back to article Happy 23rd birthday, Windows 3.0

This week marks the 23rd birthday of Windows 3.0, which came into this world on May 22nd, 1990, and gave the world improved colour graphics and the infamous File Manager. Windows 3.0 was all about getting closer to Apple’s Macintosh after Windows 1.0 and 2.0 fell a long way short of Jobs and Co's WIMPy UI. The MSDOS Executive …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I could understand a birthday party for someone still alive, but Win 3.0 died a long time ago.

    A rememberance party perhaps, but a birthday party for the dead, never.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      would have been better (for all) if it hadn't been born

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Oh hello Eadon. I didn't see you there.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        This was 1990, when most people at home would have been using all sorts of different machines. Amigas, STs, Archimedes and so on.

        These machines were all good but they all tended to lack something.

        If anything made Windows grow in the 1990s it was the explosion of IT in the office. Many working people at that time weren't computer owners and therefore bought a Windows machine at home to practise on. Others would eventually get a computer to go on the Internet when that became popular around the mid 1990s.

        Go back to 1990 and look at the prices of computers, I'm pretty sure a Mac was just as expensive compared to a PC as they are now. Linux didn't exist, if you wanted Unix you would be looking at paying a licence fee even for that, possibly from AT&T or someone.

        1. Mage Silver badge

          Re: This was 1990, when most people at home

          Most people at home didn't have a computer at all.

          DOS, CP/M, DRDOS and loads of types of incompatible dedicated Terminals all being used in small offices. Almost zero use of Windows 2.0, Windows 286 and Windows 368. Very very few Mac. Far too expensive for ordinary small offices.

          In 1989, Apple disposed of approximately 2,700 unsold Lisas in a guarded landfill. Never saw one.

          Early Mac used ROM based OS and one 3.5" floppy. I did see some of these.

          If you had serious money it was the era of the Mac IIcx, I never ever saw one of these despite working in with computers from 1979 and IT training & Support from 1990.

          IBM OS/2 + MS LAN Manager, MS OS/2 (released 1989), DR-Multidos, Xenix, Cromix, Novell etc all being used for small office servers.

          Win 3.0 was very short lived really. Many upgraded quickly to 3.1, then 3.11 which were the real OS/2 killers. OS/2 Warp was too late.

        2. John Ruddy

          In 1990, I was looking at using Minix.... it looked like a cheap way to improve my unix skills, and the ability to play around with the OS internals looked fun.

        3. Michael Strorm Silver badge

          "This was 1990, when most people at home would have been using all sorts of different machines. Amigas, STs, Archimedes and so on. These machines were all good but they all tended to lack something."

          Since you mention the Amiga, it's worth pointing out that both its hardware *and* operating system was in many respects more advanced and modern than Windows, even in 1990, five years after its launch.

          MS-DOS started life as QDOS ("Quick and Dirty Operating System"), a bought-in, early-1980s 16-bit knockoff, er... workalike of an 8-bit 1970s operating system called CP/M. It was nothing special even then. MS-DOS was upgraded piecemeal over the years with numerous kludges to work round the countless design and architecture limitations of the original PC and OS, which made it more complicated. (The PC itself was made from almost entirely off-the-shelf parts and sold mainly because it was an IBM.)

          Windows at that time was just a graphical add-on plastered on top of this text-based OS- more clunkiness for all.

          It really grates when people get nostalgic about messing about with DOS config files and say "that's just the way computers were back then". No, *that's* the way computers running a messily-upgraded OS with very dated origins (even by the standards of the time) were. Those config files were only required because of DOS's hackily-upgraded 8-bit-derived design. People who only used PCs back then have a blinkered view, and it's a shame that the Amiga only really enjoyed success as a games machine and niche use in multimedia and video. It was extremely ahead of its time when it first came out (4-channel sampled sound and up to 4096 colours on screen at once).

          The Amiga had true pre-emptive multitasking in 1985, whereas Windows 3.0 (1990) still only supported co-operative multitasking (e.g. I remember Windows 3.1 telnet locked up the whole OS when the remote server didn't respond, and didn't relinquish control until the connection timed out after two or three minutes).

          Of course, the problem with the Amiga is that Commodore sat on their laurels and only made minor changes to the Amiga OS and architecture until firstly the PC hardware then the OS caught up then overtook it. I wouldn't suggest that it's a viable competitor today (even though it's still being updated as a niche product in order to milk diehard Amiga fanatics). But at the time of Windows 3.0, it *was* better.

          1. Chika

            Actually, as Michael gives us the lowdown on the Amiga, I could say something very similar for Acorn and the Archimedes. While the Amiga was beating the crap out of MS-DOS/Windows with superior sound and graphics, mostly because the people behind the PC at the time couldn't be bothered to develop that side of it or were seriously caught up in the politics surrounding the PC at the time (this, of course, was the time when the PC design was being extracted physically from IBM), Acorn were likewise doing the PC no favours at all when it came to the sheer speed of the processor.

            You may have heard of it. It was called the Acorn RISC Machine. Or the ARM. It even got to the point that Acorns could actually run Windows as a side session! The operating system itself wasn't too shabby either and stands up well even now (try a RasPi running RISC OS 6, for example). While there is a command line for RISC OS, the GUI was not just an overlay as Windows 1, 2 and 3 were.

            The problem was twofold with Acorn - they continued to innovate right up to the very end but were absolutely rubbish at marketing themselves. In effect, they shared this problem with Commodore in that they were happy to stick with their own market and didn't really do enough to move into other markets. The second problem, however, was the venture capitalists that eventually asset-stripped the company.

            1. VinceH


              "(try a RasPi running RISC OS 6, for example)"

              RISC OS 5.xx, not RISC OS Six (which is really RISC OS 4 with a silly name).

            2. ThomH

              If this is really the way the conversation is going, it's pretty easy to rattle off the systems that were technologically superior in many respects to Windows 3.0 in 1990. Off the top of my head: The Amiga Workbench, RISC OS (both as already mentioned), NextStep, OS/2, NeWS, X + e.g. OpenWindows.

              Of those, NextStep, OS/2 and NeWS are probably the ones worth singling out for special praise. All three are preemptive, use a protected memory scheme and provide the sort of user-land libraries that we now usually consider to be part of an OS.

          2. Paul Shirley

            Michael Strorm:"the problem with the Amiga is that Commodore sat on their laurels"

            The Amiga line was hamstrung by management that couldn't decide what they wanted it to be. Designed as the super console of its time, management stripped the chip RAM that delivers most of its performance, shrank the base RAM too far and gave out mixed messages about whether it was a gaming or office machine for its entire lifetime.

            When I wrote for it, the OS used enough RAM to make life difficult porting from the Atari ST (so many of us just dumped it in the game boot loader) and multitasking was a fun demo but not much use in real office work.

            Windows and the IBM PC proves you can survive bad products with the right management, the Amiga was mismanaged to death.

          3. vonRat

            I wish I still had to spend hours stuffing device drivers into segments of upper memory without them overlapping. Ahhh, those were the days....let's see....device=\dos\emm386.exe noems /x=A000-C7FF.

            1. Slabfondler

              Ah, QEMM how we loved you.

              Mine's the one with multiple config.sys files hand tailored to run various programs.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                qemm was great

                Qemm also had a multitasking product that worked. We made communication systems that ran several DOS programs on one pc at the SAME time. Windows could never run even 2 reliably. 3.0 sucked. But 3.1 then wfwg 3.11 stole the world.

      3. GitMeMyShootinIrons

        "would have been better (for all) if it hadn't been born"

        Not really. How many IT folk started on DOS/Windows and went on to bigger things? In its day, Windows 3.x was a neat little product that did what was needed - providing a user friendly, (almost) multitasking point-and-click layer on top of MS-DOS.

        And in such a small footprint too (what went wrong here, Microsoft?).

    2. NightFox

      I'm sure at 1'33" in the video when she sucks air through her teeth she's thinking "Don't bluescreen, please to God don't bluescreen now"

      1. Badvok

        "I'm sure at 1'33" in the video when she sucks air through her teeth she's thinking "Don't bluescreen, please to God don't bluescreen now" "

        Sorry, but you get a downvote for obviously never having used Windows 3.0. The chances of Windows 3.0 actually surviving a problem well enough to present a blue screen were so slim it hardly ever happened - these were the days of real system crashes, from garbage all over the screen, accompanied by pops and clicks from the system speaker (if fitted), to crazy flickering screens or just the simple system freeze.

  2. nuked

    Where did it all go wrong?

    1. Gavin King

      Well, in the beginning it was all good. Then some lady took an apple that she oughtn't have, and things have gone down since then.

      The grey one, please, with the hat.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. VinceH

        Yeah, she was my ex.

        I wouldn't have any Apple gear in the house, so I kicked her out.

    2. Ian 55

      Frequently, with Unrecoverable Application Errors (aka UAEs, aka 'You've lost everything since, and possibly before, your last save').

      One of Microsoft's big reasons to get you to pay to upgrade to 3.1 was the promise that there would be no more UAEs. And there weren't...

      .. they had renamed them to General Protection Faults.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Ahhh the GPFs. such fun


  3. Kubla Cant
    Thumb Down

    "popular app Notepad"

    I don't think I've ever seen that combination of words before.

    1. Elmer Phud

      Re: "popular app Notepad"

      'cos it used to be a 'prog' and now it's an 'app'?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "popular app Notepad"

      Many of my websites proudly sport a "Made in Notepad" icon... It's simple, small, easy, basic, what's not to like? If I need to do complicated things, I'll use Notepad++ or vi, depending upon which machine I'm on. I wish they'd port Notepad++ to Linux and Mac...

      1. Simon Harris

        Re: "popular app Notepad"

        "It's simple, small, easy, basic, what's not to like?"

        Having more than one level of Undo would make it more likeable!

        The Windows 3.x versions were pretty limited on the largest file they could read/edit too.

        1. tirk

          Re: "popular app Notepad"

          It was popular because all we had was edlin before that, if for no other reason.

          1. TeeCee Gold badge

            Re: "popular app Notepad"

            It was popular because all we had was edlin before that...

            MS-DOS's "edit" (DOS 4 and up) passed you by then? That was actually quite good......

      2. Lars Silver badge

        Re: "popular app Notepad"

        I don't know what Notepad++ was but the problem with Notepad compared to vi was that there was a restriction on the size of the file with Notepad, also as always, you could us vi with a script.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "popular app Notepad"

          If you ever use Windows, check out notepad++, it's a really rather good notepad for programmers and engineers.

        2. mhoulden

          Re: "popular app Notepad"

          Notepad also has a weird thing where you can either have word wrap, or the status bar, but not both. I noticed this in Windows 3.1 and it's still there in Windows 7. However, for all its limitations, it is very rare not to have Notepad on a Windows system and it's useful to have as a scratch pad.

          My first PC had Windows 3.1 and DOS 5 so I didn't have to use EDLIN when I could use EDIT instead. All that time I spent playing around with QBASIC eventually led to me taking a software engineering degree and the software development job I'm doing now. Even though I've been using Microsoft BASICs for over 20 years, there are still bits that make me wonder what they were thinking of when they designed it.

          1. Crazy Operations Guy

            Re: "it is very rare not to have Notepad on a Windows system"

            Impossible to not have it unless someone has been monkeying around in the Windows folder.

          2. Jamie Jones Silver badge

            Re: "popular app Notepad"

            "Notepad also has a weird thing where you can either have word wrap, or the status bar, but not both. I noticed this in Windows 3.1 and it's still there in Windows 7."

            oooooh yeah. so it has.. weird!

      3. TeeCee Gold badge

        Re: "popular app Notepad"

        Based on the powerful editing component Scintilla, Notepad++ is written in C++ and uses pure Win32 API and STL....

        Probably a difficult port then. Nearest thing for Linux may be the Scintilla based SciTE.

  4. Elmer Phud

    Short Memories

    I remember a couple of piles of floppies and 'Bung the new Windows in - and Office'.

    'Nurse, coffee on I.V. drip, please'

    1. Rampant Spaniel

      Re: Short Memories

      oh god don't go there. Dos was 3 disks, windows maybe 7 or 8? Smartsuite was something like 40, corel draw was nearly as bad. Photoshop wasn't terrible iirc. Then you'd hear the drive chunter 75% of the way through and you knew the disk was screwed. Life is so much easier these days!

      1. Adam 1

        Re: Short Memories

        I was thinking that just last night after I found that my mobile was only transferring a video at 500KB/s across WIFI. Then I realised that would have been DOS 5 in under 5 seconds

      2. Chika

        Re: Short Memories

        I used to install Wfw3.11 which was a floppy for the DOS, another five for Windows itself and four more for all the extra gubbins. I then needed drivers for everything and one more for the TCP/IP stack.


      3. jon 68

        Re: Short Memories

        Dos was 3 diskettes, Windows 3.11 was 7, with 2 drivers diskettes. Photoshop 3.0 came on 5 diskettes. Then you had to load Kai's power tools, and a bunch of other utilities to make it actually useful for work.

        SCO came on 43 diskettes, Netware was on 20-25 if memory serves..

        One day i have to go clean out the garage, i've still got most all of those diskettes somewhere.

        I remember 1990, and spending 4 -5 hours loading up the o/s on a basic novell file and print server.

        I have some fond memories from that time.. but flipping disks isn't one of them.

        1. Lars Silver badge

          Re: Short Memories

          "flipping disks isn't one of them" and I still have nightmares about sitting in some office in some city at some customer at night looking at that damned piece of wobbling "paper" floating from the left to the right hours after hours. It must have been the most stupid copy program ever made. Our mind concerning speed is rather interesting, on a Sun hardware, in the shell, I had a counter going from 100 to 200 and so forth. The customer looking at that said "it looks very slow". So I changed the counter to going 1,2,3 and this customer looked happy again. To be honest I have not been any better, at times. Compiling on CP/M the whole thing just died, no sound, no life, stone dead. Pissed off, I went for some beer, forgetting to shut the damned thing down, And when I returned the compilation had finished OK. This stone dead period lasted from 20 to 30 minutes (Cobol).

          1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: Short Memories

            Compiling on CP/M the whole thing just died, no sound, no life, stone dead. Pissed off, I went for some beer, forgetting to shut the damned thing down, And when I returned the compilation had finished OK. This stone dead period lasted from 20 to 30 minutes (Cobol).

            'twas always the way, with non-multitasking OSes; go to build something big and you just had to wait for it to finish. Of course there were some development environments (hello, Turbo Pascal 3.0!) that provided progress indicators and watched for keyboard input, but if you were using good ol' standalone compilers, forget it.

            And even multitasking machines are often used to run big builds that pretty much tie them up. The first AS/400 I worked on was the smallest '400 you could get from IBM at the time (right after they came out, circa 1989), and we were building a big middleware system plus its administration system, utilities, samples, testware, etc. You could fire off a system build and it might finish in a couple of hours. The system was usable while the build ran, but only just - latency for the simplest commands was long enough to let you take a sip of coffee, and in some cases go and refill your cup, without missing anything.

            Hell, even now my "desktop replacement" class laptop with gigs of RAM becomes completely unresponsive for 15-30 seconds at various points when I kick off system builds. That's mostly due to contention for the hard drive, but from the user's point of view, the underlying cause hardly matters.

            Still, it's better than having to do every build as an overnight batch job, as was common practice back in the day.

      4. Allan George Dyer

        Re: Short Memories

        and you get a read error on disk 6...

        I'm going for a lie-down. Ask the nurse for my medication.

  5. Amorous Cowherder

    Happier, crappier, simpler times!

    I remember actually buying a full boxed edition of this and 3.1!

    I remember having to dial up the AST Computers ( remember them? ) bulletin/support board at 2400 baud and download some specific Windows 3.0 drivers for my whopping 512KB graphics card so I could drive it at top resolution to a huge 640x480 display!

  6. Dazed and Confused

    That look and feel

    Which they got from HP, MS and HP agreed to pool the look and feel stuff so that you got the same appearance in both X-Windows and MS Windows. But that's where the 3D look came from, not from Apple, which still had flat looking windows till MacOS8 about 7 years later. Where as HP had had the 3D look on the Integral PC back in 1985.

    I'm not Eadon, but I still think that celebrating Windows 3 is a bit like asking turkeys to celebrate Christmas.

  7. TheDysk

    How many hours wasted?

    I remember installing Windows 3.0 from 5.25" floppy disc. It took quite a while to install.

    Although installing Windows for Workgroups 3.11 from 3.5" floppies sometimes took upto 2 hours to install.

    Installing Windows95 from CD was a giant leap forward.

    1. Ken 16 Silver badge

      Re: How many hours wasted?

      quicker than putting OS/2 Warp on, then the Windows, then Lotus Smartsuite. I do miss the user manuals though.

      Port Win 3.11 to ARM and I'd still use it on a tablet/tv key. It wasn't that bad at the time.

    2. Alan Bourke

      Re: How many hours wasted?

      I installed early versions of 95 from floppy, IIRC. Fun. See also under installing Netware from floppy.

      1. Chika

        Re: How many hours wasted?

        Oh yeah. W95 for floppy. Twenty of them, as I recall...

        I was using a Zip drive by that time. Much quicker!

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How many hours wasted?

      I worked in a local computer shop at the time and we found that you could make the install massively faster by xcopying the disks to the local HDD, then installing from there. If you had enough space, that was.

    4. Ian Yates

      Re: How many hours wasted?

      I managed to cut Win 3.1 down to a single floppy that you could boot from. Ran like a tortoise, but helped me repair many a corrupt config.

      Buggered if I can remember the details now (nor care), though I'm pretty sure I still have the disk somewhere...

      That brings back memories. I had disks dedicated to different boot configurations so that I could have the right memory split to play games like Frontier/Elite or POP.

    5. Kubla Cant

      Re: How many hours wasted?

      The sad thing about installing WfW from 3.5" floppies is that you'd almost certainly have to do it again in a few weeks. Sooner or later the system would lock up, and after a forced reboot WfW wouldn't start. So dig out the WfW floppies, plus the EMM386 disk, the network drivers, and the crib-sheet for shoehorning it all into memory, and start again.

      Worse than installing to floppies was backing up to them. The time taken to write to a floppy was too short to do anything else, but long enough to drive you mad with boredom.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How many hours wasted?

      I'd you'd copied the floppies to hard drive, install took less than a minute on a slowish 286 with 1Mb memory!

      1. TheDysk

        Re: How many hours wasted?

        "I'd you'd copied the floppies to hard drive, install took less than a minute on a slowish 286 with 1Mb memory!"

        I'd forgotten that we used to do that. Certainly did make it faster and you could leave it chugging away unattended and come back later. Often set several of them going at the same time when rolling out new hardware.

      2. TeeCee Gold badge

        Re: How many hours wasted?

        Yes, the install took less than a minute, but copying the floppies to the hard drive........(!)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          you lucky lucky bsdtards

          Think i installed it about 8000 times. Later I had to install nt advanced server from floppy disks, about 20. first time i installed it 3 times in a row until i remembered the password I had used. pillock . I then spent about a months wages on a 1x cd. wow so much of my pathetic cheap life, hmm not sure it all helped me towards a fulfilling life. watching the dickhead software patents battles isn't helping much either.

  8. mark1978

    Is it an operating system? It was really only a window manager which sat on top of MS-DOS.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Is it an operating system? It was really only a window manager which sat on top of MS-DOS.

      Sigh. This again. Every time the Reg runs a story about early versions of Windows, someone has to make this comment.

      Real-mode Windows was indeed a GUI on top of MS-DOS / PC-DOS. DOS served as a monitor and provided many basic OS functions. Real-mode Windows still controlled the console, though, and since DOS has no process abstraction and Windows application scheduling was done entirely by Windows (cooperatively, using the message pump), even real-mode Windows was handling a number of OS-level functions.

      Standard-mode Windows took over more functionality from DOS, notably memory management, and ran in protected mode, though DOS programs ran in ring 0 and so could still play merry hell with the system.

      Enhanced-mode Windows was essentially an OS, and only used DOS as a bootloader. Unless you think that Linux is a shell and GRUB is its OS, then it's simply incorrect to say Enhanced-mode Win3 was "only a window manager which sat on top of MS-DOS".

      No doubt we'll have to explain all of this again next year.

  9. Mage Silver badge

    Infamous Filemangler?

    You need two instances of Explorer to manage files, its still got UI design flaws since Win95 and more awkward for moving or copying than File Manager.

    My Archos File Browser is very like File Manager. Why is it Infamous? What was wrong with it?

    Mines the one with a Smart Phone, Kindle and Archos 605 in the pocket.

    1. captain veg Silver badge

      Re: Infamous Filemangler?

      Indeed. And it didn't lie to you, inventing spurious "My Documents" folders and hiding "known file extensions". Gah!


    2. Youngdog

      Re: Infamous Filemangler?

      I've still got a version of NT4's FileMan.exe I use to solve locked file problems under XP. Why that functionality was never included in Explorer is just one example of how MS earned the 'we know what you need more than you' reputation.

  10. yossarianuk

    For people who knew no better

    Window 3.0 was so far behind the Commodore amiga at the time it was like the system were from different decades.

    Windows was (and still is) for people who like wasting their money on an infective system because they know no better.

    1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

      Re: For people who knew no better

      Well, Amiga corp lost the plot which didn't help them much. They had some fantastic plans for the new releases of hardware and OS, plans that all went a "bit" (as in spectacularly) wrong with losing designs, political infights and generally losing the plot.

      From discussions I had with Amiga engineers around then, one of the planned (or dreamed) features at the time was for Amiga windowing scheme to be more linked to the display hardware, therefore if a window needed just 2 bit planes, or needed 4 or 8 (or 24 I suspect) it could request this and the window area would be efficiently allocated and managed by the hardware. This way efficiency could be kept, high colour windows would use just the resources they required, low colour windows would use as little as possible and the entire display would be handled in hardware giving extremely fast and efficient windowing operations. Even from the start Amigas had hardware pointers for the mice (it took years for Windows PCs to approach the smoothness of the Amiga mouse pointers), multiple, stackable displays with different colour depths and heights and the evolution of this was to move to supporting different "screen" widths and allow them to be managed as if they were windows.

      But things moved on, the Amiga unfortunately faltered and died and here we are now.

      The Amiga wasn't the only system doing the rounds at time, there were of course the Atari ST and the Archimedes as well, both very capable systems in slightly different ways. And given choice could always use an expensive PC if your colour palette of choice was Black, White, Cyan and Purple or if you had much more money than sense and could find one, then you could buy and use a Mac - often monochrome and usually very closely tied to the Mac's strength at the time - Desktop Publishing, but very effective for it.

    2. Kubla Cant

      Re: For people who knew no better

      It's nothing to do with people who knew no better.

      The Amiga may have been superior, and quite possibly there were other systems way ahead of Windows in the race. But they were all proprietary operating systems closely tied to their hardware. Microsoft operating systems, from MS-DOS on, conquered the world because they were good enough and ran on generic hardware. (The generic hardware was a result of lack of foresight at IBM when they built the first PCs.) So manufacturers of PC clones could sell hardware with an operating system installed.

      So what about Apple? It's easy to forget that in the era of massive Windows uptake, Apple was an expensive specialist product mostly used by people like graphic designers. If the Apple had been just another general-purpose desktop computer it might well have gone the same way as the Amiga.

      1. Chika

        Re: For people who knew no better

        Actually, the "generic" hardware wasn't as generic as you might think. One of the biggest weaknesses of any PC and a problem that still haunts new PC releases today is of drivers that provide a way to make all this hardware compatible with each other.

        The biggest problem was that Microsoft learned their trade as far as the market went at the fount of Big Blue, so when a new IBM system went in, they had a chance to ram a ton of glossy marketing literature down the unsuspecting throats of the buyers. They simply weren't aware of the competition. Once in there, the business market acted as the shills for the PC, eventually killing the competition by stealth.

        As for Apple, they very nearly did go the same way as Commodore. It took a bit of good hype to pull them out of the doldrums; it was called the iMac. But for that system and the marketing that went with it, Apple certainly would have died as so many others did. Not that I'm a fan of Apple, but give them their due.

    3. Anonymous Coward

      Re: For people who knew no better

      Bah Amiga...good for games and "pretty" pictures but shit when it came to pro-music.

      Go Atari !

      See Eadon, did this crap well before Linux vs Windows...

      Heck Speccy vs C64 was before this

      and before that...I'll leave to the grey beards.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: For people who knew no better

        When I was still in primary school, the classroom a single Archimedes, a few of the lads had Amigas for games, my mate's dad, a hippy musical technology lecturer, had an Atari ST (and a MIDI guitar), and another friend's dad, a graphic designer, had a Mac. There was of course still a smattering of Spectrums, Vic 20s, C64s, Acorns, and a few 8 bit consoles.

        Me? I had an 8086 Olivetti with no sound or game port! Still, over the next ten years I learnt quite a bit just getting it and its successors to play games... and eventually the games (X-Wing, Doom, System Shock, many more) came.

  11. Mage Silver badge

    Was it an OS?

    Not exactly, but more than a Window Manager. Win 3.1 was a big jump, Win 3,0 was rubbish compared to Win3.1.

    The Real and Standard modes very much just a GUI shell to launch DOS Programs. Win 3.0 Enhance Mode a not quite OS, but Win 9x and Win ME not quite OSes either.

    WFWG3.11 properly set up with Win32s, 32 bit TCP/IP, good Graphics driver and 32 bit Disk Driver was better than Win95a and as much an OS as Win95, Win98, WinME, which is to say a horrid mish-mash and not a proper OS like NT 3.1, NT3.5, NT3.51 and NT4.0 (You could run Explorer Shell Preview on NT3.51 and Run Program Manager & File Manager on NT 4.0 instead of Explorer Shell).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Was it an OS?

      The Windows programs Word, Excel, Powerpoint were all available at 3.0 launch along with a variety of third party applications, hardly just a DOS switcher.

      Standard mode could multitask all three of these office applications in 2Mb main memory and was faster than the more memory demanding 386 Enhanced mode. Biggest accomplishment of Windows 3.0 in my opinion, operating on the installed base of predominantly 286 PCs of the time with such efficient use of machine resources.

      Behind the scenes! By current standards the number of people involved in Windows 3.0 development was laughably small. Speaking as one of those involved it felt more like a skunkworks project while a vastly larger number of people in the OS group worked on OS/2 along with another army from IBM. Some features were vetoed for 3.0. I actually recall the words 'if we do all that OS/2 is toast' from a guy well known nowadays as a leading promoter of Windows. 3.1 added missing features. However, I can state for a fact that in May 1990 nobody expected to be shipping Windows on DOS 1995; I'm still amazed that it took over 10 years for Windows XP to replace DOS/Windows for most people.

      1. TeeCee Gold badge

        Re: Was it an OS?

        Speaking as one of those involved...

        Let the blamefest begin!

    2. Simon Harris

      Re: Was it an OS?

      "Win 3.1 was a big jump, Win 3,0 was rubbish compared to Win3.1."

      I remember the first portable system I had (386SX based with a plasma screen) came with MSDOS 4.01 and Windows 3.0, and a 40MByte hard drive.

      After trying Windows 3.0 out of curiosity for a couple of days, I decided I'd rather have the disk space back - at the time all the software I had was DOS based anyway and I could see no advantage to keeping Windows.

      Windows 3.1 was such an improvement that by the time I got that on a 486 machine with a whopping 250Mbyte drive, it was worth keeping.

  12. Mr. Nobby


    Somebody is still using it.

    I worked in a factory in 2004 that was still using Windows for Workgroups and Novell Netware throughout the entire business. There was a single XP machine for accessing the internet.

    1. Chris Holt

      Re: Somewhere...

      All this time and they still can't get Trumpet Winsock and Mosaic working on WfW eh? They can get rid of that XP, its just not needed...

      (HTML5 works on Mosaic, yeah?)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Somewhere...

      Still using 3.1 here. When the instrument it runs with gets upgraded it'll be replaced or when the ancient 386 it runs on dies.

      Until then....

  13. darklordsid

    Better than Metro

    Multi overlapping windowS. 'Nuff said.

  14. JimmyPage Silver badge

    Windows 3.1/3.11 - you could zip into a file

    My first proper IT job was developing an installation routine for our companies software. I worked out you could install Windows, zip up the C:\WINDOWS directory, test my install routine, and then restore the C:\WINDOWS back to a virgin install. A godsend .... totally impossible nowadays ...

    1. GitMeMyShootinIrons

      Re: Windows 3.1/3.11 - you could zip into a file

      Who needs fancy new fangled System Restore or Time Machine?

    2. No, I will not fix your computer

      Re: Windows 3.1/3.11 - you could zip into a file

      Virtualbox or ESX with snapshots, easy peasy.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Windows 3.1/3.11 - you could zip into a file

        I forgot about the 1991 release of Virtualbox

        1. No, I will not fix your computer

          Re: Windows 3.1/3.11 - you could zip into a file

          >>I forgot about the 1991 release of Virtualbox

          Ummm... the post I replied to said "totally impossible nowadays ..."

          (rtfm or stfu)

  15. Mostly_Harmless Silver badge

    Thanks for the memory

    I remember going to see a colleague who was the first in our office to have Windows 3 installed.

    To this day I remember the gasps of amazement as he booted his machine and it counted through 5 (yes! 5!!!) whole megabytes of RAM before loading Windows.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Re: Thanks for the memory

      5 seems an odd number. RAM amounts seemed to go up by binary sequence - 1,2,4,8,16 MB...

      Though my 486 did end up with 12MB, 4 MB original and an 8MB upgrade.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Thanks for the memory

        It's possible it had 2 x 2MB and 1 x1MB SIMM chips in it.

        1. Jared Hunt

          Re: Thanks for the memory

          "It's possible it had 2 x 2MB and 1 x1MB SIMM chips in it."

          Not with SIMMs my friend. They had to go in matched pairs. More likely two pairs of 1mb sticks and a pair of 512k ones.

          1. Retron

            Re: Thanks for the memory

            "Not with SIMMs my friend. They had to go in matched pairs"

            Not with 72-pin SIMMS on a 486, you could use those one at a time. I had 12MB just before I moved to a Pentium, 3x 4MB SIMMS.

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Thanks for the memory

          It's possible it had 2 x 2MB and 1 x1MB SIMM chips in it."

          Win3.0 on a 386. More likely there were 32 16-pin DIL RAM chips in sockets on the main board and a 4MB expansion card, also with socketed RAM chips. SIMMS (and SIPPs) might have been around but only on the latest "bleeding edge" systems.

          The most common "fault" back then was the chips "creeping" out of the sockets due to "thermal creep". A quick press on every socked chip, with a satisfying click from the culprits, job done, customer happy.

      2. Hyper72

        Re: Thanks for the memory

        Mmhmm, when I got rid of my IBM PS/2 model 30 I got a Commodore PC with 5MB RAM.

        And a Turbo button!

  16. iansn

    Those were the days

    I've still got the disks, and OS/2 as well. I remember the pain of turning away from the screen and turning back to see the nice blue screen whilst only having one file open in wordpad at least 6 times a day.... Them were the days :)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Those were the days


      Surely not?

      Write is your tool.

      Back when I couldn't afford/obtain MS Office, I used Write and had to guess pagination

  17. Retron

    Notepad was in Windows from version 1, FWIW.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Notepad was in Windows from version 1, FWIW.

      I don't recall what all was in Windows 1, but I worked on IBM's "DOS and Windows Kit"1, a software bundle for the PS/2 (particularly the Model 25, which IBM intended as a Mac killer2). It included Windows 2.0 or Windows/286 for the 286-equipped models (Model 50 and Model 60), and there was a decent set of apps with Win 2: Paint, Calc, etc.

      The Kit added Function Editor, which was basically a mathematics typesetting tool that could print or export as bitmap, letting you embed formatted mathematical expressions in documents; Grapher, which was a data-plotting app3; an interactive tutorial; and some other goodies. If you were going to buy a PC for an undergrad, it was a pretty good value at the time. But it wasn't advertised and I doubt many copies were sold. Then Windows 3 and MS Office came out just a year or two later, and while that combination was significantly more expensive, it was also considerably more capable.

      1Which did eventually ship; I saw it on sale once in a university bookstore. In the few years I worked for IBM, I contributed to two projects which became actual shipping products, and one that became an open-source package that's still around and apparently still used. Really quite remarkable luck.

      2At which it was a dismal failure. The '25 wasn't a terrible machine - we used to use one for network monitoring and as a Telnet terminal - but it didn't have much going for it, either.

      3Unfortunately it didn't also do business graphics (bar charts and the like), which would have made it useful for more students. 123 and Excel were great for that, but legal copies were generally too expensive for students.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Memories of school labs

    In school we had a lab of hard-drive-less terminal RM Nimbus 386 PCs.

    These booted Windows 3.0 via the BNC connected 10Base2 network to a server in the back room which supplied the OS.

    They were generally left on at the login screen, as bootup times were up to 5 minutes.

    My first PC in 1995 was a 486 running Windows For Workgroups 3.11 - I was familiar with the Program Manager, the built in Accessories such as Write and Paintbrush, and the overall Windows UI from those school machines.

    Soon after, Win95 turned up, Pentiums ushered in the Multimedia PC era, and it grew from there until recently when Tablets changed casual computing. We may be going back to the time when a PC is for the dedicated, and a Tablet is an internet appliance for the facebookers.

  19. Crisp

    Real mode could run on anything up to a 286.

    Really! Really?

    Have you actually tried running Windows 3.0 on an 8MHz 8086?

    I have, and I can personally tell you that it's no laughing matter.

    1. captain veg Silver badge

      Re: Real mode could run on anything up to a 286.

      Moreover, even the 386 booted up in real mode. And it wasn't necessarily faster than a 286 (some of which were cranking along at 20MHz vs 16 for contemporary 386s), but it had a better protected mode that could multitask DOS sessions.


    2. Retron

      Re: Real mode could run on anything up to a 286.

      It's even more fun on an IBM XT at 4.77Mhz running in VGA mode... you can't use colour (as that requires a driver with 286 code) and you get to see the dialog boxes in eg Write draw before your eyes!

      That was 20 years ago, mind you... I wanted a copy of Windows after using it at school and after finding one in the local paper it was most disappointing to see how chuggy it was on the PC I had.

    3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Real mode could run on anything up to a 286.

      Have you actually tried running Windows 3.0 on an 8MHz 8086?

      Yes - the PS/2 Model 25. Had to do some testing under Win 3 to make sure some customers who had the machines could run the latest version of a package we sold. That was for a former employer.

      The Model 25 and Model 30 ran Win 2 pretty well. The Model 30-286 even ran Win/286 reasonably well. But Win 3 added too much for those low-end systems, even in Real mode (which was all that would run on an 8086, of course).

  20. Radium

    This brings to me a misty-eyed remembrance of holding a mouse for the first time. Prior to that, my life was filled with DOS, CP/M, Wang WP, DisplayWriter. and other things with small monitors and massive floppy disks.

    What really kicked off the success of Windows was MS Office. MS Word 1.0 wasn't too good, but I remember being wowed by Word 2.0c. Like garlic bread, it was the taste of the future.

    I still miss Norton Editor though, using EDLIN was such a pain in the arse.

  21. Roland6 Silver badge

    Clean Desktop

    Interestingly seeing the pictures of the Win3 desktop, whilst it is a little dated it is surprisingly 'clean' and functional unlike practically everything since XP, including classic shell...

  22. Gazman
    Thumb Up

    Relive Win 3.0/3.1/3.11/WfW 'Good Old Days' with VM Ware or Similar...

    1) Dig out DOS and Win floppies (they might still read - mine did)

    2) Dig out USB floppy drive (I prefer Sony but any will do)

    3) Fiddle with VMWare (or similar) configuration

    4) Patch VM with stuff from Electrical Interweb (e.g. tweaked SVGA drivers from Zamba's excellent VMWare Page -

    5) Play suitable music (e.g.

    Nom, nom, nom...

  23. Confuciousmobil

    Only one

    Windows 3.0 was the only version of Windows I pre-ordered and eagerly awaited. It was what broke us free!

    I got the disks and installed it the day it came out.

    2 months later the Lotus User Group's quarterly newsletter came out and said that unfortunately Lotus 123 used different memory management so couldn't work with Windows 3.0

    They released an update a couple of days later after I told them how I got it working the day Windows 3.0 came out.

    Windows 3.0 is what released us from the 640k memory limit and that, for me, makes it the greatest release of Windows ever. It was the game changer.

  24. daveeff


    I have an old 386 laptop with WfW on, with the caldera win95 look desktop. Happy days.

    I think the floppy may be duff so next time I need to re-install could be the end.

    The "is windows an OS?" argument was vitriolic in the old "I just want DOS" days - a bit like Linux/Windows these days.

    I still use a "DOS" prompt daily, and am upset my win7 64b won't run my old DOS apps some of which I wrote so have re-built for 64b but my trusty editor (even if I found the source) isn't likely to build with its overlayed linker!

    Can you run Windows 3 in a cmd shell from Win7? (OK why? is also a question!).

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