back to article The longest card game in the world: Microsoft Solitaire is 30

It's a double anniversary today as we take a moment to ponder 30 years since Windows 3.0 set Microsoft on the road to desktop GUI dominance and celebrate three decades of Microsoft Solitaire. This correspondant was working in a computing store when Windows 3.0 landed, having been announced on 22 May 1990. The Amstrad PC1640 …

  1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

    Legacy

    Before the easy availibity of benchmarking software we used to test a system's performace by playing solitaire on it. This was both for the general feel of drag and drop but the key test was the animation upon completion (which on particularly crappy systems would jerk very badly and glitch).

    I don't know how original this completion animation was at the time (probably reasonably so) but it's interesting to see the same animation being played out in many modern versions of solitaire both on PCs and on mobile devices.

  2. karlkarl Silver badge

    30 years later and I am still looking for drivers to run it at my monitors native resolution.

    Granted my resolution is now a slightly more awkward 1366x768 rather than 800x600 haha.

    Shame that things like VirtualBox or Qemu don't care about digital preservation and are more focused on running Cloud gimmicks as fast as possible.

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Perhaps...?

      You really should think about investing in a new monitor. 1366x768 is so.... so 2010 ish. 1080p monitors can be picked up for under a £100.00 these days. Using one might even improve your productivity.

      I'll also be willing to bet that your smartphone has higher resolution than your monitor.

      Unless you are talking a load of Porkies?

      1. karlkarl Silver badge

        Re: Perhaps...?

        Thinkpad X230 doesn't really have an upgradable 1080p screen option does it ;)

        And are you telling me that there are 1080p capable Windows 3.1 display drivers?

        1. NoOnions

          Re: Perhaps...?

          To be fair to Steve Davies 3, in your original post you said "30 years later and I am still looking for drivers to run it at my monitors native resolution." - "monitor", not laptop, resolution. Two different things.

        2. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

          Re: Perhaps...?

          Can't you set the display to not scale?

          Usually very useful on wide screen 720p screen for 800x600 if you don't mind the huge bars around the screen.

    2. BillG
      IT Angle

      Microsoft Solitaire has done more to reduce worker productivity than any virus or hack.

      1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

        Microsoft Solitaire has done more to reduce worker productivity than any virus or hack.
        But not as much as Microsoft PowerPoint...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Compared to manglement, its a boon for productivity.

      3. Danny 2 Silver badge

        Microsoft Solitaire has done more to reduce worker productivity than any virus or hack.

        No, it just helped fill the gaps that were already there. If anything it, and Minesweeper helped keep us alert.

        I remember pre-Solitaire days when I'd do circuits of the factory with a bunch of justifying random papers in my hand just to stay awake. How excited programmers would boast about their Minesweeper strategies. When I first rolled out PCs in a council only managers got them, didn't know how to use them so set the clock full-screen. To remind them when they should drink the bottle of whisky sticking out their desk drawer.

        Nothing much got done in 1993.

  3. Kubla Cant Silver badge
    Flame

    "an ill-advised redesign"

    It's a nice afternoon for a rant, so I'll take the opportunity to sound off about the abomination that Micros~1 have made of the solitaire patience games in Windows 10.

    Today it starts with a hideous banner announcing "National Solitaire Day" and encouraging me to play as many games as I can. "Get Double XP EVERYWHERE!", it screams (capitalization sic). I thought Windows XP was obsolete. And why would I want it doubled? "Visit Facebook to see how close we are to beating the record!!" - an invitation I find easy to resist.

    I always elect for random deals, because that's how card games are supposed to work, Micros~1. But it insists on progressing me through "levels". So the random deals at Level 31 are harder than those at Level 1, are they? How do you know, if they're random?

    Worst of all, of course, are the ads. Micros~1 seem to have worked out my age by spying on me, or maybe they just conclude that a taste for solitaire patience is a symptom of senility. So I'm sent ads for funeral services and teasers about things for "seniors". They think I'm susceptible to local enthusiasms: "People in St Ives are going mad for this smartwatch | funeral service | life insurance". I assume this is a lie. And there's a bizarre category that shows a picture of some long-forgotten celebrity with a link that says "You'll never guess what X looks like now!". True enough, but why should I care?

    It would be bad enough if they just showed the kind of ads you see on TV or in print, but the solitaire patience ads have a distinctive intimate wheedling tone that I find especially obnoxious. I'll certainly never buy any of the stuff they're promoting, and as for the funeral services, I'd sooner be dead.

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: "an ill-advised redesign"

      That's "windows as a service" for you... An ad delivering service and it will only get worse.

      To all Advertisers -> see icon.

    2. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: "an ill-advised redesign"

      Aisleriot - you know it makes sense.

    3. Dave K Silver badge

      Re: "an ill-advised redesign"

      I'm so thankful that the people behind WinAeroTweaker also created a bundle of all the Windows 7 games that will install correctly on Windows 10. Hence no crappy Store versions, you get the cleaner and far more pretty Win7/Aero versions of Solitaire, as well as Minesweeper, Mahjongg etc.

    4. Teiwaz Silver badge

      Re: "an ill-advised redesign"

      Worst of all, of course, are the ads. Micros~1 seem to have worked out my age by spying on me,

      Probably

      They think I'm susceptible to local enthusiasms: "People in St Ives are going mad for this smartwatch | funeral service | life insurance". I assume this is a lie. And there's a bizarre category that shows a picture of some long-forgotten celebrity with a link that says "You'll never guess what X looks like now!". True enough, but why should I care?

      Not sure that is Microfoot, per se. Unless they these are popping up in the start menu or status.

      I get those sorts of ads occasionally, and I'm running Archlinux and Firefox.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "an ill-advised redesign"

      "local enthusiasms"

      I love those "local" ads. My employer is big enough that I get an IP address from their original class A block. As a result, I get "local" ads for all over the US.

      "and as for the funeral services, I'd sooner be dead"

      That's... typically how they work.

    6. revenant Silver badge

      Re: "an ill-advised redesign"

      I totally agree with your observations. The difference in user experience just when running the thing is dramatically worse with Windows 10.

      In addition: before its imposition on the public, I used Solitaire as a comparison between Windows 10 and Vista. On the same machine I found that Solitaire used very little CPU under Vista (and nothing when idle), and 30%-40% CPU under WIndows 10 (even when idle with no input from me).

      Call me old-fashioned, but I didn't find the performance hit was a very encouraging feature of Windows 10.

      1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

        Re: "an ill-advised redesign"

        I wonder how much of the CPU hit in Windows 10 is as a result of removing from the hardware accelleration from the window compositing manager?

    7. Skribblez

      Re: "an ill-advised redesign"

      A pi-hole kills those ads in the MS games, including in the iOS version when using wireless. Overall, pi-hole is a necessary part of one’s home setup, given the nature of advertising on the Interwebs.

      When advertisers fix the issue of malicious ads, I’ll revisit running a blocker. In the meantime, you can always whitelist the sites you think are safe.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The interface formerly known as....

    "certainly when compared to the flatness of previous versions and, er, more recent incarnations"

    That was my first thought when I saw the new 'flat' Windows look: "Which fuckwit thought that making it look more like Windows 2 was a good idea?"

    Progress, we've heard of it...

    1. Mark192

      Re: The interface formerly known as....

      Someone with much more self control than me despaired: "Which fuckwit thought that making it look more like Windows 2 was a good idea?"

      I /think/ it's got something to do with more easily providing a common look between interface elements at widely differing scales or making your phone look like your desktop (or your 4K 32" monitor like you 23" 1080p).

      It's so awful it's got to have been done for a better reason than just some generic modern look.

      1. Kristian Walsh

        Re: The interface formerly known as....

        You're correct. It's to allow the interface to be rendered at a variety of different viewing distances and pixel densities. There aren't any bitmap "icons" anymore in Windows 10 for button functions: all graphical symbols are stored in fonts and rendered through the text engine. (the font is called "Segoe MDL2 Assets", and you'll find the icons encoded as characters within the Unicode Private Use pages).

        Windows 10 also does the same thing for its emoji support, by using a colour-font feature (COLR and CPAL tables in OpenType) that allows coloured symbols to be built up like silkscreen prints, with one "character" for each colour layer. This is how Microsoft was able to implement every possible skin-tone variation in the "family" and "activity" emojis, and also provide non-coloured emojis without needing a new font (something I wish other vendors would offer). It's a clever approach that reduces the amount of memory and CPU effort needed to display the symbols, can be scaled to any size, and by limiting the number of colours per emoji, you end up with icons that visually blend with text much better than bitmap-based solutions.

        (App icons remain as bitmaps)

        I know this is not a popular opinion here, but I really the Windows 8 and 10 UI. It's clean and clutter-free, looks really sharp on a high-DPI display, and it's consistent as far as it's applied - the main thing I don't like about Windows 10's UI is how often you're dumped back into the Windows95 look and feel: surely it'd be worth putting a few interns on a task to turn those horrible tab-dialogs into something from this century (... and don't start me on the multi-row tab-bars where the tabs dance around after you click them, in some kind of twisted, user-interface whack-a-mole game)

        1. boltar Silver badge

          Re: The interface formerly known as....

          "It's a clever approach that reduces the amount of memory and CPU effort needed to display the symbols, can be scaled to any size,"

          Its not a clever approach at all - its nothing more than vector graphics (NOT invented by MS) shoved into unicode and having a load of unicode tables to contain graphics when there are an infinite potential number seems a particularly stupid way of drawing icons.

          "I know this is not a popular opinion here, but I really the Windows 8 and 10 UI. It's clean and clutter-free, looks really sharp on a high-DPI display,"

          A blank screen is clean and clutter free but you won't be doing much with it though. A GUI where the widgets are indistinguisable from the data and sometimes even invisible unless hovered over and needs to be "figured out" by the user first is a piss poor excuse for one that would fail every ergonomics test thrown at it. GUIs are a tool that should to be intuitive and easy to use in order for people to get work done, not a minimalist fashion show for hipster graphics designers to show off.

          1. Kristian Walsh

            Re: The interface formerly known as....

            Its not a clever approach at all - its nothing more than vector graphics (NOT invented by MS) shoved into unicode and having a load of unicode tables to contain graphics when there are an infinite potential number seems a particularly stupid way of drawing icons.

            Missed my point completely. The "clever" bit isn't that it's a font, but that it makes use of the existing and highly-optimised font rendering code path to produce the coloured symbols needed for emoji. Contrast Apple's approach that just hacks enormous bitmaps into the font file, or the SVG-based solutions (the other OpenType approved mechanism) that require a separate rendering path for the Emoji glyphs versus the rest of the code set.

            The rules for inclusion in Unicode are straightforward, and the set of Emoji, whether you like them or not, meet those rules. If you consider that the symbols of the Phiastos Disc, a set of characters used only on that single ancient artefact are assigned codepoints in Unicode (U+101DE0--U+101DFD), there's room for a few hundred pictorial symbols that are used by billions of people daily.

        2. Dave K Silver badge

          Re: The interface formerly known as....

          I see the point, but this doesn't excuse the flatness. Back in the 90s, IRIX (SGIs version of Unix) used vector graphics for all the icons, you could scale them to be as large or as small as you wanted without any impact on quality, yet everything still had a pleasant (for the time) 3D look to it. You can make nice looking vector graphics that scale properly on larger/smaller screens - if you can be bothered with the effort. Problem is that MS have gone for the blandest, most minimal design possible and it looks dreary as a result.

          1. boltar Silver badge

            Re: The interface formerly known as....

            Just out of interest - did SGI use standard X windows functionality to do vector graphics or did they use OpenGL or some proprietary X extension?

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: The interface formerly known as....

      "That was my first thought when I saw the new 'flat' Windows look: "Which fuckwit thought that making it look more like Windows 2 was a good idea?"

      Maybe the designer hadn't been born when Win 2.0 was around? After all, here we are today 30 frikken years after 3.0 was "born". Shit, I feel old now :-( Even policemen look young these days!

  5. sw guy

    Another unknown feature...

    was the magic key-combo which allowed drawing a single card when in 3 cards at a time mode

    I tested it, to confirm what I was told, but I soon forget it, because I much preferred free cell as a time sucking click machine

    1. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker Bronze badge
      Coffee/keyboard

      Re: Another unknown feature...

      "...a time sucking click machine"

      My eyes first thought the "cl" was a "d" and also swapped that world with the previous one.

      If such a machine exists, it better NOT have any Micros~1 software, hardware, or meatware in it!

  6. frankvw

    But still...

    I have never been a MICROS~1 fan, and to say something positive about them here is like blaspheming in church, but in the interest of balance I'm going to have to: including Solitaire in Windows was a good move. It was intended as a tool to introduce technophobic noobs to working with a computer with a GUI and a mouse, and I have used it successfully for that purpose many times during my dark days of staff training and support. It did what it was designed to do and performed a useful function, which is more than can be said for many other Windows features.

    And as MS apps go, Solitaire has always been reasonably well behaved. I know it has the reputation of being to productivity what a black hole is to light, but the various problems associated with any other MICROS~1 products over the years amount to a far greater productivity loss than poor Solitaire ever could hope to achieve; not in the last place because those who play it during working hours would otherwise be prone to other forms of wasting time anyway. It's the worker's attitude, not the handy temptation of an on-screen card game, that is the leading cause of non-productivity.

    In short, Solitaire has helped more noobs overcome their techo/computer/Windows phobia than it has turned good office workers into bad time wasters.

  7. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    "The longest card game in the world"

    Is it as long as a piece of string?

    Anyway, I'm sure several, including various versions of Poker, has been around a lot longer than MS Solitaire.

    1. gerryg

      Card Games

      Years before the IBM PC, Hewlett-Packard provided a Poker card game, on the HP217 and similar possibly even the HP85 (HP87??) So long ago. Not the first, I'm sure but certainly prior art...

      1. Sandtitz Silver badge
        IT Angle

        Re: Card Games

        Yeah, and I played strip poker with my C64 before Windows 1.0 was released but it certainly didn't teach me how to use mouse (nor much about the female anatomy either)

  8. Kristian Walsh

    Other things "stolen" from Apple...

    The cards in Solitaire, as well as the standard icon-set for Windows 3.0 were designed by Susan Kare, graphic artist whose other famous contributions to computing included the icon set for the Apple Macintosh, as well as its default bitmap fonts (and a hidden 32x32 portrait of Steve Jobs). To add to the set, as an independent design consultant in the 1990s, Kare also provided the standard icon suite for OS/2 Warp at the same time as doing the Windows 3.0 images... and later the Linux-based Nautilus desktop.

    1. don't you hate it when you lose your account Bronze badge
      Pint

      Re: Other things "stolen" from Apple...

      I'm at an absolute loss at why you have a down vote :)) have an up and a beer.

    2. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Other things "stolen" from Apple...

      One of the few artists I know by name, along with Larry Ewing and Michael Whelan.

    3. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

      Re: Other things "stolen" from Apple...

      That's some talent for sure!

      It was very hard to create icons in those days, often with a bit depth of 1 (monochrome), and an awful resolution. I've tried, and it wasn't pretty.

  9. User McUser

    Speaking of OS/2...

    The IBM provided version of Solitaire for OS/2 included the extremely helpful menu option "Cheat" - which, as you may have guessed, let you put any card anywhere.

    1. cschneid

      Re: Speaking of OS/2...

      And if you cheated repeatedly it would pop up a dialog asking if this was really necessary.

  10. Detective Emil
    Thumb Up

    The cards were designed by Susan Kare, who is also responsible for the, umm, iconic Mac icon set. A quick search will locate an outfit who will sell you a physical set.

  11. RyokuMas Silver badge
    Trollface

    ... because someone had to...

    LOOK at that FLATTY MCFLATSO INTERFACE! We should ALL go BACK to using ASCII CHARACTERS!!! Moving AWAY from the CLI is the *WORST* *THING* *EVAAAARRRRRR*!!!! I blame the COMMIES for the GUI!!! ANYONE who DISAGREES is a HOWLER MONKEY!!!!!!!!!!

    ... eveyone's thinking it. I'm just saying it...

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: ... because someone had to...

      "... eveyone's thinking it. I'm just saying it..."

      You forgot..."It's ALL Obambis FAULT!!11!1!!!1"

    2. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

      Re: ... because someone had to...

      I kinda like the mouseless interfaces. Handling a terminal with some excellent add-on stuff (hidden behind obscure Ctrl+key commands) sorted the real programmers from the rest.

  12. DJV Silver badge

    I'm glad to say...

    ...that the best version, the one that came with XP, can still be run on Windows 10. I was horrified at what they did for the Vista/7 version, along with the equally crappy version of Spider. When upgrading to a later OS/PC, I always popped the XP versions on.

    A quick search will show (possibly*) suitable download locations for the XP versions of both Solitaire and Spider.

    * Don't blame me if the version you download comes with "unwanted extras"!

  13. Imhotep

    PCs helped develop my strong right hand*

    I remember being at a conference where the presenter had a PowerPoint up, one of the slides having a graph that showed a steep drop in user productivity once the PCs had been upgraded from DOS to Windows.

    The drop was a mystery they couldn't explain.

    He then closed PowerPoint, revealing the open Solitaire game.

    *By constant mouse use

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: PCs helped develop my strong right hand*

      A lot of the productivity loss was also people constantly playing with colour schemes, typefaces and later, themes.

  14. bombastic bob Silver badge
    Devil

    Solitaire most likely sold MORE copies of Windows 3.0 than ANYTHING ELSE

    I've said this before and I say it again, to make a point: Windows 3.0, with its 3D Skeuomorphic interface, virtual 80386 mode for DOS legacy applications, and the alltime favorite Solitaire game, was a TOTAL WINning combination for Micros~1 when it released in the early 1990's.

    Perfect timing, JUST enough glitter to make people comment (in the stores, I heard them) about how much they liked the Solitaire game, and turn those positive comments into ACTUAL PURCHASE (not like "it just comes on the computer you bought, deal with it" but actually WANTING the thing), to be an all-time MARKETING SUCCESS! And my favorite version is actually 'FreeCell', which was first included with Win32s and the '95 beta "Chicago" (and maybe NT as well, though I can't remember if NT 3.x had it).

    (Nowadays, though, I use Aisle Riot on FreeBSD and Linux)

    Micros~1, *PLEASE* look at this past, INCREDIBLE success, and give us an OS that we *WANT* as much as we wanted Windows 3.0 - with Solitaire!

  15. C. P. Cosgrove
    Mushroom

    And . . . There was . . . Ka -Boom !

    Variously known as Mines or Minesweeper this was the other great time wasting educational game. Allegedly to improve Left/Right mouse clicking. Emabarassingly my wife got better at this than I was. Her record for the full size frame was 2 seconds better than mine.

    So I stopped playing it.

    Huff !

    Huff !

    Chris Cosgrove

    1. Beafy

      Re: And . . . There was . . . Ka -Boom !

      I can beat that. Got lucky once and cleared the whole field with the 1st click.

  16. BenDwire
    Facepalm

    Thanks for that ...

    Well I've just wasted several hours running up old versions of windows in Virtualbox, just to see which one could run the "card cascade" at the correct speed. Answer, Win2k.

    If Aisleriot added that "feature" then I'd be a happy bunny!

  17. Martipar

    I still use Windows 3

    The 3.11 WFW version on my DOSBox installation. I have heard it is possible to install Win 95 on DOSBox too, though i've not tried it.

    1. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: I still use Windows 3

      I actually still have a real working computer running Win 3.11, a 486 DX2 66. (Well, it should still work, but I admit I haven't tried booting it in decades.)

  18. Pangasinan Philippines

    The Solitaire cheat was handy

    I missed that cheat where you could advance a single card from the deck using Ctrl/shift +another?

    Helped to complete tricky games. Not available now of course.

    A lady at work who was confronted by Windows 3 and mouse was afraid to touch the mouse in case something "bad" happened.

    I introduced her to Solitaire and her phobia disappeared.

    Oh, and hard disk prices were a GBP per Megabyte!

    Good days.

  19. John Jennings

    Amstrad 2386

    Great machine, back in the day, with an Achilles heal

    I sold almost 300 individual orders for (perhaps 500 machines) of those boxes in a small independent SOHO store- every one with a factory replaced HD. the 386 DX CPU was powerful at the time - for a grand (I think) it was far and above every other machine out there for the price.

    I remember that the cmos battery was 4 AA batteries that lived under the screen - they had to be changed while the machine was running AFAIK.

    I think they successfully sued segate on the HD - but it was too late for Amstrad to recover its lead in the PC market.

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