back to article Windows 3.1 rebooted: Microsoft's DOS destroyer turns 20

Yes it crashed a lot. It crashed less than its predecessor though, and kept Microsoft on the path to desktop domination. This was Windows 3.1, released on 6 April 1992, nearly two years after Windows 3.0 was pushed out in May 1990. Minimum system requirements are MS-DOS 3.1 or later, 2MB RAM, and a hard drive with 6MB free. …


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  1. JDX Gold badge


    At least in some ways we've moved on a long way :)

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. stucs201

        Re: memmaker

        I liked hand tuning config.sys and autoexec.bat. With enough tweaks you could get more than 640k base memory available if you didn't need graphics. If I remember correctly it was just a matter of creating an upper memory block in the video video address space, which since it started at 640k DOS was smart enough to recognise it could use. I may even still have a boot floppy configured that way somewhere.

      2. John O'Grady

        Re: memmaker

        Yeah - that's all coming back to me after reading your post as well. Fighting TSR (Terminate and Stay Resident) programs for lower memory and managing the early graphics card allocations... XMS, A20, interrupts.... Good times! That was when everyone on AOL actually had a brain, because you had to have one to figure out how to get onto BBS's.

    2. Tom 13

      Re: memmaker

      Not memmaker, QEMM which had better memory management tools. And which was obviously the target of MS's ire at the time because they broke it with every .x.x.x upgrade. And of course to get support you had to disable it and run memmaker instead.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: memmaker

      DR-DOS didn't need anything like memmaker, it just worked.

      1. Delbert

        Re: memmaker

        Worth remembering that Microsoft gave a clear message about their predatory intents by ensuring that DRDos Windows users could not use Smartdrive to cache effectively hobbling performance. DRDos was hugely frugal by loading memory resident programmes into legacy reserved areas of memory it freed up base memory easily. Using memmaker was more of a black art to get anything like the results of DRDos you needed to load programs in the correct order to fit the available spaces in the the upper memory blocks..

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Good article

    I'm in the process (in the background) of doing the same - installing W3.1 on a Virtualbox VM. Nice to know that it will be possible. It will be interesting to compare it with W7.

    Word 2 - good enough for most jobs, I reckon - apart from the fact that its approach to document encryption is laughably poor.

    1. captain veg Silver badge

      Re: installing W3.1 on a Virtualbox VM

      It will work in DOSBox, no VM required. I've got it running on my N900 phone -- which has better screen resolution and colour depth than my first few PCs.


    2. Doug 3

      Re: Good article

      find a copy of HP NewWave and install that on top of Windows 3.1 and then compare it to Windows 95/98/ME/2K

      long file names, folders in folders, document templates and more. It was still Microsoft DOS and Windows under it but it was a great add-on. Windows 95 license restrictions ended all the 3rd party desktop add-ons so from 95 onward it was what Microsoft decided you got instead of the market doing it.

  3. Bodestone

    I actually still have...

    Almost mint condition, boxed with manuals, install disks for Windows for Workgroups 3.11

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I actually still have...

      Yeah, we had 3.11, I think my dad ahem borrowed them from work.

    2. Maty

      Re: I actually still have...

      I still have the original disks (5in floppies) of Windows 1.0. Am hanging on to them as I reckon they'll be worth something one day.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: I actually still have...

        > I still have the original disks (5in floppies) of Windows 1.0. Am hanging on to them as I reckon

        > they'll be worth something one day.

        First time for everything, eh?

    3. sisk

      Re: I actually still have...

      Heh, I WOULD have them still, shrinkwrapped at that, but my wife made me throw out all of the...what was the term she used again?....'junk that I'd never find a use for'. Granted I haven't had a floppy drive to shove them in since before that, but still....

  4. Christian Berger

    I had WfW3.11

    It wasn't much use except for running a webbrowser. I did most of my work on DOS. At least starting Windows only took 3 seconds on my 486 DX2-80 with a whopping 28 Megs of RAM.

    I still wonder, what is is that makes modern Windows versions so bloated? I mean Windows didn't really gain any useful features. It still only starts programs providing them with a GUI. There still is no usable shell, no network transparency for applications, no nothing.

    1. itzman

      Re: I had WfW3.11

      I have the same question for Linux, which used to run in a few megabytes. Now its really a gigabyte to be usable.

      My strong suspicion is that its the introduction of high level languages.

      Can you imagine writing a 50Mbyte executable in Assembler?

      But in an OOP..well just type new()...:-)

      1. Christian Berger

        Re: I had WfW3.11

        Yes, that might be one of the points. Another one might be the dependence on bad libraries. Felix von Leitner once replaced the libc with his own version which immediately resulted in much smaller executables.

        I mean I used to write software in Pascal on DOS, and it was fairly small. An executable file rarely had more than a few kilobytes, despite using a language which checked for integer overflows.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I had WfW3.11

        Even Linus Torvalds himself, calls Linux bloated

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You reckon that wasn't bloated?

      I had but a 286 with 640kB (and 1MB video ram), but with a bit of creativity you could cut a windows 3.1 installation down to... 2.3MB IIRC. From 20 or so (the capacity of my hard disk drive back then) or about 12 if you told the installer to be nice-ish. It still wasn't fast nor especially useful. If only I'd known, I'd gotten minix and played with that for a while. As it was I stuck with tinkering with DR-DOS (and tp7, or at least its nicely quick compiler that went well with my then-favourite editor, qedit3), and mostly forgot about windows as it didn't buy me much. Oh, and tried and failed to install linux on the 386 succeeding the 286, losing my FIDO archive in the process. The lost tagline archive might be worth reminiscing over. The software certainly isn't.

      What we could and should do instead, is to look forward but keep testing our software on hardware much slower than we'd normally use, just to iron the most eggregious resource hogging out a bit. There is quite a lot to be gained there.

    3. 404

      Re: I had WfW3.11

      You must have been loaded... Seriously, memory was EXPENSIVE! I still remember paying $200 for 8MB (on sale) for my Cyrix P133+ Win95 machine... My old IBM 286SX boat anchor Win3.1 machine was retired and I was thrilled as hell to see that video clip of the Hindenburg on my 1x cdrom on the new one.... ahhh 14.4 modems and lions and tiger and bears...


      1. Tezfair
        Thumb Up

        Re: I had WfW3.11

        As I type this, I actually have a 4 (or could be 8) mb SIMM in my hand, fresh off a shelf of memories (both real and spiritual). I remember my first PC was a DX2-66 with 8Mb ram, and dual floppies to do 'lots of backing up'.

        3.1 and DOS 5 is where I learnt my trade and can recall all the Hi-mem tricks, especially ramdisk

        interestingly a lot of the dos commands I still use today

        1. Danny 14

          Re: I had WfW3.11

          indeed, I still use a lot of hybrid dos batch files combined with script especially when crawling directories.

      2. Danny 14

        Re: I had WfW3.11

        Jesus, those cyrix chips were piss awful. I remember getting some into the shop and being thoroughly underwhelmed. The AMD DX4's outperformed them. The Intel P133 was the king of early chips.

        You also had to match memory pretty closely especially if you were using 72pin modules.

        1. Twilight

          Re: I had WfW3.11

          Calling the Intel P133 an "early chip" is amusing. My first PC was a 386-DX20 and I'd been using PCs since 8088.

          My first PC used SIPP memory modules (normal 72pin except it had actual pins rather than surface connections).

        2. Delbert

          Re: I had WfW3.11

          It rather depended on what programs you were running, the weak spot of the Cyrix was the coprocessor (maths processor as we used to call it) if you ran anything that depended on it you were dead in the water. However gamers were very fond of them supplied at very low prices they could outperform intel chips costing nearly twice as much but only if your game liked them and most did it was a no brainer. did you ever come across the SGS Thomson 486 DX 2 80 that was a big surprise the 40mhz bus plus some trick internals meant it benchmarked nearer to the 486 DX4 120 billy bargain chip!

    4. kb

      Re: I had WfW3.11

      Its a combo of the software and the hardware friend. Do you have any idea how many drivers Windows has to initialize on your average desktop? Sound, third party video (with taskbar apps for both usually), NB/SB, SATA, USB devices, its a lot of stuff to load. Then are all the startup programs, the services, loading the apps you use into superfetch. Frankly windows just does a whole lot more than it had to do back then. I mean you could fit the entire contents of the HDDs AND the memory of the first 8 machines i owned strictly into RAM on my PC and still have room left over!

      As for Win 3.1 it made a great embedded OS, it was so low frankly it would run on just about anything. i remember seeing a couple of kiosks a few years back still running win 3.1, you could tell because the place got a surge and they rebooted. But if you want that kind of boot speed today you'd really need something like one of the embedded OSes where you don't ever update anything, its all just "there" and ready to go. for example most ASUS boards and netbooks have ExpressGate, my EEE will boot into EG in less than 6 seconds and gives me all the music on my HDD, flash games, browsing and chat. its pretty nice if all you want is the web.

  5. JohnG

    MS still the underdog then

    At that time, MS was still the underdog to the likes of Lotus123, Wordperfect and Novell - but the popularity of these and other DOS/Windows applications meant that Apple was no longer in the running for the corporate desktop. Windows 3.11 (WFWG) was a winner as it meant that the network client was integral to Windows and no longer had to be built underneath in DOS, before starting Windows. Additionally, users could network between themselves - they didn't have to be connected to a server, unlike some other offerings of that era.

    MS started to win later, as Lotus, Wordperfect and other big players seemed to have difficulty moving to the WIMP world, with many users running DOS versions of their applications under Windows, rather than the new Windows versions.

    1. Tom 13

      Re: MS still the underdog then

      Yes I have to agree it was more 3.11 than 3.1 that changed things, particularly because of the network support for Novell.

      I'm probably one of the few people for whom Windows 2.0 and higher were becoming necessities not toys. I started doing DTP work in Ventura 1.0 DOS/GEM. By the time Win 2.0 was out, Corel had released their Draw program (2.0 for me) which was very helpful making illustrations for Ventura. Windows 3.11 finally made it all work together. I owe my current IT support job to that work. I assembled the manuals, printed them, and stored the files to disk for later output by services. The Novell Network admin got tired of me breaking the network because my print jobs had filled all the available disk space on the network. So he made me a print queue operator and taught me the basics of watching available network space, adding saved files to the print queue, and reordering jobs so I wasn't holding up other people's work. Years later when I was working elsewhere that knowledge, combined with the fact that I wasn't afraid to turn off the Novell server when it had crashed eventually landed me my first real tech support job.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: MS still the underdog then

      "MS started to win later, as Lotus, Wordperfect and other big players seemed to have difficulty moving to the WIMP world"

      There was just a *little* bit more to it than that.

    3. Danny 14

      Re: MS still the underdog then

      Apple not in the running? Were you serious? The SE10 was a fantastic server and coupled with a bank of MAC+'s you had a FAR better corporate solution than the windows offerings. I remember the alternative was a crappy 3.11 workstation setup to a winchester drive server. The Macs far outstripped the windows machines.

      Aldus pagemaker and freehand were better than anything windows had to offer in 1992. It was only when 98 and NT4 were widespread did the MAC base start to erode.

      1. AndricD

        Re: MS still the underdog then

        mac's were far too expensive to buy except for specific roles, and network unfriendly as I recall when was asked to price up a network - the 2 mac's I proposed were comparable in price with all the other machines required & directors just said no to macs.

      2. largefile

        Re: MS still the underdog then

        Although Aldus Pagemaker was first written for Mac, by 1992 it had legions of Windows 3.1 users.

    4. Twilight

      Re: MS still the underdog then

      Lotus, Wordperfect, etc didn't have trouble moving to WIMP. This was the height of Microsoft's monopoly abuses - Microsoft broke competitors office applications with almost every patch to Windows (so eventually people stopped using non-Microsoft office apps).

  6. Mr Young

    OMG - is this a wormhole?

    They screen grabs are giving me flashbacks about failed floppy disk backups and stuff? Please stop

  7. Thomas Gray

    How did it win? Simple economics

    Although there were other OSes around (notable OS/2 - a "better DOS than DOS, a better Windows than Windows") which were arguably technically superior, Microsoft "won" by the simple expedient of licensing a copy of Windows 3.1 with every Intel processor sold (to "combat piracy" - sound familiar?). So manufacturers and home builders got a copy for "free", and to put anything else on the computer increased the cost further (there weren't many credible alternatives to the Intel 386 at the time). Only Escom Office dared to break the monopoly, putting OS/2 on its machines rather than Windows.

    1. dogged

      Re: How did it win? Simple economics

      Not true.

      It was easy to get chips without Windows back then. However, there was no activation or copy protection on Windows (or Office!) install floppies. This made Windows incredibly easy to pirate. I mean seriously, Jet Set Willy (with that horrible colour map thing) was harder to take a working copy from.

      This in turn meant it was effectively free to home users This meant that home users knew MS Office where they didn't know WP or Lotus 1-2-3. An available skilled workforce meant Windows+Office had an immediate financial advantage for any company thinking of installing productivity software.

      And thus, Microsoft won. They won due to ease of piracy.

      Why they keep trying to stamp it out is beyond me. If MS want Win8 to rule the world, all they need to do is remove Activation and plant a few good torrents.

      1. mark l 2 Silver badge

        Re: How did it win? Simple economics

        I agree totally with dogged post, those who want Windows for free and never going to pay for it and the pirates will always find a way around any product keys/activation techniques.

        As MS makes most of its money out of Windows from manufacturers paying to have Windows preinstalled on PCs that they ship why bother with all the activation BS which only serves to annoy genuine users.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: How did it win? Simple economics

        Why Microsoft (and other major business/entertainment software companies) are so vehemently against piracy?

        It creates jobs. DRM solution sellers, IP lawyers, call centers for activating your software, the 'Windows Genuine Advantage' marketers etc.

        It's also a method to reassure shareholders that measures are in place to protect their investments in the software company. "Hey, we have DRM, you can park your money with us safely."

        Still, anything that is digital will be pirated. You can easily find software from Adobe and Microsoft on torrent sites, and working cracks for them.

    2. Spanners Silver badge

      Re: How did it win? Simple economics

      It won by two parallel strategies...

      1 Allow and encourage people to take a copy and use it at home.

      2 Get the PHBs to ignore people who actually knew what was good or bad in IT.

      They were not alone in (1). A colleague was once told by WordPerfect that they would be disappointed if he didn't put it on his own computer. It was an industry wide thing that only a few like AutoCad did not follow.

      Microsoft stopped this strategy once they were in a position of dominance. Many of the others had already been "taken out" by then.

      (2) has been one of the biggest causes of problems in IT. We have management who were taught that the advice they received in the early 1990s was wrong. They have taught their successors this and then some of them have moved into even greater positions of power.

      The fact that Dilbert and his boss are still checked every day by IT workers may be an indication that we are still there as well. People in control who not only do not understand what they are controlling but feel that this lack of knowledge makes them better than those who do. This has led to the BOFH being something we recognise as well.

      I remember thinking that Windows 3.1 was interesting and then 3.11 did network stuff. I didn't really see what the problem was. Why did those network servers look like that? Surely it would be easier for IT if they had a GUI like me. Now I am IT and have GUIs all over the place. Perhaps the command line may come back. I hope so.

      The PHBs have remained under Microsoft's spell though. I see that as the "real" reason that Linux has not taken off on the desktop years ago...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Get the PHBs to ignore people who actually knew what was good or bad in IT."

        Yet they (and possibly a few like vendors) get hailed like great innovators and causes of world-wide computer-y goodness.

        And, yeah, even Trevor wrote an article in which he got all giddy when he discovered windows 8 will have a supposedly usable command line, honestly this time, when he's a complete fanboi-in-denial, running everything with hundreds of GUIs open all the time, including webmin for his linux boxes. His denials that he really isn't a fanboi, honest, sound remarkably like so much marketeering from his governing company to me. But I digress.

        The command line has never been away. It got pushed out of offices, but to run a serious infrastructure you can't have your shop consist of thousands of GUIs. You automate. (Clueful shops do that. Not-so-clueful shops fail to scale. If you have chronic IT problems that you can't quite pin down, this is a good angle to investigate.) And as it happens, a CLI is just about the most easily automated interface* we've come up with so far. Humans can use it, scripts can drive it. That's all you need, really.

        As to linux, well, their particular fanboi tendencies haven't been productive. Lots of enthousiasm, not enough skill in talking to the PHBs, and often a bit too focused on attacking their nemesis instead of providing real solutions for real problems. That the commercial competition didn't quite deliver is neither here nor there; to be a better replacement you have to deliver on the promise better than the replacee. Yet all the same, linux is quite big, there's lots and lots of software available, and given the right support, reasonably (if not quite perfectly) usable. We'll see more of it, count on it. Might take a generation or two, though.

        * I've seen things that were billed "CLI" but were not in any way or form automatable. Then, as would be the obvious conclusion, they weren't command line interfaces. And indeed they weren't. The term for that sort of thing is "TUI".

      2. Nuke

        Re: How did it win? Simple economics

        It was in the WordPefect for Windows v5.1 Licence Agreement that if you had a company copy, you could also load it on a PC at home. It was not "pirating".

        I am looking at a copy of that agreement right now, because I still have my boxed copy from work, with floppies, heavy manuals and everything. When my company went over to Word, most people tossed their WordPerfect boxes in the bin, but some of us took it home.

        We all (except some PHBs) thought Word was crap compared with WP. We especially missed the "Reveal Codes" feature, and Word would render our old WP files in peculiar fonts; they had only been in Times Roman, but this was Microsoft punishing us for ever having used WP.

        I used WP right up until I went to Open Office. I must try re-installing it one day.

        1. NogginTheNog

          Re: How did it win? Simple economics

          God, I *STILL* miss Reveal Codes! :-\

        2. Nuke

          Re: How did it win? Simple economics

          My post on WordPerfect looks a bit OT where it is, but I was actually replying to Spanners who was comapring Windows licensing policies with WordPerfect's.

          Why (since the new software in this forum) do replies get separated from the parent?

    3. Tom 13

      Re: How did it win? Simple economics

      It was simple economics, but not there. MS won when they finally got around to leveraging their OS monopoly to undercut the apps vendors: $99 Competitive Upgrade to Word If You Have a WordPerfect License! $99 Competivie Upgrade to Excel if you have a Lotus 1-2-3 or Quatro Pro License!

      They also got a boost from a bad PC Magazine review of OS/2. The review complained about the impossibility of installing it from the 17 or more floppy disks (1.44 hard cases actually) about 3 months before MS released 95 on its 22 plus floppies. MS was fortunate in that the CD-ROM drive was just becoming popular when they released their OS, and they were able to quickly move their installation to that instead. Ah those were the nightmares: create a bootable DOS disk that would recognize you CD-ROM so you could install Windows 95 directly from CD.

      1. Jaybus

        Re: How did it win? Simple economics

        Economics, yes, but not just for copies of DOS/Windows. MS was primarily a maker of software development tools. Long before DOS, we used MS compilers for 8080/z80 CP/M machines. When DOS got its boost because IBM shipped it with their 8088 PCs, MS already had excellent, for the time, dev tools. As a result, software development for DOS/Windows was easier and cheaper. Apple was a completely closed system and a pain in the a#@$ for developers. IBM had good tools for OS/2, but the cost was higher and the market smaller. MS made deals with PC manufacturers that made DOS/Windows cheaper for them, though they had to agree to ship it on every PC. People didn't care, because all of the software ran on DOS/Windows. It may have crashed alot, but at least it ran. It wasn't even available for Mac or OS/2.

        As for the frequent crashes, the same cheap, easy development model also made for quick and dirty hardware drivers. The result was that 9 times out of 10 the flaky crashes were caused by buggy 3rd party hardware drivers. But, it also made every new piece of hardware PC compatible and increased the competition, making peripheral hardware for PCs cheap and plentiful. Apple was quite the opposite. And while OS/2 could run on the same hardware, the myriad hardware manufacturers were not about to double their costs just so it would work for a smaller and smaller niche market. Ironically, what lead MS to dominate the desktop was their openness and catering to software developers.

        1. Tom 13


          Some good points there too, especially vis-a-vie third party drivers, which truth be told were still the primary causes of crashes under 95 too. I remember the Sr. Tech telling me to replace the sound card on a system that was having NIC issues. I was all 'WTF?!? It's a NIC issue not a sound card issue.' Of course Sr. was right, the audio card driver was conflicting with the NIC driver and replacing the audio card was the simpler solution.

          In the end it wasn't any ONE thing that gave MS the market it was a bunch of them. I just still happen to be of the opinion that a few too many of them were underhanded even if there were legitimate ones like the apps development angle.

    4. qwarty

      Re: How did it win? Simple economics

      More economics. Windows 3.0 worked on much of the installed base of PCs at the time (enough to run Word, Excel etc.), similarly with Windows 3.1. OS/2 (and later Windows NT) had higher memory and CPU requirements usually requiring a hardware upgrade. That was a key OS/2 v Windows discussion point in Microsoft itself around 3.0 launch (Windows 3.0 only had a small development team compared to OS/2. About 30 I think, including management etc.).

    5. Nigel 11

      Re: How did it win? Simple drug-dealer's economics

      The first hit is free and you pay for the rest of your life.

      Win 3.1 was almost free, as was the version of MS Office that ran on it.

      After a majority of businesses had tied themselves into closed file formats ( "addicted") they started raising the price, justifying it with features that most users would have paid to have removed. But, hey, no way out, and no way not to "upgrade" to a more expensive fix.

      They were also ruthless with the competition. Drugs dealers kill rivals. So did Microsoft (metaphorically speaking). It blatantly abused its position to put competitors out of business. Sometimes it ended up in court, but win or lose, it knew its competitors were not coming back from the corporate grave.

  8. itzman


    wasnt it 3.11 that first introduced some form of networking in the core? Or was that 95..

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: networking?

      ISTR you still needed Trumpet Winsock with WIn 3.11 to get IRC and Netscape to work. There might have been some sort of API for the raw network interface though. (WinQuake networked using IPX didn't it?) It's been so long I can't remember.

      1. Joe Drunk

        Re: networking?

        Windows 3.1 required Trumpet, I remember using it when I first got on the interwebs via dial-up slip which trumpet provided.

        Windows for Workgroups 3.11 came with its own TCP stack that included dialup so Trumpet was unnecessary.

        1. Tom 13

          Re: networking?

          Yep. You could get it to work with 3.1, but it was a DOS kludge running as a TSR under the 3.1 skin. It was one of the things QEMM was better at managing than memmaker.

    2. mhoulden

      Re: networking?

      That was Windows for Workgroups. The first version of it was 3.1 but it was replaced with 3.11 a bit less than a year later.

    3. Allan George Dyer

      Re: networking?

      No, it was Novell Netware.

      I never got the rush to 3.11, after all, the networking was working fine already. Of course, it quickly went downhill when you needed Novell driver updates every time MS changed something.

  9. Admiral Grace Hopper

    About that 2MB of RAM

    It cost more than the 4GB that's probably sitting in the average desktop these days (and that was in 1992 pounds as well).

    Intel had stopped making RAM as they were being undercut by Japanese manufacturers and the US government has decided that RAM wasn't a strategic resource (!) so there was no need to prevent the loss of the manufacturing capability. Then Kobe got hit by an earthquake which trashed a large proportion of the RAM fabs. Whoops.

    The price of RAM rocketed so much that when offices got burgled (as ours did) the thieves would strip out the RAM and leave the rest of the PC behind. In the middle of all this we've got a new version of the OS that needs a RAM uplift like a fish needs water. Oh dear.

    I enjoyed the trip down memory lane, thank you, it reminded of many battles lost and software written that's still somehow limping on. (Oh, and Word 2 would do everything that I need to do today, while Word 6 will still do everything that I want to do, even now).

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Anonymous Dutch Coward

        Re: About that 2MB of RAM

        2 gig of RAM on an SX-25... Simply: wow!

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Misty water colored mammories

            One of our security guards was busted for lifting RAM from our machines (this was in the HQ campus of a very large company). I still remember coming in one morning in 1996 to no memory in the machine.

            By the time they finally caught him, he had lifted $40,000 dollars worth of the stuff.

            1. Nigel 11

              Re: Misty water colored mammories

              One of our students (probably) was a smart thief. He worked out that there was only one piece of software that used RAM above 1Mb. After that course module had been taught, he stole 3/4 of the RAM out of every machine. Nobody noticed the missing RAM until eleven months later. What chance of getting caught?

              I guess he sold his next idea to a Chinese crime syndicate. they bought up tens of millions of low-grade electrolytic capacitors, used forced labourers to replace all the labels with fake high-grade labels, and sold them back to PC manufacturers. All capacitors lasted 2+ years before they started to ooze brown gunk, or (occasionally) exploded.

    2. keithpeter Silver badge

      Re: About that 2MB of RAM

      In St Pauls Square in the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham, you can see a Georgian office building with a notice that says 'memory chips removed from computers overnight'. Its engraved into the glass of the door. Always brings back memories of those times when I walk past. Just down the road a bit by the Mail Box you can see an architecht's office with 70+ iMacs each with a 27 inch display. Thats a quarter of a billion pixels...

  10. Winkypop Silver badge

    Memories!.......on 1.44 MB disc

    I remember loading MS-Office onto Win 3.11.

    All 35 x 1.44MB discs.

    You'd get to disc 32/35 and then get some random error....

    Then we got CD-ROM drives.

    Life was never the same.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Memories!.......on 1.44 MB disc

      think you might be confused there, it was 6 disks for 3.1x, you're thinking of 95

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Memories!.......on 1.44 MB disc

        six disks for Office on 3.1x I mean, not the GUI

    2. Annihilator

      Re: Memories!.......on 1.44 MB disc

      Except as I recall they were DMF formatted disks, so technically they were 1680KB disks :-)

      I'll climb back under my pedant rock now

  11. John O'Grady

    Just a reminder....

    As I remember it, another reason Windows 3.1 came out on top was the kernel code that prevented it from running on PC-DOS. As it so happens, that smidgen of kernel code was the only code in all of the Windows code base that was obfuscated, a fact that came out in the later anti-trust lawsuit in '98. So you could say that anti-trust behaviour was programmed in from the beginning. If only Microsoft had been stopped then, we would all probably be using a descendant of OS2 Warp or BeOS, both of which were massively more stable and forward looking than Gates could ever be.

    1. Christian Berger

      Re: Just a reminder....

      I'm not sure how it would have went. We'd probably have gotten OS/2 which only was marginally better than Windows NT.

      What would have tipped the tide if there were any good unixoid operating systems around, but those still were in their infancy. People back then did want something unixoid, Sun has proven that with their workstations. However few people could afford it. A Unix cheaper than DOS, running on about the same hardware might have changed something.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Just a reminder....

        OS/2 was, and is, better than win NT and win today.

        Most of win 3.1 was a copy of OS/2 and MS are still trying to get something like the OS/2 desktop to work.

        1. JP19

          OS/.2 was shite

          IBM only tested it on IBM hardware. The chances of ugly installation failure on anything else were high.

          IBM initially crippled it for the sake of compatibility with obsolete (286) IBM PCs making it a worse DOS than DOS and frankly a non-starter.

          That incredibly stupid decision to sacrifice software backwards compatibility for the sake of hardware backwards compatibility is the reason we are all running windows and not OS/2 or 3 or 4 or whatever it would have been by today.

          No doubt the decision was the result of pressure from the hardware side of the business who couldn't stomach telling their customers all the expensive 286 based PS/2s they just bought were obsolete crap. The 386 was a real game changer, Intel got the backwards compatibility so right and IBM ignored it.

          1. Nuke
            Thumb Down

            Re: OS/.2 was shite

            It is true that IBM wasted a lot of time making earlier versions of OS/2 compatible with 286s. But they had dropped that idea by v2.0 AFAIR.

            I was around back then, and what you need to understand is that there was no processor arms race then. It was assumed by most people that 286s would be around for a long time to come and that 386s were only for power users and servers. When I first bought a PC I seriously considered getting a 286 even though 386s were already available. Then suddenly everyone went CPU power mad and we got 386/486/Pentium/Pentium2 in rapid succession, and I actually got a 486.

            To think of an analogy today, the 286 and 386 were regarded like entry-level and professional level Nikon SLR cameras. No one is expecting Nikon to drop their entry level SLRs just because their professional model is more powerful.

            But that was not the reason OS/2 lost the race. It was the MS tactic of getting Windows pre-loaded onto every new PC, apparently "free", and the negative attitude of the computer press towards OS/2. I am sure a lot of money changed hands under the tables for MS to get into this position, because OS/2 v2.x was certainly better than the contemporary DOS/Windows v3.x

            Some of the underhand MS tactics have become public knowledge since then, but I suspect we still do not know the half of it.

            1. Ramazan

              Re: OS/2 v2.x was certainly better

              Probably that's why everybody at Microsoft was so excited when they divorced with IBM so that they didn't have to accept "crappy IBM code" anymore

    2. Ilgaz

      Not just that

      Some very advanced assembly guy spotted a quirk (yes, these guys read hex) which would be impossible to get shipped from Microsoft like company. It is from "The Microsoft file". Remember this happens while "good cop BillG in charge.

      He found out it is triggered once customer runs dr-dos. Dare to run better DOS under windows? That is what you get.

      People wonder why all got shocked when Icaza like people pushed for Microsoft stuff inside Linux. That is the "ethics" of company they deal with and their promise they trust.

  12. Mage Silver badge


    Was really too orientated for Games.

    Companies that installed NT 3.5 / NT3.51 servers in 1995 and held off till NT4.0 to buy new computers saved a lot of grief and money. WFWG 3.11 with file & print sharing off, 32bit TCP/IP, decent graphics and decent 32bit Disk and a few other tweeks was superior to "out of the box" Win95a for Business.

    Also in 1996 there was little need for USB in business. Professional scanners used SCSI as did Professional backup etc.

    Oddly on Win 3.1 /WFWG3.11 I had a 3rd party spelling checker that worked with ALL applications. Why now does each application have it's own or none and separate dictionaries for each?

    I have WFWG 3.11 on CD via MSDN clients disc years ago and about 5 sets of Word 2.0a with licences/Manuals. I copied the Word 2.0a floppies to "gold" CD about 8 years ago.

    There are better VMs to run Win3.1 in probably than the Oracle one.

    1. Admiral Grace Hopper

      Re: Win95

      Win95 was always oriented for home users, enterprise users were supposed to make the move to NT4 Workstation on the desktop. Win95 was still a GUI layer on top of DOS despite the shared graphics, they didn't properly integrate the OS kernels until Win2K.

      I still can't forgive them for moving the GDI into Ring 0 in the shift from NT3.51 to NT4, a precursor of the sloppy thinking that eventually led to Vista.

      (Old Git because there's no Old Grandma).

      1. Chad H.

        Re: Win95

        Oddly, Tim Cain reported the other day that Fallout failed its initial win95 compatibility testing because it worked on NT.... They sure were funny about the enterprise/home line back then.

  13. schotness

    3.11 A proper minimal OS that didnt get in the way of what you actually wanted to do with YOUR computer, providing you knew about alt-tab. If i could install Chrome on top, find a bit torrent client, somehow burn avi's into dvds & use some sort of USB emulation for my flash drives & stuff, I'd consider going back to it.

    1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Funnily enough I'm thinking of doing something similar with an old PC this weekend, only with Win98SE & KernelEx, which extends the 9x kernel to run some 2k/XP applications:

      98SE+browser+BitTorrent client+VLC should make for a decent media centre in 64Mb RAM - though I'm going to try Debian Stable on it as well for comparison...

      1. ShortLegs

        Reminds me of an article I wrote, oh, six years ago

        I put DOS and Windows onto a PII-400. S**t the bed it was fast! I'm still of the opinion that most users really do not need anything more powerful than a PII-400 and [a stable] Word 2. With "thin clients" and SaaS of course this is irrelevant. But still true in it's own context.

        Fond memories of Windows. I had been using a PET, TRS-80, C64 and Amiga from the very late 70's until 1991, when I was posted to an "in-house" IT unit in the Forces, and struggled with Unix, StarLan, terminals, and Informix (spit). And then 3 months later we changed to DOS. And I learned how to make SuperCalc sit up and beg. Fond memories of hand-optimising the config.sys and autoexec.bat files to maximise conventional memory, playing with QEMM and OS5. And 8086 assembler to make TSR keyboard hacks. And then moved from DOS to Windows 3.1, and Wfwg 3.11, only to find QEMM didn't work. Still have QEMM7.1 somewhere here, and a set of MSDOS6 disks.

        My own PC come 1994 or 95 was an Apricot F1, 386SX-25. In 93 I was lusting after a 486DX-50, or DX2-66 - am I the only one who thinks that 386-DX33 and 486DX2-66 sound 'sexy' - although I had a bought a 16mb P133 from Escom, obtained a 486 of some flavour from the resettlement course I did. The P133 came with Win95, so the 486 was used to run 3.11 and for a few days OS2.

        Would I go back to running Win3.1? Despite my experiment 6 years ago (THAT long!! Where did the time go!), probably not. It's like a rose-tinted dusty childhood memory, when TV was innocent, Mars Bars cost 9p (and were bigger), and the summers were always very hot an very long; best not to go back, because then you don't just relive the bad bits (GPFs), but become painfully aware of the limitations...

        Nice article. Thanks.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          I did a similar experiment around the same time - the goal to see how connected I could get it with my test 2003 server. I was running it on an Athlon 1Ghz CPU and you'd barely see the blue WFW loading screen.

          Networking was quite a surprise, I did have to lower some security settings on the 2003 server, but:

          And for those old school Delphi programmers:

  14. Joe Drunk

    If you really want a good Windows 3.1/WFW 3.11 experience AND you are running a Windows host OS use MS Virtual PC 2007. No weird mouse jumping problems, copy/paste works well and you can choose video drivers with resolutions up to 1280x1024 32bit. I still have a VM that I like to fire up every once in a while when I feel nostalgic.

    Like many others here I used DOS for most of my tasks, running Windows only when I needed fancy fonts or graphics (MS Publisher for Win 3.1).

    I also agree with those comments comparing Word back then and Word now. A few more features were added but the resource requirements have increased by unprecedented amounts. Think about it. You were using Word back then in Windows 3.1. You time travel from 1994 to 2012 and are shown a modern era PC. Wow, cool flat screen! You fire up WIndows then Word and after checking them both out you ask, "Cool, what else does it do? THAT'S IT?!?". I'm going back to 1994!"

  15. mhoulden

    I spent far too much time playing with Win3.1. We bought a machine with it on in 1992 and it was only when I went to uni in 1997 that I got round to using something more up to date. With practice you could get Win3.1 to run Excel 4 with 2 MB of RAM, which we did until we saved up enough to double it to 4 MB. It was slow and you couldn't do a great deal before it started running out of memory, but try doing that with Win7 and Excel 2010 on 2 MB.

    Win3.1 included a tutorial that assumed not everyone had a mouse, so it gave keystrokes as an alternative. Most of those keystrokes still work in Windows 7, including Alt+space to activate the window control menu, and +, *, - and ctrl+* to expand or contract directory trees in (then) File Manager or (now) Explorer. Knowing you can maximise a window by double clicking the title bar or close it by double clicking the top left corner (where the control menu sometimes appears) also saves a bit of time. Ctrl+Esc no longer calls up a task manager but pops up the Start menu instead.

    There was also the time when MS introduced a deliberate bug into Win3.1 so it wouldn't run on DR-DOS: That didn't get settled until 2000, by which time Digital Research was owned by Caldera, and they agreed to settle for $280 million.

  16. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Fsck Word

    I'll use Word if I have to but when you compare it to what WordPerfect can do, Word is a really crappy word processor - more like a mincing machine than a word processor. It was a stinking pile of shite then and it still is - a monument to programmers who had to look up kerning in a book and then implemented it while playing Solitaire in the background.

    WordPerfect isn't "perfect" by a long way - but it's a tool several orders of magnitude better than Word.

    1. Anthony Hegedus Silver badge

      Re: Fsck Word

      so what exactly is so good about word perfect? I'm not exactly a fan of MS Worse - I tend to use LibreOffice when I want something done on my linux box - but am intrigued by the thought of something new that might be a bit more stable and with the commands not hidden behind some bloody indecipherable ribbon shite.

      1. Nuke

        Re: Fsck Word

        Anthony Hegedus wrote :- " what exactly is so good about word perfect?"

        The "Reveal codes. " function.

        When I use Word it manages to get its knickers in some awful twists, which seems to be beause it is putting in layer upon layer of formatting codes, most of which are contradicting each other.

        Reveal codes in WordPerfect and you could see what is going on and clean it up if necessary. MS thinks we are dumb and need to be "shielded" from the formatting codes.

        Open/Libre Office is not much better.

  17. Eddie Edwards

    Word confusion

    I get confused sometimes between the words "nostalgia" and "nausea". Which one am I experiencing now?

    1. Jon Press

      "Naustalgea" sounds like a word that should be in the dictionary for precisely this situation.

      1. Captain DaFt

        I dunno... "nostnausea" seems to roll off the tongue better.

        (Eeeewww! That doesn't sound right at all!)

  18. jason 7

    My first PC

    ...was an Opus from late 1993. Had a 486DX, 170MB HDD, 4MB of ram and a Cirrus Logic graphics card. Was also a VL bus machine too.

    I remember having to adjust the config sys etc to get games to work. Got quite good at it too. Used to annoy me when games used high or low memory to work.

    Then getting 3.1 to hook up to the internet in 1994. Had to install Trumpet Winsock, configure my static IP address (those were the days) and download Netscape V1.0 from a dial up bulletin board. Also plugged in and manually configured the IRQ for a 16650 serial port to get the best from my 19200 Multitech modem.

    Was so excited when my first actual Internet page loaded in all its grey/Times New Roman glory.

    That Opus machine kept going till around 1998. It did get a few upgrades like 8MB of ram, DX66 and a SoundBlaster 8bit card.

    Kids today......

  19. Nebulo

    Happy days

    I'm another one who can remember keeping a few machines running on 3.1/3.11 for our school back in the day. Sadly, my original install floppies started getting a bit "sporting" years ago, so now I have to install from a subdirectory containing all seven discs - although, to my surprise, my equally ancient 1-2-3 and WP floppies still work just fine. Whaddya mean, your machine hasn't got a floppy drive?

    Apart from recognising the comments about the expert lore required to "tune" config.sys and autoexec.bat, though, the most noticeable thing is that my old DX2-66 boots into 3.11 in a tiny fraction of the time that my later machines took to start any of the later versions, which makes one wonder just how much cr@p the thing is loading now that isn't strictly necessary to the task of running the user's programs. (The XP machine I'm typing this on, f'rinstance, starts loading, then stops doing anything at 45 seconds in for a whole two minutes before it resumes. Yes, I have run BootVis. It shows the machine doing nothing at all for two minutes starting 45 seconds in, without comment or explanation!) You can see why stuff like sleep mode, Splashtop and so on had to be invented.

    The good news for nostalgiacs is that you don't even need a fully fledged VM to run 3.x. My current 3.11 nostalgia install runs as sweet as a nut in DOSBox - and uses very little of the GHz, GB etc. available to it. Oh, well, back to Bloatworld ... they call it "progress" ...

    1. jason 7

      Re: Happy days

      I figured something was wrong when I loaded up a Windows 3.1 version of Missile Command.

      I had a version called Armageddon written for the 16k Spectrum that must have run in around 12k.

      The Windows version looked and played very similar but ran in around 600k. Not quite sure what that extra 588k was doing really.

  20. The Serpent

    One of the very few computers I've hung onto after all these years is the 386 I learned DOS on. I'm now feeling inspired to fie the beast up later on - all 25mhz (no co-processor), 2 meg of ram, 80 meg hdd, dos 5 and win 3.11 of it. If I can find a 5 pin din keyboard and a 9 pin serial mouse, that is..

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That is almost the exact same spec of mine, although it only has a 20MB hard disk, it does trump yours totally by having a Sega MegaDrive built in. PS/2 mouse and keyboard is useful for nostalgia moments, but you should be able to get those DIN-PS/2 adapters on eBay still. :P

  21. Steve Knox

    How did it win?

    One word:


    1. cronjob

      Re: How did it win?

      I went with market share but, you are right. Without all of those gamers with jobs, getting that market share would not have been as easy. IBM inexplicably created an "open" or non-proprietary hardware platform, so video cards and games were P.C. compatible long before Windows was an actual O/S, ... (and Microsoft benefitted greatly).

      btw, I still think minesweeper rocks.

  22. Paul RND*1000

    My first Windows encounter

    Was 3.1. I got very good at wrangling the underlying DOS to fix problems for our poor users, some of whom had just had old dumb terminals replaced by not much smarter PCs. Going home to AmigaOS reminded me daily just how primitive the Windows boxes really were.

    How I wish we could go back to having Word 2, with just the stuff needed to write a neatly formatted document. We installed the first 6 Pentium systems in the office back when 100MHz was the 'nads and it actually scrolled uncontrollably fast!

  23. Randy Hudson

    Preemptive multitasking

    Preemptive is what we have today. Surely you mean cooperative?

    1. Christian Berger

      Re: Preemptive multitasking

      Actually it was claimed to have some simple form of preemptive multitasking. It certainly had a setting for selecting how much power "background processes" got.

  24. Christian Berger

    One should note...

    One should note that Microsoft only started to use Windows internally in the mid-1990s. Before they had Unix boxes and Terminals.

    1. qwarty

      Re: One should note...

      @Christian Berger

      Complete fiction. One should note that making false statements about topics you know nothing about makes you unwelcome in any discussion.

  25. heyrick Silver badge

    Mobile frolics

    Got Windows 3.1 running on my Android phone. It is kinda useless (DOSbox seems to try to read the keyboard directly, so it doesn't understand the symbol key, plus it is squishing VGA into 480x320), but it does work, and seems about as fast as I remember a 386 box to have been...

  26. Wisteela
    Thumb Up

    A classic

    I must dig out one of my old computers.

  27. Spanners Silver badge

    Floppy installations

    Does anyone else remember that when installing 3.11 you rarely, if ever, got asked for the last floppy. I think I never got asked for it.

    1. The Serpent

      Re: Floppy installations

      As I recall, disk 8 was full of drivers for various kinds of printers that nobody owned

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "mouse jumping around randomly on occasion"

    Gosh, in all my years with Win3.1 I missed that HW feature.

    Or did you mean "mouse pointer" ?


  29. clean_state

    MS = perfection in 1992 ? Are you kidding ?

    "In 1992, Microsoft had around 11,000 employees and executed its desktop Windows strategy to perfection. "

    The intel 386 chip with a proper 32 bit protected mode came out 1986 (!). MS did not have a half-decent (preemptively multitasked as the chip designers intended) OS until Windows 95, a full 9 years later ! OK, you could count NT on its technical merits released in 1993 so only 7 years later. That's a bloody eternity in computer time. I remember in those times the long long long wait for a real operating system that would actually use the 80386 in a non-catastrophically crappy way.

    1. Nuke

      Re: MS = perfection in 1992 ? Are you kidding ?

      Clean_state wrote :-

      "MS did not have a half-decent (preemptively multitasked as the chip designers intended) OS until Windows 95, a full 9 years later ! OK, you could count NT on its technical merits released in 1993 so only 7 years later"

      I don't know why you mentioned NT as an afterthought. It was NT that was half-decent; Win95 was crap.

      Only problems with NT were its cost and the fact that it would not run apps that needed direct hardware access - mostly games, but some other stuff too like Logitec scanners.

      What MS should have done in the mid-90's was to produce a lightweight version of NT; by then even entry-level PCs could have run it. Instead they persisted with the 95/98/ME line in parallel with NT. They said it was to support games, but the real reason was MS internal politics. There was rivalry between the two separate teams (95 vs NT). Either Gates thought this was a good thing or he did not have the bottle to bang their heads together.

      As a result the 95/98/ME crap reputation got associated with everything with MS / Windows branding, at least with people who knew there was better to be had.

      When they eventually dumped ME and and went to NT entirely (in the form of WinXP) the games writers soon adapted after all.

  30. MD Rackham


    Ah yes, TrueType scalable fonts, which they got from Apple in exchange for a printer architecture that Microsoft never delivered. (And according to one MS employee I talked to, never even started on.)

    MS won because of sharp and illegal business practices. Looking at nostalgic screen shots of software won't give you any insight into that. At least until your NT retrospective, in which case some old DEC VMS screen shots might prove illuminating.

    1. qwarty

      Re: TrueType

      There were (as far as I recall) 4/5 contenders for scaleable fonts for Windows. Adobe was the front runner but ruled out because Warnock wanted a royalty for each copy of Windows sold. Apple second - to have a defacto open standard and mutual self interest brokered that deal - I heard on impeccable authority that BillG was crowing on the phone to Warnock immediately the deal was done but nothing sharp or illegal here.

      Coincidentally I knew one of the guys working on that software printer project and understand it was cancelled because HP etc. could not be persuaded to move away from PCL and PostScript. Your 'MS employee' can't have been in the loop.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I have my old copy of win 3.11 on a virtual machine. I think it is a blast to get on the net with it and ask people how to use hymem.sys and emm386 on my computer.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    DOS diehards?

    "Yes it crashed a lot. It crashed less than its predecessor though, and kept Microsoft on the path to desktop domination. This was Windows 3.1"

    You're kidding, DR-DOS + XTreeGold + Novell Netware were a more powerfull combination. I don't think Windows even up to the current incarnation ever beat it for usability. Netware came with its own set of DOS-like commands that were titled N-something. It also came with a powerfull scripting language and I haven't seen anything better since.

  33. Bruce Grunewald

    I think you all have nostalgamnesia

    I remember WFW 3.1 and 3.11 with not the same fondness as many of y'all. I had to support a bunch of machines running "dual stack" NetWare plus TCP/IP (to run TN3270 primarily) and I spent hours researching BSOD issues (where the B meant Black). This was typically cause by some errant program branching to memory location 0. Oh, how I cursed NetWare, assuming that it must be the problem.

    So at the new company we get Chameleon TCP/IP because it has NFS support, and we use an old Sun box as our (only) server. PCs ran great, but the file locking support didn't work properly in Chameleon (I think), so having shared directories was dangerous.

    Enter NT Server 3.5 running on a 486DX2/66 Compaq server to do file and print serving. So now we need to run NetBIOS and Chameleon as a "dual stack" to get access to everything, and lo and behold the dreaded BSOD is back. We never did resolve the problem on Win 3.x - either both dual stack setups had a buggy driver or it was inherent to Windows. I was quite happy to upgrade to Windows 95 which had built in TCP/IP support and finally cured the problem.

  34. DerekCurrie

    What Exactly Did Redmond Win, Besides Locked-In Windows PC Contracts?

    "how did Redmond win?"

    In my life, Redmond only won my disgust and derision. I learned on DOS and went on to use Windows extensively. Thankfully, however, in 1991 I graduated to using an Apple Macintosh as well. I tossed the PC I owned into the local dumpster and never allowed a Windows box into my home again. I currently have five Macs, all working, ranging from 1997 on up through this year. My 1997 PowerMac tower still runs 24/7 on the Internet as an FTP server. Therefore, from my perspective, Apple won.

    Apple's Mac has also been eating at Microsoft's OS market share for the last few years. And don't forget Linux, the brave open source OS for the masses.

    I seriously doubt Window L8 is going to do much for Microsoft apart from inspire widespread user disgust and derision. The Metro GUI is that bad, IMHO. But we shall see.

    My happiest memory of Window 3.1: The moment I realized I never had to use that POS again.

  35. Andus McCoatover

    Win 3.1?

    I thought it was smegging brilliant! Is it really that long ago? Yep, I had 2 meg. of ram, and (IIRC) a 2 gig. drive. It was a real (not 'quantum' - that's really tiny) leap forward. I ran mine - not on MS-DOS, but on DR-DOS for a bit more memory usage.

    I think that 100 meg.(ish) processor opened files quicker than my mate's 3Gig. Vista machine...

  36. BtB

    Printer Drivers won the battle

    How easy was it to find printers that worked with other only had to find a printer that was compatible with Windows, not each and every application you had. MS won the battle with the 'openess' of the Windows printer sub-system long before 3.1 hit the shelves, they just hammered the coffin lid down with Word and Excel and a less unstable GUI-like OS than their previous offerings. It was made easy for hardware manufacturers to develop compatible devices while Apple were too busy developing their own printers and annoying the printer manufacturers in the process. Ok Win 3.x died regularly, but let us not forget how prone to dying just about everything was that could be run on any computer and printer combo that a typical small-business or home user could afford. MS made it (relatively) easy for the world to print just like a decade later Apple made it (relatively) easy to listen to digital music.

  37. SgtFalstaff

    I have a box of old SIMMs I use as key fobs. I try not to think about how much they cost back in the day.

  38. Wombling_Free
    Thumb Up

    How did they win?

    Windows 3.1 worked. Often quite well. I did most of my uni work on it. Once you learned how to keep a lean, clean PC it was a joy to work with.

    I learned a lot with Win 3.1 that still serves me well today - install ONLY what you need (seriously, you don't really use more than about 4 main apps) and thats it. Keep it clean, keep it lean, and be amazed at the performance, whether it is Win3.1, Win 8 or OSX.

  39. Anonymous Coward

    Windows 3.1 is what gave me a career programming Unix

    Back in the early 90s I was at university which had a boatload of Sun workstations running (then called) SunOS. Proper pre-emptive multitasking, multiuser , remote access of command line AND graphics (took MS 2 decades to catch up there) and running Openwin which at the time was a first rate graphics enviroment. Hell, there were even some Mac IIs which had a well designed GUI (shame about the OS kernel).

    Then a friend as pleased as anything showed me Windows 3.1 he'd just installed on his 386 and expected me to be impressed and couldn't understand why I just laughed at the sorry little piss poor graphics shell.

    I've now had a career in unix programming for almost 2 decades and have yet to regret not going down the MS route.

    1. qwarty

      Re: Windows 3.1 is what gave me a career programming Unix

      Back in 1992 I was using Windows NT 3.1 Beta, swings and roundabouts I guess with SunOS at the time. Sure unix if multiuser or remote access mattered but it came at a high price. Your university probably got heavy discount but for the general PC market unix was never a serious option unfortunately as vendors kept pricing it out of the market.

      Guess your friend had the last laugh but piss poor or not, your bragging about being able to use a much more expensive PC back then can't have been an endearing quality.

  40. Andus McCoatover

    A wag just told me...

    "Independence Day? How did Jeff Goldblum disable the alien spaceship? Simple. He uploaded a copy of Windows-ME to it."

    (OK, I thought it was quite good...)

  41. Anonymous Coward

    Switching to Windows 3.11

    I switched to Windows 3.11 on a PC from an Amiga in late 1994. It was something of a culture shock to switch to an OS that didn't multitask in the way the Amiga did even though the hardware was more powerful.

    Nothing worked without drivers and a hell of alot of fiddling, blue screens were commonplace.

    And while the article talks about how little resources 3.11 required, again coming from the Amiga although you had all this power it seemed quite bloated and resource hungry in comparison. I quickly had to upgrade to 8mb to do the stuff I was doing in 2mb on the Amiga.

    I was much happier when Windows 95 came along. Although MS's boasts at the time also annoyed me because again the PC was only getting stuff the Amiga had from day one in 1985!

  42. The Unexpected Bill

    Ah, memories!

    It's hard to believe that it has been twenty years since Windows 3.1 hit the shelves and the computer market. There are things I do and don't miss, along with fond and not-so-fond memories.

    When it worked, Windows 3.1 really did open up some impressive capabilities. It certainly didn't represent the technological pinnacle of achievement, though it was good enough for many including myself. I was, after all, a child at the time. While I knew OS/2 existed as a competitor, the odds of my getting it weren't very good. High resolution graphics, multi-tasking, easier data exchange between programs (via copy and paste or even the more rarely used OLE), and (slightly later on) multimedia were all there. At the time, when everything was working, it was hard to imagine how things could be any better. At the time, I ran it on a Dell Precision 433Si and a Packard Bell "Multimedia" 486 system. Both were massive leaps over the Kaypro PC I had been using.

    There were certainly drawbacks. Memory management (due largely to the underlying DOS), running out of system resources, and the oddball crashes that usually took the whole system with them--usually when you hadn't saved your work for quite some time! (How some things haven't changed.)

    Some have asked what later versions of Windows have brought us, besides larger disk space, memory and processor requirements. Windows 95 went a long way to relieve the pressure on the three system resource stacks, and it was a little harder for a wayward application to bring the whole system down. With any kind of serious use, I can't see Windows 3.1 staying up as long as any NT-version of Windows could, especially Windows 2000. And these days, it's a lot more difficult for a wayward application to take the whole system with it. (One can still get into situations where rebooting soon is clearly a good idea, but at least you can usually save your work before having to flip the big red switch.)

    There's also the matter of things you "probably could do" on Windows 3.1 as compared to "definitely could do" or "are easier to do" on a later version of Windows. Handling things like digital photographs and multimedia stuff, while doable on Windows 3.1 (within reason) is much more easily done on more modern operating systems and more modern hardware. And in some regards, system management is easier than it used to be. It's easy to forget fighting for hours to get enough free interrupts, DMA channels, I/O ranges or dealing with odd interactions between hardware devices that didn't always have a clear explanation. Thankfully, at least some of those problems are much less common today.

  43. Danny 4

    Flat memory?

    I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure that the flat memory model came as standard with Windows95, though it was possible on 3.1(1) but only under a DOS extender such as DOS/4GW (and a 32-bit processor). 3.1 still used the x86 16 bit segmented memory model of MS-DOS.

    As a previous commenter has said, it took MS ten years to catch up with the likes of Amiga, Atari and Apple who already enjoyed flat 32 bit access to memory locations with the MC68000 family.

    It took NT before Windows had pre-emptive multitasking that even came close to the Amiga.

    Program Manager was a dog because it only listed applications and never data files. The likes of Amiga, Apple et al had a filesystem browser as a GUI frontend. Again it took 95 for MS to do what everyone else has been doing for a decade.

    And by a strange coincidence, we seem to have come full circle as the iPhone frontend is effectively the same as PM showing only your apps...

  44. P. Lee

    Good Times

    Back in the days when Apple tried to do the right thing with a better quality OS, better chipset and hardware rather than preventing you from doing things; MS struggled to play catchup; and the next big thing was more CPU power, not less.

    Can you imagine, hardware innovation instead of software patents!

  45. Rup

    Word version

    You mention "Word 2.0".

    That, in fact, was "Word for Windows, 2.0" or "WinWord 2.0".

    Let's remember that its predecessor, Word (forDOS) reached at least version "Word 6" which I was using day and night in 1987.

    Getting old ...


  46. Chris_Maresca

    NT 3.51

    I remember re-installing it about 10 times before realizing the reason it was crashing was that, after each install, I would remove the CD-ROM (we only had a few) and NT _required_ a CD-ROM to work.....

  47. Eddy Ito

    Only 3 years

    Win95's 20th anniversary. Are you going to combine the re-review of Win95 and MS Bob together or separately? You aren't going to forget Bob, are you? I mean you even included this updated Bob icon. I admit I haven't kept in touch over the past 17 years, so did he finally get contacts or lasik?

  48. Confuciousmobil
    IT Angle

    Win 3.0

    Win 3.0 was the game changer. That was what allowed me to access more memory so I could create larger spreadsheets in Lotus 123 V3

    Luckily it took a couple of months after the release of Win 3.0 for the Lotus User Group to issue their newsletter saying it was impossible to get 123 running under Windows due to incomparable memory management.

    Two days later they released an update telling people how to do it.

    It had taken me most of the day to install the eagerly awaited Win3.0 and figure out how to get 123 working on it, but it was worth the wait.

    Upgrades to Windows since 3.0 have all just been minor, it was 3.0 that broke us free from 640k

  49. cronjob

    Microsoft, ... As easy as kicking dead whales down the beach.

    Microsoft focused on market share while companies like Artisoft and Quarterdeck concentrated on technical excellence. The bigger the market share for Microsoft (and the crappier the O/S) the more customers were created for the likes of Spinrite, PC Tools, Xtree, Artisofts LANtastic and, Quarterdeck QEMM.

    With LANtastic running on a stand alone file server (in protected mode) the rest of the office was spared the act of eventually getting around to rebooting their P.C.'s on a peer-to-peer network, just because one person got GPF'd. We were also able to share our Hitachi single speed CD-ROM drive (cost $800) across the network. And what could be better than 2 M/bits per/sec ARCnet cards to do it with?

    With PC Tools and/or Colorado Memory Systems QIC 80 compatible backups on 250 meg tape drives, we could walk the backups around like they were floppies and they worked everywhere with no incompatibilities.

    Spinrite allowed us to RLL all of our MFM drives once we started sticking Adaptec RLL controllers in all of our computers. AWESOME.

    Xtree freed us from the evils of Microsofts File Mangler AND, ...

    QEMM made it all possible. I never would have been able to configure four fax modems in a single P.C. without the help of Quarter Deck.

    ...and Windoze?

    We launched it from a password protected ascii graphics app called MicroMenu, just like any other app. It was still just an over glorified GUI after all.

    ... and thank you Ami Pro for saving me from the horror that was Word 2.0. Also known as Weird for Windoze.

    Thank you Lotus for actually implementing OLE 1 uniformily across your entire office suite. (Which is something Microsoft never bothered to do.) It's just too bad nobody did it again with OLE 2. There was lots of print generated on the subject. Lot's F.U.D. and buzz. but, not lots of code written and compiled. The great vision Microsoft laid out for all developers was one which centered around an across the board implementation of both OLE 1 and OLE 2.

    Implemented? Usually. (or unusually) Implemented across the board in office suites written for Windows? OLE 1 in Lotus Symphony remains the LONE exception.

    ...and Visual Basic? Lucky for me, there was Microsofts own Quick Basic 4.5 which was really more of a BASIC compiler than an interpreter and also Lucky for me, there was Borland Internationals object oriented Turbo Pascal 5.5. If I craved inheritance, ecapsulation, early/late binding or extensibility, a handful of compiler directives were all that was needed. Once I declared my variables, all I had to do was start typing.

    So why did Microslop succeed? Because the technologicaly superior companies needed a technologicaly inferior O/S to run on. Nature abhors a vaccuum. The above mentioned champions of office software did not rush in to write a better O/S. Instead of competing against Microsoft, they filled the need created by Microsoft to make a bad product better.


  50. JoeF

    Word 2 was a POS

    Sure, it worked for writing short articles.

    But I used it for writing my undergrad thesis. And this POS deleted text from the start of the paper while I was adding text at the end....

    1. ceebee

      Re: Word 2 was a POS

      agh needed the WfW2.0c update/bug fix. It fixed many of these sorts of bugs. oh my ... wqhy do i remember these things!!

  51. Melanie Winiger
    Thumb Up

    A salute

    Admiral Grace Hopper

    I salute you - thanks for jogging my memory about the RAM thieves.

    And a great article as well.

  52. daveeff
    Thumb Up

    want a start bar? Install caldera

    I have a 486 laptop (I had to part with all the 386's & the 286!) with wfw and Caldera on the top of that to give a "win95" feel. It really is rather good.

    See someone else's at

    The floppy drive has died but I have a backpack CD ROM with sound that connects via the parallel port. Normally I use a parallel port ethernet adaptor and map a drive to a real PC for installs.

    File manager is a pain compared to explorer, compatability issues are still a pain - install one app and it may mess up others. Finding drivers is no fun (it never was but there isn't a lot of 311 support anymore for some reason(!))

    2K was OK, XP was pretty good, 7 no real improvement (office is now dire) 8 looks disastrous for serious use. Unfortunately Ubuntu may be picking up some bad habits.


  53. Sponge Belly

    missing installation floppy


    I have all the original Win3.1 installation 3.5inch floppies... except for Disk 7. The label should read Windows ver 3.1 Disk 7 of 7. I'd dearly love to get my hands on an original. And I'm willing to pay dearly.

    So if anyone has some loose floppies rattling around inside the proverbial shoebox under the bed, have a look and see if you have the one I'm after, and please get in touch.


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