Microsoft Network, in Internet list server mail groups and in Usenet news groups.
They were an enthusiastic bunch, who never seemed to tire of extolling the virtues of the graphical user interface version of computing. Even as their contact with Microsoft ebbed and flowed -- originally it was Brad Silverberg, then a series of Microsoft employees, and finally an almost endless supply of Microsoft temps. Each new coordinator had to be taught the ethos of ClubWin, each had to be indoctrinated into a zealous supporter of the volunteers. Some were devoted, some weren't.
It all began to fall apart in 1999 as ClubWin was merged with ClubIE -- a similar organization started to support and promote Internet Explorer. The new group retained the ClubWin name, but focused on running a Web site, rather than the more traditional support venues that the ClubWin had been using.
Finally, last week, it all came to an end when the latest Microsoft "temp of the week" sent an e-mail message saying, "the ClubWin program is going to be canceled. Because of a change in the tech enthusiast marketing strategy here at Microsoft, resources are to be reorganized and focused on new ventures."
The ClubWin'ers had balked and complained about the change in direction of what they considered to be "their" organization, so Microsoft decided to simply do away with it. And that's sad. Microsoft can use all the friends it can get, right now. Its track record in the courts is awful, Windows 2000 didn't meet sales goals for the year 2000, and there's nothing on the horizon to raise interest in the Redmond, Wash., software giant.
ClubWin'ers could have sparked some enthusiasm, could have helped foster the adoption of Windows 2000 and generally brightened Microsoft's year. But that won't happen, and we're all a little saddened by it. Even Im saddened, because I was a member of ClubWin from Day 1, and I'm proud of my service and the wonderful folks who were with me along the way.
So lift your glasses high and bid a fond farewell to ClubWin -- we'll never see its likes again.