The Windows XP startup sound is forever engrained in my mind, those tinkling chimes bringing back memories of AIM, Civilization III, and endless hours spent trying to download music through Napster and Kazaa followed by endless hours spent trying to remove the viruses I accidentally downloaded through Napster and Kazaa.
The sounds of Windows are as much a part of computing history as anything else you’ll find, and the Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast is doing a two-part series on the history of the startup jingle. It begins before computers were even able to have startup sounds, and it traces their evolution through composers like Brian Eno and musicians like Robert Fripp and the Seattle Symphony. The first episode is out now, and it’s both a good listen and a funny time capsule. You’ll know immediately when you started using computers as soon as you hear the right startup sound.
The show also makes the case that startup sounds are about more than just startup sounds. You can tell a lot about the state of technology by the fidelity of the audio; you can understand how a company viewed its products by the vibe it was trying to communicate, and you can hear computers go from sci-fi funkiness to everyday reality. The Windows 98 sound even morphs from mono to stereo, as if to say, “look what we can do now!”
In case you’re feeling extra nostalgic, here’s a great video of every Windows startup and shutdown sound, back to back. (And don’t miss Microsoft’s slow-fi versions of them either, or the a cappella group that is scary good at imitating them.)
Some are definitely better than others, but the real lesson here is you need a startup sound. Windows 8 didn’t have one at all, and you know how Windows 8 turned out.