back to article Windows 3.0 turns 20

Windows 3.0, arguably Microsoft's first effective graphical user interface, turned 20 this past weekend. On May 22, 1990, Redmond introduced the 32-bit GUI (not an operating system - Win 3.0 ran on top of DOS), and by doing so, it put the fear of Gates into any Apple fanboi honest enough to see the 16-color writing on the …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Cliff

    Where 32=16

    Win 3 wasn't 32-bit, win95 was the start of that on the consumer side IIRC

    1. Goat Jam

      Actually, kind of

      Windows 3 did have 386 enhanced mode but it was not the same thing as 32 bit mode, which was introduced in WFW 3.11, albeit you had to install that capability manually IIRC

    2. JimmyPage Silver badge

      Don't forget Win32S ...

      wish I could :-(

      came on 5 disks, and you had to install it to get 3.11 to run Foxpro ....

  2. Anonymous Coward

    Slight error...

    "In addition to support for 16 colors"

    And then you show a 24bit color picker on what is clearly an 8bit color display... Eh, oh well.

  3. Craig 28

    Well frankly

    Win 98 is really what windows 95 could have done to have been, and windows ME is what should have been in place of 98.

    I've used MS-DOS and Windows primarily my entire PC using life, I hate to say it but from here it can only go downhill. Windows, simeltaneously the best (standardisation) and worst thing to happen to computers.

    1. Benny


      did you just put ME above 98?! Did you ever use it?!

      1. Test Man

        I've used it

        ME was far better than 98 easily... anyone who has actually used it and not followed the sheep that complained about it would know this. I hated the unstable 98 (& 98SE), and ME introduced functions (like System Restore, bubble notifications, etc.) that subsequently arrived in 2000 and XP.

        1. Gaz Jay

          Do you live...

          Do you live in bizarro world where everything is the opposite?

          ME sucked ass big time. Yes we saw many new features that would be come standard in later versions. But it was VERY unstable.

        2. Trevor Pott o_O Gold badge

          @Test man

          So...I take it liked Vista as well. Do you work for Microsoft, or is it merely a case of the religious belief that "newer is /always/ better!"

        3. ChrisC Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          ME too...

          Yup, I also spent a good few years running ME on my home PC, and I don't quite understand how it managed to earn itself such a bad reputation. Compared to the 98SE installation that preceded it, ME was no more unstable (*), and it finally allowed things on my PC to work the way 98 claimed they would work but never quite managed to do. Only when I switched to ME did I finally start to realise USB wasn't just a monumental waste of time - every time I dabbled with adding USB devices to my 98 setup it was a lottery as to whether or not it would actually work at all, let alone reliably enough to be worth replacing the parallel/serial port version of whatever it was.

          * Despite my personal preference for ME over previous versions of 9x, I'd never go so far as to ever describe it as stable. Nor would I describe any 9x version that way, and I'd go so far as to suggest that anyone who thinks they remember any version of 9x being stable either has a really poor memory or never really did anything with their PC when it was switched on. It wasn't until the NT-based versions made it into the mainstream that I was able to start giving the hardware reset button a well-earned break.

      2. John 104

        No Kidding

        ME was the biggest turd EVER. Totally unstable. I ran it for about 2 months and ditched it for 98.

    2. Trevor Pott o_O Gold badge

      I disagree

      Windows ME should not have been.

    3. Anonymous Coward

      RE: Well frankly

      "I've used MS-DOS and Windows primarily my entire PC using life, I hate to say it but from here it can only go downhill."

      It's been going downhill for years mate.

  4. Tom Maddox Silver badge

    No fanbois?

    I'm going to guess that the moderators are stuck under such an avalanche of invective that they haven't gotten any responses posted yet. I await the "creative" misspellings of "Microsoft" and "Windows" which so enliven a dull day, to say nothing of the froth-covered, bile-filled, largely-incoherent and misspelled torrent of vitriol and hatred which is sure to ensue. For extra points, please be sure to include the following:









    1. Alan Bourke
      Thumb Up

      M$ hur hur I'm so clever stick it to the man.

      Hate Microsoft by all means but using 'M$' to describe them at every turn is beyond sad.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        It is the aim of any commercial entity to make profit, but some go a little to far.

        Perpetually *selling* us the *upgrades* to stuff that didn't work in the previous version we paid for, to me, more than qualifies for any of the M$, or worse, labels that get stuck on them.

        Not sad... true.

        1. John 104
          Thumb Down

          Oh sure...

          And Apple charging for the equivelent of a service pack and calling it a new version is any better? Give us a break.

  5. Andrew Newstead

    And don't forget...

    Win 3.11 is still out there as the basis of an awful lot of embedded systems in things like POS terminals (not sure but I think it might also be the basis for Windows CE).

    20 years not out - you got to admit that's pretty good.

    1. NogginTheNog

      Still available too

      You can actually download WFW 3.11 from TechNet Plus (and probably other MS repostories as well) in a neat little ISO - nice for wasting an afternoon building a retro VM with no working networking, or a browser come to think of it? Be warned though, you'll need the MS-DOS 6.11 downloading and installing first (remember..?!).

  6. Gary F

    Thank you Windows 3

    You made me realise how amazing the Amiga was at the time! (Curse the marketing and management of Commodore)

    1. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD


      The Amiga was indeed truly amazing, and I am truly disappointed in its failure to succeed.

      But aesthetics wise, you gotta admit, the GUI looked like shit.

      At the time, although completely monochrome, the mac had advantage (in my opinion) in aesthetics in that pixels were square and the GUI was better. Even GEM looked better, as did eventually RiscOS. Of course win 3.0 looked like rubbish till 4.0.

      I don't doubt Commodore's marketing department had a lot to do with its failure but perhaps if they had paid more attention to aesthetics, it might have done just that little bit better. Perhaps. We'll never know.

      RIP amiga.

      1. Fat Jez

        Workbench aspect ratio

        In defence of the aspect ratio used for Workbench, it was designed to be used with a TV as a monitor, not a dedicated monitor. All the icons could be replaced with versions in the correct aspect ratio and it could then be run at 640x480, which looked fine (see MagicWB and Newicons for examples of icon replacement). Workbenches prior to 2 looked pretty bad, with a very garish colour scheme, but 2.0 onwards could look pretty darn nice with a decent monitor and some tweaking.

        1. Red 2


          Ok, Amiga got mentioned. Yay. Title is demoscene reference. Let's see how many closet present-day Amiga users/lurkers there are out there still ;-)

          Commodore's poor management really did end it all for the Amiga, however, like the C64, it is still held closely to my heart. As for Wb1.3 blue and orange colour scheme, well I really don't know what they were thinking at the time. As you said with Wb2 onwards things started to look pretty slick especially when you took on the ARQ and MagicWB enhancements.

          I really need to buy a new 1024S monitor for mine, it blew up not so long ago :(

          1. steve-^


            They used such garish colours because they concluded they looked best on the most common used displays at the time (televisions)... i.e minimal colour bleeding and saturation :) Amiga developers always had good reasons.... :D


            "The Amiga team chose it basing their job on direct experiences made to obtain better contrast solution using even the worst televisions the team could find."

  7. Anomalous Cowturd

    I think I still have the install disks somewhere...

    All five of them.

    How times have changed.

    OS/2 was WAY better. Wish Big Blue had pushed it harder.

    Yes. I know. I'm going........

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I saw a live copy of win 3.1 not to long ago

    Running on a rather ancient lugtop a partner in a solicitors practice handed me with a cryptic repair request.

    The GUI nearly did for me. Initially I simply couldn't remember how to actually use 3.1 because it's been so long. The problem? The version of word he had installed wouldn't open a .docx document from his work PC.

    1. blackworx
      Thumb Up

      Nice one

      I sometimes wonder whether I'd manage if for some reason I suddenly had to fix something in 3.x for someone. I have dim and not-so-cherished memories of spending a lot of time dicking about with config.sys just to get X piece of new hardware to work, which would in turn break Y piece of old hardware, etc. etc.

  9. RichyS


    Minesweeper FTW!

  10. DJV Silver badge

    We won't mention Windows Millennium Edition (ME) nor Windows Vista

    Err, just thought I'd mention that the sentence where you say you weren't going to mention certain things became rather self-defeating in that you, er, mentioned the things in the process of trying not mentioning them...

    ...or something like that.

    I'm confused now and have to go lie down.

    1. Jolyon


      I'm sure there's no need to remind Reg readers that this rhetorical device is called paralipsis.

  11. Anthony Shortland


    was it?

    i thought 32bit only came along with win3.11 and the win32 librarys on top?

    1. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD


      That's a very bad memory.

      Traumatically, I can't even remember details. Best left buried, tbh. Thank f@#@ for win NT/95 etc..

      (Credit where its due, M$ did a flipping miracle that windows actually... worked... for want of a better word).

      I'm no windows fan, self professed agnostic and critic of all platforms, but windows... I have to deal with it, and really.... It's not that a big deal and inasmuch as there are stupid things in it there are clever things in it too...

      1. Anonymous Coward


        > self professed agnostic

        You profess that it is, ultimately, impossible to know what OS is being run?

        Perhaps you meant that you were neutral, or apathetic?

    2. Charles Hunter

      You are correct... Windows 3.0 was 16bit

      Win 3.1 was also 16bit. 32bit extensions were enabled by the Win32s driver.

      Windows 3.x was able to broker memory access beyond 16bit of course via EMS and XMS memory manager (emm386 and himem.sys ) but everything else was 16bit all the way.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      The 32-bit APIs were only in the Win32S *optional* subsystem for Win3.1 (or .11?), which came much later.

      I think 3.1 also added 32-bit disk access as well, bypassing the bottleneck DOS drivers, but I'm fairly certain nothing within 3.0 was ever 32-bit.

    4. Daniel B.


      Windows could (and had to) use EMM386 to run. Win 3.1 also managed it.

      I'd like to add that MS-DOS 6.2 and Win 3.1 were kinda good for me.

      MS-DOS 6.22 and Win 3.11 were something ugly. For some deranged reason, they were incompatible! Backups made with MS Backup 6.2 wouldn't restore with 6.22, and there were a lot of weird differences between them.

      I just skipped over to Win95, and consigned Win 3.11 at the same place I sent Win ME and Vista.

  12. Llanfair

    I remember when I first used it

    I was so used to MSDOS and command prompt. At my school the 386 PC had Windows 3.0 and I was totally stumped as to use it. I made a total mess of the interface and thought, "Maybe I can quit and it will sort itself out." To my horror, it kept the total mess that I had created and had not used Windows until 2 years later when I got a PC with Windows 3.11 for Workgroups. I think it was the Program Manager that caught me out. What I did like about Windows was the fact that I could get one set of printer drivers and also many fonts for all the software.

    1. Mark McNeill

      I was just talking about this in the pub

      of how, after eight or nine years using CP/M at work, I was suddenly introduced to a graphic interface. That was the biggest shock I experienced in computing: moving some years (and versions of Windows) later to Linu^H^H^H^H a better OS was nothing in comparison.

      1. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD

        As much as I hate to say this...

        Did you not find MS-DOS a better CP/M?

        1. Displacement Activity
          Thumb Down

          MS-DOS vs CP/M

          I ran a department porting CP/M to a Z80 in ~1984. My recollection is that it was very much better than MS-DOS, when I eventually got around to seeing it (maybe a year later?). We also ported Gem in the same year - I remember being very impressed by it. I don't think I have ever been very, or even slightly, impressed by any version of Windows. We were running bit-mapped 512x512 8-bit colour (with and without Gem), *many* years before MS.

          The whole IBM/MS/MS-DOS thing completely shafted us - we went bust in '84 as soon as people realised that superior technology was irrelevant when the opposition was selling something with the word 'IBM' in it.

          What the MS fanbois often don't realise is that there's a very good reason that many of us hate MS. It took them until 2000 to produce a half-way usable OS, and a few years after that till they caught up with state-of-the-art hardware. Anyone remember all those crappy years running Hercules graphics adaptors, and all the rest of it? MS has spent the last 26 years slowly locking us in to their lowest-common-denominator world view, and all that history is painfully obvious every time I have to run up Cygwin to do to do something non-trivial, or whenever I need to write something in a proper language which doesn't have some retarded locked-in management framework, or whenever I have to reinstall Vista, or whenever. Whoever said you couldn't fool all the people all the time had obviously never met Bill Gates.

          And don't get me started on Linux... :(

    2. John 62

      too much computer in your computer

      something similar happened Strongbad, who was used to a CLI on his Compy386, when he tried to check his email on The Cheat's iMac.

  13. Mark York 3 Silver badge

    Three Windows Versions!!!!!!

    CE ME NT

  14. I am the Walrus


    You didn't mention Win2000 either. Also interesting fact, just to be pedantic. Windows didn't become an OS until at least '98/NT4 as '95 still had to install DOS 7 before it installed the Windows app (it was just automated into one package).

    1. Allan George Dyer

      But don't forget NT3.5

      The confusion is that MS had two Windows that were developed in (sort of) parallel:

      The GUI that ran on top of DOS with "cooperative" multitasking:


      And the OS, with pre-emptive multitasking:

      OS/2 1, OS/2 2, NT 3.5, NT 4, 2000, XP, Vista, 7

      However, they still managed to keep some of the worst "features" throughout... like filenames with a 3-letter extension that gets hidden by default, so you have to guess whether clicking on the file will execute it, or start some other program and load it, except that the icons can be changed by the file.

    2. Mage Silver badge

      Untill NT4.0?

      NT 3.1, NT3.5, NT3.51 were REAL OS and Windows. 1993 to 1995

      NT4.0 was 1996

      The inexplicable was not cutting price of NT3.51, offering the later explorer desktop (which was available via MSDN before NT4.0 arrived) and promoting Win95 for Business.

      Win95 was a Games Console. NT3.5x was a real OS. Shame on you MS.

      Also Win95 /Office 95 was still largely 16bit. No more 32bit than WinFWG3.11 + 32bit disk + Win32S + 32bit TCP/IP. NT3.5x really was 32bit.

      1995 to 2002. The wasted years.

    3. Alan Bourke


      All the versions of Windows that are not based on the NT kernel are just front-ends for DOS to greater or lesser exents. NT, 2000, XP, Vista, 7 and the server variations thereof are operating systems.

      1. NogginTheNog

        Not quite

        From Win95 onwards, and refined more and more until the end-of-the-line ME, DOS was used essentially as a bootstrapper for the main OS, which once loaded sidestepped it and used it's own (mix of 16 and 32-bit) subsystems for access to the hardware.

        You remember the need to reboot to run some games from a DOS prompt, well this was because it would have required exclusive access to a 'real' DOS environment, not a virtualised one within Windows.

    4. Daniel B.

      '98 was also a shell

      Win '98 used the same DOS 7 / Win98 wrapper. Hell, ME also used it! The real jump was Win2000/XP, because that was when MS discontinued the DOS+Windows line, and jumped everyone into the NT platform.

  15. blackworx

    Ah, halogen days

    I'd become used to the lovely, stable, logical and really rather advanced RISC OS, even gaining access to one of the three hallowed and stunningly-expensive Acorn RISC PC's that the CS department had managed to wangle itself. In fact the only time I'd even been vaguely aware of Windows existence during that time was seeing an odd logo on the screen of one of the RISC PC's, which was MS-DOS/Win3.1 running iirc on some sort of hybrid VM that actually involved slotting in an x86 CPU on a daughter board, and at which we were all encouraged to point and laugh.

    Then I left school, started work, got plonked in front of Windows for Workgroups 3.11 and left to get on with it. First impression: WTF this is totally retarded. Sadly, I've rarely worked with anything else since that day. Needs must when the devil drives and all that.

    (PS: Halogen days, not halcyon days. It's deliberate, so please try to resist the temptation to correct me - you know who you are.)

    1. Graham Dawson Silver badge


      Aren't you thinking of your quondam days?

      1. blackworx

        Ok I laughed

        (After I'd Googled quondam!)

  16. eLD
    Gates Halo

    Windows 3.0 32-bit ?

    Actually it kindof was. Remember that stuff with enhanced mode for 386?

    Windows 3.0 had a kernel that ran in 32-bit protected mode and ran 2 subsystems under there. Windows (16-bit) and DOS (also 16-bit). Ever wonder how you could run multiple dos boxes at once? It was pre-emptive multitasking even back then.

    Still its all a bit academic given that all the apps were 16-bit cooperatively multitasked...

  17. John Savard


    It may well be true that GEM Desktop and GeoWorks (OS/2, of course, came much later, and was an offshoot of Windows in any case) weren't serious competitors to the Macintosh. While Windows 3.0 came close to being such a competitor, it still fell short in enough respects that it wasn't until Windows 3.1 came along that the Macintosh had real competition.

    Ironically, it was TrueType, licensed from Apple, that made the difference, allowing Windows to be effectively used for desktop publishing without purchasing Adobe Type Manager and typefaces for it as expensive add-ons.

    Incidentally, Windows 3.0 and 3.1 did let you run them under protected mode, but it was 16-bit protected mode. To run applications that were in the 32-bit mode of the 386 architecture, you needed to add Win32s, which was a free upgrade to Windows 3.1 that could be packaged with 32-bit applications.

    1. Mage Silver badge

      OS/2 came later?

      No. It didn't. Maybe you think of OS/2 Warp.

      By 1989, a year before Win3.0, MS & IBM fell out and MS released their own MS OS/2 with LAN Manager as a Server OS.

      Why do you think NT "starts" at version 3.1 in 1993?

      The development of OS/2 began when IBM and Microsoft signed the Joint Development Agreement in August 1985. The first version of OS/2 was released in 1987, 3 years before Win3.0 Unlike Windows1x to Windows 3.x (non NT), it was a real OS.

      At consumer end it couldn't compete with Win95 and at Server/Network end couldn't compete with NT3.x which could run all OS/2 non-GUI server/Console apps natively.

    2. Stuart Gray

      John - wrong way round on Windows-OS/2

      OS/2 wasn't an offshoot of Windows, it was the other way around. In fact, the box for Windows/286 (the precursor of Win 3.0) proudly proclaimed that the "Program Manager looks and feels just like the one in OS/2". Windows was originally just a way to get people with legacy DOS machines ready for the switch to OS/2, which was being jointly developed by IBM and Microsoft at that time. OS/2 2.1 had Win 3.0 built in, and OS/2 Warp had WIndows 3.1 running in it's own memory space, making it a better operator of 16-bit Windows software than Windows 95.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    I still run it

    On top of DR-DOS 7.03 on an old PC just for running very old retro games (DosBox? Pah! Stutters like anything even with the clock cycles cranked up to 15k!)

    Ok, actually, I run Windows for Workgroups 3.11. But then, it's still the same codebase, yes?

    The article needs to get some things straight tho:

    1. Windows 3.0 is 16-bit . You can run 32-bit apps by the way of Win32s, but the compatibility is flaky at best. Believe me, I tried. Even "Enhanced mode" is 16-bit btw, "Real mode" is 8-bit iirc.

    2. It does support more than 16 colors, if you run it in "Enhanced mode" instead of "Real mode" and have the necessary drivers (good luck finding for them tho). And no, unlike modern Windows systems it does not support on-the-fly video mode switching, hence the presence of software like S3 Galileo and Cirrus Logic VGA Winmode. Which is godsent when you try to run those archaic software that expect the video to be in 8-bit 256 color mode (those old Broderbund Living Books titles come to mind).

  19. Fubar75


    I remember doing a installation of Windows 2 on a old 386sx 16Mhz PC, and incanting on the command line to backup the installed files onto a 5.25" floppy for my old IBM PC XT 8088 Turbo with 1Mb RAM and 10Mb hard disk (yes that original IBM PC XT with 5.25" 360Kb) as Windows 2 was on 3.5" floppy (720Kb), and doing another incantation of restore on the XT and got Windows 2 up and running under Dos 3.3 (I had to copy DOS in order for the backup/restore to work!) :P

    Wonder does anyone actually remember the switches used to do the backup/restore, let alone the switches to format the disk... :P Happy days!!!

  20. Michael Xion

    But can Microsoft count?

    I've asked a few tech friends this question and not got a satisfactory answer:

    windows 3

    win 95

    win 98

    win 2000

    win xp


    windows 7

    ignoring service packs and inremental upgrades (ie win me),

    that makes 5 OS versions between win 3 and win 7. So shouldn't win 7 really be win 9?

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    @But can Microsoft count?

    The logic is this:

    NT variants = version 3

    Windows 2000 = version 4

    Windows XP =version 5

    Windows Vista =version 6

    Windows 7 = version 7

    You should see the "NT" line as being totally separate from the DOS/win95 line. It only *looked* similar, but only NT was a proper operating system like the Unixes of that time or MVS and VMS. DOS/win95, AmigaOS, MacOS until and including version 9 were utter crap of the microcomputer age (no memory protection, no preemptive multitasking, no proper access control)

    Only microsoft's marketing department messed up the versioning logic a little bit by making the first NT version the numeral version "3". XP and all successors are essentially bloated versions of NT, invented by Dave Cutler, who played a major role in the development of DEC's VMS.

    1. Jess


      NT 3.x = Version 3

      NT 4 = Version 4

      200/XP = Version 5

      (Presumably NT 3 carries on the count from where DOS is version 1 and OS/2 is version 2)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      not quite

      NT had a version 3.1, 3.5, 3.51, and 4.

      Windows 2000 was v5.0

      Windows XP was v5.1

      Windows Vista is v6.0

      Where it (somewhat) breaks is that WIndows 7 is actually Windows NT v6.1

      1. blackworx

        How entertaining

        Here we have a textbook example of why normals look at us funny when we start talking.

      2. RichyS

        Very very close

        Actually, I think XP was v5.5.

        Which in the comparative stakes, means it's a whole 0.4 better compared to Win2k than Win 7 is compared to Vista.

        Or something.

        I have XP (forced) and OS X (choice) anyway...

        1. Anonymous Coward

          NT 5.5?

          XP was definitely 5.1 / 5.2.

          5.5 could refer to Exchange Server?

          And yes, good point that NT 4.0 was left out in all the excitement of posting!

          IIRC NT 4.0 was basically 3.5.1 with a Windows (DOS-based Stream) 9x (4.x) UI.

          It was strange though seeing (DOS based) 9X / 4.x apps such as Office 97 running under a (DOS based) 3.1x UI on NT 3.5.1.

          Thought Windows 2000 was a cracking OS too, still very useful on an old Pentium 2 laptop for serial port connections to Cisco Routers and Peugeot ECU ports

          Still trying to find me coat.

        2. Daniel B.

          WinXP 5.1

          I know this because I had to check the kernel versions about 4 years ago.

          I do find it funny that Windows 7 is a miscount, but then again, it isn't that different from Vista, so MS couldn't just skip the NT counter to 7.0. But it does look quite weirder than Solaris counting techniques (where SunOS 5.4 is Solaris 4) as there is no actual relation between their 7 and the version numbering.

    3. Anonymous Coward

      @But can Microsoft count?


      Every single article written about windows ends up with a post similar to this. Maybe it should be stickied at the front of the page for all time.


      Dos Stream:

      Windows 1 (1.x)

      Windows 2 (2.x)

      Windows 3 (3.0x)

      Windows 3.1 (3.1x)

      Windows 3.11 (3.11x)

      Windows 95 (4.0x)

      Windows 98 (4.1x)

      Windows ME (4.9x)

      NT variants:

      Windows NT 3.1 (name chosen to match Windows 3.1) (3.1x)

      Windows NT 3.5 / 3.5.1 (3.5x)

      Windows 2000 (5.0x)

      Windows XP 32 bit / FLP (5.1x)

      Windows XP 64 bit / Server 2003 / Home Server (5.2x)

      Windows Vista / Server 2008 (6.0x)

      Windows 7 / Server 2008 release 2 (6.1x)

      Windows 7 is actually built on the 6.1 NT stream, the name was given to try and distance it from the disaster that was Vista (6.0)

      I'll get me coat.

      ( I have fond memories of Windows 3.0 on the school network. BNC on RM Nimbus 386 machines running as dumb terminals off a central 486 server. Took 10 minutes to boot up! I had always assumed "Program Manager" was a school specific lock-down, compared to the freedom of the Mac GUI, until I got my own PC with WFW3.11 and realised the truth!)

      1. JimmyPage Silver badge

        you forgot


  22. The Fuzzy Wotnot


    Ventura Publisher, the defacto DTP for a while was on GEM desktop. Ah GEM, came with my first Amstrad PC.

    I actually quite liked WInodws 3.0, it was simple, uncluttered and you could tweak so many things on it to get it do odd stuff. I had page after page of useful tips on tweaking the Windows INI files. Then Windows 95 came along and it was "all mouth and no trousers", plenty of glitz but no guts.

    Bonus question, what colour were the four 5 1/4" floppies that Amstrad gave away with the 1512/1640 PCs?

  23. Mage Silver badge

    Can Microsoft Count?

    he logic is this:

    NT variants = version 3

    Windows 2000 = version 4

    Windows XP =version 5

    Windows Vista =version 6

    Windows 7 = version 7

    Actually Win7 is 6.2 or 6.3 really. see Ver. It's a SP of Vista in reality.

    Windows 2008 is 6.1

    First version may be 3.1 for two reasons:

    1) The next 32bit MS OS after MS Version of OS/2 + Lanmanager. NT has OS/2 and LAN Manager subsystems.

    2) Match DOS GUI Win numbering?

    NT 3.51 is NT3.5 with the gratuitous WinAPIs added to win95 that Office 95 used and only existed to stop Office95 running on Win3.11

    NT 4.0 = 4.0

    Win2000 = 5.0

    XP = 5.1 (a complete version of 5.x)

    Windows 2003 = 5.2

    DOS Versions GUI

    Win1.0, a failure

    Win 2.0, Win286, Win386 all 2.x versions

    Win 3.0, Win 3.1, Win3.11,

    Win 3.2 (Chinese?)

    WFWG3.1, WFWG3.11: Versions with Client For NT Server and LanManager Peer to Peer Networking. NetBEUI by default. TCP/IP and Novell options. Support to connect to NT named Pipes but not create them.

    there is a DOS WG version with Named Pipes and TCP/IP

    The only extra of Win95 was Explorer and bundle all the free option add-ons that WFWG3.11 had.

  24. Mage Silver badge


    Win3.0 loads on 8 old PC with XP via DosBox in < 20 seconds.

    DosBox is a virtual environment also available for ARM. You can trivially run 3.0 on DOSBOX on Symbian.

  25. yossarianuk

    The days before the monopoly when Amiga ruled.

    Commodore were just about to release the Amiga 1200 (the best machine I have ever owned - and the cheapest) which was multitudes of light years ahead in graphics, sound, games, stability, usability (and actual multitasking) and the computing industry still seemed innovative .

    Shortly after the death of commodore Microsoft achieved total monopoly and the computing (at least the OS industry) went through a dark age that lasted a decade, during this time people got used to the idea that complete crashes were just normal...

    My Dark age ended with the installation of Madrake Linux in 2002. (thank god)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Black Helicopters


      As much as I love the Amiga, it was never a contender in the business market (Where most PCs are sold), except for some Niche markets. (captioning and certain video related stuff)

      Also Windows had an effective monopoly long before the A1200.

      I did my final year project on the Amiga, in pagesetter. IRemember that it was a royal pain in the arse converting it to something that the Uni PC's could understand so i could print it out.

      Shame. I did like my 1200, and despite popular opinion around here, i did much prefer the WB2+ workbench over Windows 3. (Admittedly, the WB1.x workbench, with its really wierd colours was horrendously ugly).

      Windows was also a step down from the other Acorn A3000 i was programming on at College.

      It was just an order of magnitude better than anything else out there, probably until XP came along. (IMHO, RISCOS 3 blew Windows 3.1, 95, 98 and ME out the water)

      Now *there* is a bunch of people who could have done with a decent marketing department.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        Totally agree re: RISC OS... If Acorn had been able to release their Archemedies machines in the USA there is a fair chance that I'd now be typing this from an ARM powered ROSC OS machine, rather than an Intel powered XP box. There were some copyright "issues" with an other company's OS, can you guess who?

        1. heyrick Silver badge

          A RISC OS fan

          Let's not forget the system offered properly anti-aliased text before Windows 3 even existed, various patches to use it as the "system font", this later becoming official.

          A coherent and logical method of internationalising software. MessageTrans wasn't perfect, but it's a lot better than some of the "hack the res files" methods used under Windows.

          Little icons on the icon bar (task bar) to wih you can drag a file to in order to open it as a new file. Windows doesn't do this, even today.

          A powerful file path system with "obey" macro-variables as a part of the command interpreter (but also useable in filesystem-related calls). Nothing I've seen otherwise has offered anything near that level of flexibility.

          As much as the world might diss Econet for tragic slowness, it was a fully fledged functioning network system (widely used in UK schools) long before domestic computers offered networking abilities. In addition to the usual file sharing, it worked with the concept of ports, so could support all sorts of extra functions, like printer sharing. I wrote a chat program, and because our IT teacher hated Greensleeves, myself and a friend wrote a software where each Beeb in the room would (randomly) play a note - all synchronised using Econet.


          Sorry... just having a nostalgic moment. Acorn made ass kicking computers at least twice in their history, but they never really ran with them so the world passed them by. At least I can smile and count the ARMs in my room (mobile, PVR, smart-printer, MP3 player...) and be happy that a part of the Acorn legacy did find a way to shine, and my God, how bright it is!

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward


            It's worth noting that econet pissed all over appletalk at the time...

      2. A J Stiles

        Postscript FTW!

        "I did my final year project on the Amiga, in pagesetter. IRemember that it was a royal pain in the arse converting it to something that the Uni PC's could understand so i could print it out."

        I, too, was using an Amiga (500) at university. I just installed the Apple LaserWriter driver, and copied the PostScript output to 720K disks using some utility or other (MessyDos?). I was then able, if I could find a PC to use as a terminal emulator rather than an actual VT220 terminal, to log into one of the VAX machines and print out my PostScript pages on the university's laser printer.

        Beer, because I needed one after doing that.

  26. Major N

    Win Versions

    Jlocke is correct, although, pedant alert, Windows 7 is based upon a modified Vista kernel, which is version 6.1 (to Vista's 6.0). Windows 95 was version 4.0 of the non-NT 'kernel', 98 was 4.5, ME was 4.9. After the debacle of ME, and presumably to save the effort of maintaining a second OS (especially one which was 32bit extensions to a 16-bit shell, running on an 8-bit OS, as the 9x/ME kernel was, iirc), they canned the 4.x kernel and released XP Home/Pro, based on the same kernel (NT 5.0).

    Micros~1... can't believe I have never seen this one before, must have fallen asleep in Flame class

  27. Geoff Mackenzie

    wonky, crash-prone standards of the time

    Funny, I remember better stability back then than now.

    1. Test Man


      ... your head must be full of revisionist rubbish then. Back then, it was FAR worse, with innocuous crashes taking down the entire OS - and regularly.

      1. Geoff Mackenzie

        @Test Man

        Apologies, please find attached the icon I forgot to include last time.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down


      We used Win 3.1 at work with PC-NFS to handle the networking side, that meant every DOS box was reduced to below 520M of memory and the whole shebang would fall over on at least a twice daily basis.

      By the time you needed to run a simulator package or something else memory hungry it was a total joke.

      Whatever we have now, I don't want to return to the days of DOS 6, QEMM and a hundred other nasty kludges.

      1. TeeCee Gold badge

        Re: Seriously?

        Actually I found that with DOS 6 you could wring more memory out of it with the included himem.sys and emm386.exe than you could with QEMM.

        For networking, I found that the answer was to install the Novell card driver and the Link Support Layer from the ODI stack (whether or not you were actually using Novell) and then tell everything else you installed it was on a Novell network and to play nice with same. That cut out most of the memory use and all the network stack conflicts.

      2. Anonymous Coward

        @Brian Morrison

        Wow, I wish I had 520Mb of memory in DOS on Win 3.1. I was lucky to have 1/1000th of that.

    3. Kevin Bailey

      Same here...

      My Win3.11 PC never crashed - I used a tool to manage all the ini files and was able to completely restore by simply copying a backup on to a formatted and bootable drive after my boss trashed my PC when I was on holiday.

      We used to program Progress systems on Unix and DOS and remote desktop into all kinds of PC's to provide remote support. And use several different terminal programs.

      Of course, then came Win95. I only switched to get experience cos I knew I was leaving. The registry joke, not being able to simply copy a drive to make backups, regular crashes etc etc all started from there.

      It always surprises me when people say that Win95 was a big leap forward - to me it's where the rot started.

  28. censored
    Gates Horns

    I still run a Win 3.1 machine....

    Which is crucial to my work. We have to supply digital audio files, encoded to an archaic and proprietary derivative of MPEG1, supplied on PCMCIA cards formatted in DOS.

    You can't even format under Win3.1 - it HAS to be DOS (and no, it doesn't work if you so it under Windows). Nor can you just format as FAT under anything later than DOS, despite Microsoft insisting that the format is the same. The cards simply don't work in the end units if you do that.

    Fun, eh?

    1. Geoff Mackenzie


      Have you tried mkdosfs on Linux? I don't know if it'll work but it takes a lot of options and might be able to produce a filesystem your devices won't choke on, which could be handy when it finally becomes actually difficult to find a machine that will run 3.1.

      Alternatively, you could take a very close look at the 'correct' filesystem with a hex editor and write a program to reproduce it on a more modern platform.

    2. heyrick Silver badge

      @ censored

      Would it not be possible to take an image of a blank formatted device, and then lay down this onto new devices?

    3. Daniel B.

      Holy Crap

      That explains why my PCMCIA card stopped working after I formatted it. That was a 4Mb PCMCIA Flash Drive that went with our Kodak DC50 digital camera; I formatted it under Windows XP and it never worked again with the camera. Had I known...

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    NT = 3.5

    As someone else has mentioned NT was version 3.5, 3.1 was not "New Technology".

    Arguably NT should have been version 4 but, I think, due to the then ongoing MS/IBM spat over OS/2 it was designated as a "version 3 variant" to avoid issues with IBM (I think if it was version 4 then , as the next OS from version 3, IBM might have some claim over it since IBM and MS had an agreement to co-develop this)

    1. Peter Kay

      NT 3.1 *was* NT

      Just do a Google Images search for Windows NT 3.1 - it's not hard

  30. Steve Adams

    But it cant beat (the) Windows-Windows-w-w-w-w-Windows 386 (video)

    Any excuse to (re)propagate this:

    1. Rob Burke


      That was the weirdest thing I've seen in a long time.

  31. Michael Habel

    If Vista was so bad then....

    Why do I find myself wanting to return to it then?

    For starters I really miss the "Ultimate Extras" that were in Vista ~namely~ Dream Scenes.

    And why did Microsoft have to go and remove the Calendar App from 7 as well?

    Yes Vista kinda sucked on older XP Hardware DX7/8 Graphics with ~512Mb DDR-RAM

    But ya know what?

    On my Laptop with a C2D @ 1,83Ghz w/4Gib or RAM and DX10 ATi Graphic, and probably most importantly Service Pack 2.

    I never had any issues that made me want to go back to XP (Save the very early days before I actually used the OS).

    I only uped to 7 so as to stay current, to be honest, I can only spot the flaws in 7 (see above!)

    1. Peter Kay

      Get yourself Object Desktop from Stardock

      At least their Deskscapes option will do what you want - I think Stardock developed Dreamscene for Vista initially, anyway.

      I never used Dreamscene as it doesn't like multi monitor, and it didn't like my high resolution desktop either..

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      maybe you're just crazy

      on my account under Vista (which I boot into once every couple of months or so) after the 10 minute boot time or whatever, the mouse works fine for 10 minutes while I'm using it - then suddenly becomes jerky and unusable at regular intervals for the remainder of my session. Apparently it doesn't happen to my brother on his account and we both have the same software, that being bugger all other than games. So why it doesn't work for me is a complete mystery and one which I am not going to even bother solving as the exact same mouse works great on Linux all the time with no exceptions (ever). And how WOULD you Wintards solve this one? Have me re-install Windows? Live in the real world babes.

      Vista is a pile.

      And if the way Vista handles the mouse seems like a lame reason to diss it:

      a. you are wrong

      b. I could list a dozen other faults but honestly it aint worth the time.

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        Yet another Windows quirk

        The system tray. If I switch on and go into my user account on my eeePC (either manally or, as currently, autologin), about half the stuff that is supposed to be in the system tray doesn't appear. It is loaded, just no icons. If I log out and go to my mother's account, or back to me again, everything is fine. My actual current account (and a lot of paths) is called Rick_2 because I created a new account and got rid of the old one. And, hey, guess what...

        This is Windows XP. An obscure bug (it is "known") kicking around for over a decade now. Any suggestions on ideas to try? [hint: "Change to Vista/7/Linux/MacOS" are not valid responses! ;-) ]

    3. blackworx

      Re: If Vista was so bad then....

      So, in short, you miss some meaningless fluff that could be easily replaced by any number of freebie apps?

      You, sir, should be ashamed to be posting that nonsense here. Get thee to the PC World forums.

  32. Peter Kay

    Great, so I'm an elder PC statesman now?

    I'm not even forty and I remember Windows 2.x, never mind Windows 3.0/3.1

    Personally I'd say that 3.1 was the first usable Windows. It's true that 3.0 was the first version to successfully increase the Windows application base - a failing that OS/2 1.x did not manage to beat, 3.0 was plagued by horrid GPFs.

    XP was definitely the client release when everything successfully came together. Windows Server 2000 was probably the best server OS overall. For the time, even NT 3.1 wasn't bad - it was properly architected, unlike OS/2 (technically there was, and is, a fair bit of 16 bit code in OS/2 even if the userland has been 32 bit from 2.0 onwards), which wasted a lot of time on OS/2 PowerPC that could have been better achieved sorting out OS/2 x86. OS/2 Warp v3 was definitely the best client version overall.

    1. The Fuzzy Wotnot
      Thumb Up

      Windows Runtime anyone?

      You lot don't remember very, very early MS apps like Excel coming with a "Windows Runtime"? I remember my old man with his mono screen 286 around 1988, buying a £400 copy of Excel on eight 5 1/4" floppies back in the late 80's! The Windows Runtime was purely for running the Excel app and nothing else, it had no File Mangler, no control panel, no nothing, just ran the app in a GUI environment from DOS.

      1. Peter Kay

        I'd forgotten about that, but now I remember..

        Windows 2.x (probably the real mode version) and a Windows app bundled up. Delightful...

        To be almost as sick, I could mention family mode applications.

      2. heyrick Silver badge

        There was a control panel

        You could set up country options or somesuch using it. I had a bit of software called Superbase (IIRC) with the Windows 2.0 runtime (dig those colours!). But this had a fairly critical flaw. If you loaded up the Control Panel and then quit the main application, all the text would vanish. If you tried to close Control Panel, the machine would hang.

        Smile because, hey, it's the weekend.

  33. Dave Murray
    Gates Halo


    If you're listing the decent versions of Windows you shouldn't leave out Win 2k, possibly the most stable OS MS ever produced.

    1. blackworx

      Re: Win2k

      I liked it and stuck with it for yonks after XP came out. But I saw plenty BSODs in 2k. Much less frequent in XP; almost never since XP SP2.

      Besides, love it or not, 2k was about as secure as a handbag made of cheese.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    NT, OS/2

    I once had the fun of installing OS/2 from about 25 3,5 inch floppies and it was a Royal Pain In the Backside.

    NT 3.51 was a breeze compared to that - insert floppy and press return a couple of times - done. Also, I remember reading some very funny stuff about OS/2 internals. NT demonstrated that Microsoft had learned quite a few things about proper operating systems and it probably was one of the best pieces of technology they ever released.

    The whole Windows/Office franchise is based on this robust operating system that can also be secure, if properly used. That most users are using it the retarded way while believing in that Protection Scam (Virus Scanners), does not change that.

    Running Unix as root is as insecure as running NT (including it's latest incarnation VISTA and Windows 7) as Administrator. Blame MS for not setting up a normal user by default, but don't blame the architects of NT for a lack of security.

    Regarding VISTA - based on number of installations it certainly is less of a fail than all Linux distributions taken together. If you have 2Gig of RAM, it runs very well and is as stable as XP. My only complaint is that they changed the location of certain things more or less at random. The truth is that nobody needs the "innovations" of VISTA and win7 except the Chief Financial Officer of Microsoft. I bet XP will be used by the year 2020 in the millions.

    And yes, the file system permission system UI is screwed up since the first version of WNT. But on a PC, this does not matter so much most of the time. Also, there are command-line tools to change the ACLs.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    Yeah, that's Win NT version 4 (see my previous list). It would still be a strong seller today if MS actually sold it. It runs on 256MB of RAM easily. NT in general has been too good for MS. They have not many options to sell something more robust with later releases, so they keep fumbling with the UI and naming to create an illusion of "innovations".

    Actually, NT4 had everything we need TO THE PRESENT DAY, only the UI *looks* a bit different. I ran it properly on a 48MB RAM 80486-CPU machine with about 1Gig of harddisk !

    So all the "modern hardware requirements" are essentially bloat that only exist to sell new Windows licenses and new hardware.

    1. Peter Kay

      It had everything except..

      USB, modern DirectX, Firewire, IPv6, Active Directory, large disk support, large memory support, x64 support, CIFS, updated scripting, a patch management server, a half decent web server, support for GUID disks, integrated (not a separate product) terminal services and much improved group policy and deployment tools.

      Yep, you're right, NT 4 had absolutely everything we require in the present day..

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: It had everything except...

        I'll give you all the items relating to hardware that didn't exist at the time. Your right, NT4 didn't support them. I find it hard to accept that as a criticism. Are you suggesting that NT4 could not have supported them? Was its kernel intrinsically flawed in a way that prevented the addition of (say) USB support or (even more absurdly) IPv6 packet formats? Was the only solution really to replace the user shell in favour of one designed by Tinky-Winky and implemented as a series of ActiveX controls?

        I won't give you the other bloat, like a patch management server, web server, CIFS or indeed anything else that could and should be deployed as an application rather than baked into the OS. These would have just as easy to add to NT4 as they were to add to the later OS editions where they finally appeared.

        Of course, that doesn't sell upgrades, which is why it didn't happen, but that's hardly a technical objection.

  36. This post has been deleted by its author

  37. Lord Lien

    Did some one mention...

    .. Windows NT. I was told back in more youthful days, that NT stood for "Not Tested" by one of my piers. I believed him at the time too, because he was more senior & they would not lie to some one at a much lower level for amusement.....

    I would like to thank Microsoft (& Apple) for producing pieces of software that are "crap" & has kept me in beer, cheap package holidays to Spain, Greece, Egypt & Morocco for the last 12 years. Nice one Gates & Jobs....... can you keep churning out the rubbish for another 15 years as my mortgage will be paid off then. Only after that, you may be allowed to get it right... tho I very much doubt you will :)

    Beer icon..... its the only thing that's stops me punching the computer after another "WHY WONT YOU JUST BLOODY WORK" screaming fit at Windows/OS X.

    1. GreenOgre
      Thumb Up

      so I'm not the only one to notice....

      While working on contract for a large UK (recently almost ex-) bank, I was mystified as to why critical financial systems were run on Windows servers with legions of sysadmins typing daily incantations and supplications just to keep them running. In frustration I asked a colleague why we consultants weren't recommending a move to something a little better suited to the environment.

      His reply?

      "We get paid by the hour."

      Says it all really.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    @Lord Lien

    I think you shoudl rather thank the bloody users who don't want to learn how to use a PC properly. Both WNT and OSX are as good as any other modern OS like *nixes, VMS or MVS. Only the wetware in front of them is incredibly lazy and stupid.

    1. Lord Lien

      @ jlocke....

      Just remember as soon as the make some thing idiot proof, the idiot goes & gets an upgrade too..... ;)

  39. Peter Stone

    Ahh memories :)

    Actually I preferred Windows V2.0, on a hercules monocrome monitor. My Windows 3 experiences began with WFW3.11. Dead easy to install over a Novell Network by keeping a mirror of a standard workstation hard drive on the server, & keeping the room specific ini files in a separate directory - sigh

  40. Anonymous Coward

    Excuse me...

    But "wonky and crash-prone" was not the standards of the time. It was Microsoft's standards, and some would say it still is.

    I think it would be fairer to say that it still was until they released W2K

    I can't imagine, really, what MS did brief its programmers to produce, since reliability, stability, security, were so utterly and conspicuously absent.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Excuse me...

      "I can't imagine, really, what MS did brief its programmers to produce, since reliability, stability, security, were so utterly and conspicuously absent."

      Reliability, stability and security only matter *after* you've bought it. For twenty years we had a growing market where the majority of buyers were either first timers or sufficiently inexperienced that they didn't know how badly they were being shafted. In such a market, the winning strategy is to produce as much as you can as cheaply as you can.

      MS understood this. Apparently no-one else did.

      The market is probably different now, with most purchasing decisions being made by someone who has had at least one bad sting. MS appear to be having trouble. I wonder if they can turn their corporate culture round fast enough?

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Only the Amiga makes it possible

    At the time (early 1990s) the Amiga had a far superior OS and hardware set to what was around which dominated much of the home/professional TV studios/computer graphics market. Hell, even NASA had a set of Amiga 4000's running simulations up until the late 1990s when they were decomissioned.... I would say the PC only caught up around the mid-90's.

    As for Windows, that only got 'good/useful' by the time 2000/XP came along.

    Paris, because even she would choose an Amiga as did Debbie Harry at the launch in 1985.

  42. Mage Silver badge

    NT4.0 and USB

    I had USB on NT4.0

    It was a deliberate marketing decision NOT to release USB on NT 4.0 as it would hurt Win2K sales. Same reason they killed SP7.

  43. h 6
    Jobs Halo

    Good god that's ugly.

    And look at all those windows that pop up out of the control panel. Now wonder Windows gave me a headache and I never cared to use it.

  44. Anonymous Coward


    Unix Userland programs are not better than MS user-level code. I recently had Solaris make crashing one (with a SIGSEV) me because I used too many variables in a makefile. This is a often-used tool which is already 40 years old now...

    The architecture of NT and Unix makes things stable - protect the kernel and the file system from messy code done by application programmers (including build chain developers).

This topic is closed for new posts.

Other stories you might like