Microsoft’s Largest Piece of Software Weighed More Than 40 Pounds

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Today, everything is online. Music, movies, games, and software are just a download away, but physical media was king in decades past. Some powerful and complex software tools came with so much packaging and physical media that they could weigh more than the computer used to run them. Such was the case with Microsoft’s C/C++ compiler, which Microsoft Archivist Amy Stevenson has called out as the company’s heaviest software product ever. 

Microsoft released the C/C++ compiler in 1992, making it Microsoft’s first-ever native C++ development tool for MS-DOS, Windows, and OS/2 applications. Previously, Microsoft relied on  C++ “preprocessor” compilers that took C++ code and converted it to C before a compiler created the executable program. This was a big deal at the time, and Microsoft did not skimp on the packaging. 

According to Stevenson, the two-foot box weighed more than 40 pounds. Most of the bulk came in the form of thick reference books and “quick” start guides. Keep in mind that this was in the early days of the internet. You couldn’t just call up a web page with documentation at a moment’s notice. Even if there was an online resource, it would not have been easy to access. 

The actual software was contained on 20 3.5-inch floppy disks. They would have contributed around half a pound to the total package. So, we’re talking mostly books in the enormous box, but can you imagine installing software from that many individual disks? We did it, and we thought it was pretty amazing at the time that each one could hold more than a megabyte of data. 

Stevenson notes that Microsoft never attempted to ship a piece of software that bulky again. The following year, the company launched Visual C++, which it continues to develop to this day as part of Visual Studio. You can download that today with a net weight of zero pounds thanks to the wonders of the internet. There’s something comforting about getting a piece of software with physical manuals and disks, but a single download gives you everything you need to develop in C++, JavaScript, CSS, and more. The efficiency of the future is nice, but we do miss the whimsy of a 40-pound software package.

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