Throughout the 1990s, Microsoft developers were in a race of one-upmanship to produce the most elaborate secret “Easter eggs.” These included games of pinball, racing, and even flight simulators, all hidden within Office and Windows. Let’s take a look back at some of the best.
What Are “Easter Eggs”?
“Easter eggs” are developer credits, silly features, or inside jokes hidden in software. Because you can only access these through a series of arcane steps resembling an Easter egg hunt, that’s how they got their name.
Easter eggs were a sly, fun way for authors to secretly immortalize themselves in their work, even if individual programmer credits were discouraged for the sake of company unity.
Microsoft’s history with software Easter eggs began as far back as the Commodore PET BASIC in the 1970s. Over the decades, it grew dramatically, continuing through MS-DOS and reaching peak complexity during the late ’90s in Microsoft Office applications.
Microsoft Management officially put the kibosh on the practice in the early ’00s, citing security and customer trust concerns.
For a while there, however, the eggs were on a roll—and they got pretty wild!
Excel ’95: Hall of Tortured Souls
In the ’90s, Excel attracted a large share of elaborate Easter eggs. For example, in Excel ’95, if you follow a series of complex steps, a window called the “Hall of Tortured Souls” appears. In this apparent reference to Doom, you can actually roam a 3D, first-person environment. After crossing a zigzag bridge, you discover a room with the names of Excel ’95’s developers 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 carried around a stuffed teddy bear. It became an inside joke and unofficial mascot for the operating system.
When the team hid developer credits in the Program Manager of Windows 3.1, the bear naturally made an appearance. The Easter egg normally shows a man in a yellow suit next to a scrolling list of the developers’ internal email system names. If you perform the trick repeatedly, though, you might see the bear’s head in the yellow suit instead.
Excel ’97: Flight Simulator and Credits Monolith
Once word got out about the hidden “flight simulator” Easter egg in Excel ’97, it spread quickly in the press because it sounds so sensationally weird.
In truth, though, it’s not exactly a flight simulator in the sense of gauges and airplane controls. Rather, it’s more of a surreal 3D, first-person flying experience over a purple landscape. If you fly around enough, you find a black monolith with the scrolling names of Excel ’97’s developers on it.
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Windows NT Pipes Screensaver: Utah Teapot
If you set the joint style to “mixed,” in the screensaver’s settings, one of the joints will sometimes be replaced by the famous Utah Teapot. The teapot originated in 1975 at the University of Utah and later became a standard reference model for testing 3D rendering across many platforms.