back to article Happy birthday Windows 3.1, aka 'the one that Visual Basic kept crashing on'

Time flies whether you're having fun or simply trying to work out which Registry change left your system hopelessly borked, and before you know it, Windows 3.1 is turning 30. Windows 3.1 was more than a user interface refresh of the preceding Windows 3.0. Arriving on April 6, 1992, and still on MS-DOS, the operating …

  1. heyrick Silver badge

    Ah, my good friend General Protection Failure. I know him well.

    1. Dwarf


      Don't forget his other commanding officers. Major Problem and Kernel Panic.

      1. AndrueC Silver badge

        All dealt with by Corporal Punishment.

        1. ShadowSystems

          There was also Major Snafu, Major FlusterCluck, & General Remf.

          1. FozzyBear

            They're the project managers I currently have to deal with, add Captain NoClue and that's the whole senior project team

          2. innominatus

            Post mortem advice from Dr Watson

            1. Martin-73 Silver badge

              Underrated twee...oh. Wrong forum. LOL, but have an upvote anyway

      2. MyffyW Silver badge

        Ah! Windows 3.1 ... I remember preparing the guest bedroom for Mr Cock-up on a regular basis.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      general protection fault...

      1. The commentard formerly known as Mister_C

        Re: GFP

        @AC - you are Muphry and I claim my five pounds.

      2. bombastic bob Silver badge

        Re: GFP

        GPF could often be avoided by use of an undocumented API call, "GlobalHandleNoRIP()" - which would not GPF if you passed it a bad handle. But 'GlobalHandle()' and related memory functions WOULD.

        Windows 3.1 documented these formerly undocumented functions. I think it was related to an anti-trust investigation, though. Many software devs accused Micros~1 of providing insider knowledge of such things to the software groups responsible for Word, Excel, and so on, giving Micros~1 products a "does not crash" advantage over Word Perfect, Lotus 123, and others.

        At least, at that time, it was like that.

        (I had to use this function as well, to validate handles passed via messages with DDE, so that random crashes would not happen - DDE with a VB application, was a little buggy)

    3. SirWired 1

      Well, at least they disappeared in later versions!

      Kudos to Microsoft for completely eliminating the General Protection Fault... by renaming it to Unrecoverable Application Error, and then Illegal Operation. Now if only they could have eradicated the Blue Screen of Death by making it purple or something instead.

      1. ShadowSystems

        Re: Well, at least they disappeared in later versions!

        I want the TieDye Hypnotic LSD inspired Irridescent Screen of Nobody Gives A Fuck.

        I don't know what error it's supposed to notify about, I'll be too busy going crosseyed over all the pretty colours. =-)p

        1. David 132 Silver badge

          Re: Well, at least they disappeared in later versions!

          How about replacing the BSOD with a looping animation of Futurama's Hypnotoad?

          (Note for ShadowSystems and any other users with screen reader software - that link is just to a 10 hour cut of Hypnotoad in all his glory; if you already know who the character is, you're not missing anything if you don't click it)

          1. Martin-73 Silver badge

            Re: Well, at least they disappeared in later versions!

            Huge upvote for both the reference, the warning, and being aware of limitations. Have 1024beers

      2. MyffyW Silver badge

        Re: Well, at least they disappeared in later versions!

        I think mauve has the most RAM

        1. DJV Silver badge

          Re: Well, at least they disappeared in later versions!

          Upvoted - I recognised that quote immediately. Younger readers might want to go here.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pros: you could zip a bare install of Windows up. Test your installation. Zap C:\WINDOWS Rinse and repeat

    Cons: the registry.

    1. Paul Herber Silver badge

      <Pedant mode>you could zip up a bare install of Windows.

      </Pedant mode>


      1. Bill Gray

        "This is the sort of pedantry up with which I will not put." -- Winston Churchill

        (Attributed to him, anyway. Seems to be some doubt as to whether it was actually his comment. )

        1. David 132 Silver badge

          In my experience, just about every witty or meaningful quote ever is automatically attributed to either Winston Churchill or Mark Twain.

          "640KB should be enough for anybody" - Mark Twain

          1. Woza

            In my experience, just about every witty or meaningful quote ever is automatically attributed to either Winston Churchill or Mark Twain. - Winston Churchill

            1. Robin

              "Don't believe everything you read on the Internet." — Abraham Lincoln

              1. dajames

                "If you really want people to take an idea seriously, attribute it to someone famous on the internet" -- Thomas Jefferson

      2. MyffyW Silver badge

        It's my infinitive and I'll split it if I want to.

        [Boldly goes to get her coat]

        1. Martin-73 Silver badge

          Not worn this coat before

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Used to copy the contents of the floppies into a separate folder and run setup from there - when installing, or something had gone wrong and needed reinstalling.

      Also help when installing graphic drivers - when it will ask for a numbered disk. Depending on whether you had the 5.25" or the 3.5" floppy version, you ended up putting them all through and hoped it found the right file.....

      1. ShadowSystems

        At the AC, re: Zipping Windows.

        Thank you for that nudge down memory lane. It brings back memories of using Zip to create a backup copy of my current system, move the Zip file off drive, & only then run the installer for some bit of suspect program.

        If/when the system went to hell, I rebooted to DOS, unZipped the backup copy to overwrite the current files, & rebooted to a working computer.

        Now I've got a computer a gazillion times faster, with an obscene by then standards amount of RAM, & enough HD space to store the entire Library Of Congress a dozen times over, but there's no way in hell such classic backup recovery methods can do the job, more's the pity.

        *Hands you a pint & clinks rims*

        Here's to "progress", eh? =-J

        1. DrAJS

          Re: At the AC, re: Zipping Windows.


          1. NorthIowan

            Re: At the AC, re: Zipping Windows.

            Or Macrium Reflect.

      2. Martin an gof Silver badge

        Used to copy the contents of the floppies into a separate folder

        I did something similar at work. Someone much cleverer than I had got a Netware system running, but then left a bunch of bare PCs requiring WfW3.11 etc. I created a DOS bootable floppy which included the NE2000 network card driver and sufficient bits to get online with the filestore where I had stashed the contents of the three DOS and five(?) Windows floppies, and could happily be installing (or re-installing or re-re-installing) on half a dozen machines at the same time. Boot from the floppy, magic incantation, take the floppy to the next machine.

        Given that up until that point my experience of Windows was extremely limited, and my experience with DOS only slightly better (university was mostly VAX/VMS and I had Acorn at home), I thought I was doing pretty well :-)

        Then again, I couldn't understand how my RiscOS machine had a full OS plus desktop plus applications stored (mostly) in 2MB of ROM (RO3) while the clunky WfW required the contents of about 10MB of floppies installing to HDD just for the OS and desktop.


        1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          how novel

          " the NE2000 network card driver "

          Ah I remeber that , I had to rewire the autoexec.bat on dozens of PCs to check for a successful connection to the Novell network and go back and try again if it hadnt worked.

          This was because our connection to the main site was so shitty. It was discovered after some weeks/months that this was because a switch (that i wasnt allowed to meddle with) was on "half duplex" .

          Indeed this seemed to be the usual cause of any network issues throughout the 90s at the 2 places I worked at . That , and the card opting for 10baseT instead of 100.

          "oh was on 10meg , who knew" was a ticket closing resolution that infuriated those of us not deemed high ranking enough to investigate or god forbid fix these issues and prevent them happening again.

          We were allowed to take a lot of shit from the users about it though.

          Then at some point near the turn of the century some bright spark at Cisco or somewhere must have thought "why dont we get the switch and the PC / other switch to negotiate the best connection rather than picking a speed/duplex mode at random"

          1. hayzoos

            Re: how novel

            I worked that helldesk scenario. The "network support guys" would test and reply back i"t answers ping so it's not a network issue."

    3. Tim99 Silver badge

      Yes, back in the day, when I was testing our installer packages, I set up a multi-boot separately partitioned drive. Copied Windows and Program Files into a backup folder then ran and tested the installer. Then fixed the installer, closed down, started up another copy of Windows, deleted the altered installation folders, copied the backups to their original locations, then rebooted the original partition. Simpler times…

    4. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Pros: you could zip a bare install of Windows up

      Cons: You had to spend hours mucking around with config.sys and autoexec.bat to get the damned thing to work, especially if you had network bindings to contend with.

      And some drivers really, really didn't like interacting with himem.sys

      (Our setup was IBM PS/2's token ring networks and OS/2 LAN Server. Most people just ran MS-DOS 3.3 or 5 and the IBM terminal emulator but some of us - me included - used stuff that enabled multitasking like DesQView. Then we tried out Windows 3.0 and 3.11 - neither impressed particularly especially when compared to OS/2)

    5. Auntie Dix Bronze badge

      What a cheery spin, on a $hitty, proprietary "database"!

      "The Windows Registry was (and remains) a database of settings hidden within the environment, ostensibly intended to replace or complement the .INI configuration files scattered throughout the environment both by Windows and applications targeting the platform. It is a handy database, but one that has become considerably more complex in the intervening 30 years."

      That's a cheery spin, on a $hitty, proprietary "database."

      The Registry was intended as DELIBERATE LOCK-IN, a poisoned octopus of tentacles to ensnare the portability of Windows itself and all applications.

      No longer could you simply copy a program's directory (including .INI file) to another machine. M$ took a dump on that, costing henceforth countless man hours spent on file-backup problems and Registry hassles.

      1. Ian 55

        Re: What a cheery spin, on a $hitty, proprietary "database"!

        True, but also a workaround for the 64KB limit on the size of the critical shared .ini files everyone used before.

  3. CommonBloke

    Registry, ugh

    I did have a problem with the windows registry very recently. After installing Nim (programming language) and Geany, messing around with "open with default application", somehow, windows decided that ALL .exe files should be opened with Geany. It was the weirdest thing to ever happen, I couldn't run any programs by double clicking the icon or their shortcuts, so no Firefox, Chrome, Blender or Windows Explorer!

    However, files with associated programs still opened them, so while I couldn't start a browser from its own shortcut, opening a desktop web link would fire it. I did come across a registry fix script, which now I keep in a bunch of separate backups, just in case this happens again.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Registry, ugh

      That's not really a registry problem, though. That's an Explorer bug. With any luck, someone at Microsoft is reading this and can enter it into their bug tracker. (Since I don't have hours to waste crafting a "simplest possible test case" and opening a ticket on an expensive support account that I don't have, I'm unable to do it myself.)

      1. CommonBloke

        Re: Registry, ugh

        I thought the bugs tracked MS, not the other way around

        1. Paul Herber Silver badge

          Re: Registry, ugh

          I raise you Visual SourceSafe.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Registry, ugh

            I have personal, recent experience with VSS. It is pain and confusion. Every now and again, we would have the conversation..."is this problem caused by us, or has the VSS database finally exploded for good?"

          2. dajames

            Re: Registry, ugh

            I raise you Visual SourceSafe.

            Oh come on! That was miles better than Microsoft Delta!

    2. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

      Re: Registry, ugh

      Ugh, methinks that one was user error, because I did a similar thing once upon a time. Right-click a .lnk file, Open With => Notepad, _and_ somehow check the Always box. (In recent Windows I don't even see how to reproduce those steps.) The system's use of .lnk files runs deep, so my advice is don't make this mistake. Luckily it was a VM so just restarting fixed it, but no credit to me for that.

      1. CommonBloke

        Re: Registry, ugh

        It was user error, I did something which triggered a registry change for every executable, or a registry change to how WinExplorer treated .exe. What I did that caused that, I don't remember, but the fact that the only way to fix it was by downloading a registry changing script and praying it wouldn't bork my machine further shows how problematic the whole thing is when it's borked.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Registry, ugh

        The problem often was that the "Open always..." was checked by default. If you didn't remember to uncheck it...

        Moreover a badly written installer trying to modify the registry without any real clue about file associations work could create issues as well.

  4. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Happy Birthday!

    Those were lovely days, I was always happy buying a new version and playing with the updates ... look at it these days and an update back then just helped pay the programmers developing the code without giving away all my information. It was so nice easy to just load a floppy disk and update the system, and the updates were relatively bug free.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Happy Birthday!

      Yes, the first developer conference I went to was Windows 3.1 in beta. "toolhelp.dll" and common dialogs were a HUGE win for everyone, as was the documenting of previously undocumented functions (though some of that was related to anti-trust investigations).

      From the article: Windows 3.1 sold very well, with an appealing user interface.

      I *HAVE* to say it. Before Windows 3.0 the user interface was *VERY* 2D FLATTY FLATSO FLATASS McFLATFACE.

      After Windows 3.0, it was all 3D SKEUOMORPHIC, as was OS/2 1.2 . *IT* *WAS* *THE* *WAY* *THINGS* *OUGHT* *TO* *BE* !!! And, the rate at which people ADOPTED THIS NEW WINDOWS INTERFACE was *EVIDENCE* *OF* *SAME* !!!

      Windows 3.1 made Windows 3.0 *BETTER*, more stable, and so on.

      But of course I also liked the Start menu in WIn '9x, particularly because it allowed you to have hierarchical menus. As computer systems getr larger you NEED the hierarchical menus, and Program Manager was getting CUMBERSOME. So evolutionary changes like that are welcome.


      There. I said it.

      Happy Birthday, Windows 3.1, which came at a time when I was looking forward to things Micros~1 was creating. At that time, they had a true grasp on the future of computers.

  5. aerogems Silver badge

    If You Ask Me

    The old Windows Program Manager is still a superior UI compared to this desktop thing we have now. Just add something akin to the taskbar and you've got an interface that could work reasonably well for touch as well as mouse/keyboard. Decades before Windows 8, Microsoft already had everything they needed, but insisted on trying to reinvent the wheel, and we all know how well that went over.

    1. Paul Herber Silver badge

      Re: If You Ask Me

      ' trying to reinvent the wheel'

      I think someone has an axle to grind.

      1. aerogems Silver badge

        Re: If You Ask Me

        Maybe I have flour to mill! You ever think of that!?

        1. Paul Herber Silver badge

          Re: If You Ask Me

          So many things I never think of ...

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: If You Ask Me

          herbs to press...

      2. Robin

        Re: If You Ask Me

        "I think someone has an axle to grind."

        I'm getting tyred of all these puns.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: If You Ask Me

      pc use exploded with the Windows95, Packard Bell, and Best Buy triad... mom/pop and every kid going to university was getting one

      1. J. Cook Silver badge

        Re: If You Ask Me

        Ah, Packard Hell and Worst Buy... I remember those days. Unfortunately.

  6. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Win 3.1 allowed us/me to group programmes according to function. Not to have a trillion icons all over the desktop. Not to have them in an alphabetical ("Start") list according to whatever obscure and unhelpful name the publisher decided to give them (or worse in a folder created by the publisher under their even more obscure company name).

    That simple, sensible option survived to Windows 7. Then they started trying to prevent it, making it more and more complicated to do. Just about possible still in 10.

    What happened after 7 strikes me as part of a company lunacy that seeks to make Windows as unrelated to what users want to do with their own machines as possible.

    And they still haven fixed the bug that means you have to edit the registry and add a ,s to the path if you want to use custom recycle bin icons. What the ,s tells Windows, who knows. Why it needs to be part of the path to the icon that Windows is already able to use, just not change to beggars understanding.

    1. Fred Daggy Silver badge

      File manager

      I think the one thing I really, really miss was the Windows 3.11 file manager. Simple, elegant, just worked. No DRM processing crap in the background.

      IIRC, it was even in NT4. If memory isn't faulty, then I know it handles NTFS permissions.

      Nowadays there is robocopy to stop explorer getting in the way, but by heck File Manager was the paragon of small, simple - do one thing and do it well. Explorer, by comparison, is a Fluster Cluck.

      1. ilmari

        Re: File manager

        At least program manager survived until at least Windows 95, probably file manager too. They were hidden in in the C:\Windows\ folder.

    2. Binraider Silver badge

      The new paradigm is search for everything. Windows key followed by program name is the most efficient way to use the "new" paradigm. In practise, that means using it more like a command-line with autocomplete for everything - the actual start menu itself just doesn't get used.

      I would in so, so many ways be happy with a very clean "program loader" instead of all the bloat. Perhaps why old computers are so popular. It wasn't that long ago where it was possible to understand every single facet of a computer.

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Windows key followed by program name only works if you remember;

        that you already have 1 or more programmes that will do the thing you want,

        that you can remember the sodding name and

        that when you type it in Search doesn't throw up something vaguely similar in spelling, but not the thing you need.

        I also recommend sacrificing a goat to Belial.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ah.....the right to innovate......

    Xerox Parc

    Tim Patterson (MS-DOS)

    Stac Electronics

    Lattice C

    Dave Fulton (Foxbase)

    Robert Gaskins (Powerpoint)


    ....and so on!!!

    So.....OTHER people do the innovation.....and M$ comes along with a suitcase full of folding green!!!

    ....maybe M$ actually mean the right to innovate with cash?

  8. Usually 1027309

    Time sink

    *bummer* How did this article not mention the true time overhead of windows 3.1.... It came with Chips Challenge, if you were fortunate enough to have the entertainment pack, oh the hours wasted!

    1. JimmyPage

      Re: Chips Challenge

      I pulled all the level codes off for my lad in 2002 when they ran it at his primary school.

      All of a sudden he had mates a go-go.

    2. aerogems Silver badge

      Re: Time sink

      Brings back memories of frustrating the teachers in school when I would reboot systems running Windows 3.1 and hold down the Shift key to skip booting into Windows. Then I'd load up QBasic and play Gorilla or Snake. And the pinball game that was bundled with the Win95 CD that most people probably never knew existed.

      1. David 132 Silver badge

        Re: Time sink

        Different Pinball game - I think - but it's now possible to play Windows XP's 3D Pinball Space Cadet under Windows 10 or 11.

        Me, I'm losing far too much time lately to Pinball Dreams on my Amiberry Amiga emulator!

  9. AndrueC Silver badge

    I once removed enough guff from the installation to have it boot off a 3.5" floppy. Admittedly you needed a lot of patience and there wasn't much room on the floppy for anything else :)

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    " [...] even if the stacks of floppy disks used to install it are long gone."

    I suspect I still have a set somewhere. IIRC it was W95 that required a lot more floppies.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      A colleague has an autistic nephew* that has a fascination with old OS's. Managed to find a website where you can download them

      * I'm a horder - subtle difference....

      Does any body know if the Paris Air Traffic Control ever updated? IIRC reading an article a few years ago that they were still running on Win3.1

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        I have the discs around somewhere, but it's easier to Google and hit download (especially given twenty years lurking in a damp stone house, the discs might not even be viable).

        Why? To have a play on a Pi using Dosbox.

        Why? Why not!

    2. heyrick Silver badge

      I seem to recall it was six or seven 1.44MB floppies for Windows. The core system was on, like, the first three and the rest were drivers for things.

      Windows 95? If I remember, it was about fifteen discs, but it used some weirdo format that squeezed nearly 1.7MB onto each disc. I guess that means you're screwed if your floppy drive these days is a USB gizmo.

      1. Tim99 Silver badge

        I suspect that one reason for the weirdo format was to stop casual users copying them and passing them around like sweeties, I seem to remember that Microsoft Plus! for Windows 95 was pretty expensive, and that your local guru could help out - FDFORMAT ?

        1. Sandtitz Silver badge

          It was called DMF format, and reduced the amount of disks by 15% (roughly). Less disks to duplicate, faster install, smaller packaging. In theory at least. Perhaps even stopped someone from pirating Windows but there was nothing to stop copying the CD contents anyway.

          I recall Windows 95 was more often installed from a CD drive anyway so you just needed a working DOS installation to update, or just use the boot disk since Win95 CD wasn't bootable. NT4 in 1996 was (AFAIK) the first bootable Windows CD and back then not every computer supported booting from CD anyway.

          Similary, IBM had already debuted with their own, even higher density, XDF floppy format, and OS/2 Warp installation disks were XDF formatted disks, a year before Windows 95 was released. IBM also released the OS/2 Fixpacks as XDF images.

          I always thought the DOS 720KB/1.44MB format was quite wasteful when the same disks could hold more data with an Amiga or Apple system. Back then 2M and fdformat made some sense as long as you understood that there were reliability and incompatibility problems.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not gone

      I have got the installation disk still in my drawer.

      Just in case.

  11. JDX Gold badge

    I quite liked 3.1...

    And 3.11 was pretty great at the time (if you could get the networking to actually work).

    I never realised 3.1 was such a change from 3.0, since I was fortunate not to use earlier versions.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wow, I forgot (or never knew) that 3.1 had the registry. All the important bits seemed to be in .ini or .cfg files.

    1. captain veg Silver badge

      Registry was there to support OLE. Moving setting out of .ini files was more of a Windows 95 thing.


      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        The registry we know, I suspect is more due to NT, which W95 borrowed from.

  13. SirWired 1

    Windows 3.1 had a Registry? Huh; I had no idea.

    I used Win 3.11 for a pretty-intense year when I was a freshman in college. I don't remember ever beating on the thing, whereas when I moved to Windows 95 (simultaneously with starting a job doing support for it) I spent countless hours in hand-to-keyboard combat with regedit. (Getting Novell to work on a mid-90's IBM Aptiva was a challenge, to put it mildly) I guess the Win 3.1 registry didn't actually do much, or at least didn't muck too heavily with the inner workings of Windows?

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: Windows 3.1 had a Registry? Huh; I had no idea.

      According to Wikipedia, the registry in 3.1 was for COM components. It wasn't until 95 that it was expanded to deal with the mass mess of .ini files.

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Windows 3.1 had a Registry? Huh; I had no idea.

      the registry in 3.1 was not NEARLY as polluted as it is now.

      OLE 2.0 was in its infancy...

  14. philstubbington

    Must have been around the time I had to install QEMM (Quarterdeck Extended Memory Manager) on about 80 PCs so the Novell network client software would fit into the limited memory everyone had.

    Ah, those were the days :)

  15. Blackjack Silver badge

    What's next? Microsoft Bob birthday? Right in 2025 is gonna 30 years.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge

      "Microsoft Bob" - add a 2D FLATTY FLATSO FLATASS McFLATFACE interface, and it could become Windows 12...

  16. Lawrie-aj


    How well I remember the day when an MS person at an Ingram Micro dealer fest said with a straight face and a bit of humour, “The UAE ( Unidentified Application Error of Windows 3) is dead. We renamed it GPF.”

    Then there were all of the users who blamed everything on EMM386 instead of their crap RAM or CONFIG.SYS configurations.

    1. mtfrank

      Re: GPGs

      Haha! I googled GPF and got "Gallons Per Flush".

      1. David 132 Silver badge

        Re: GPGs

        Last time I bought a new toilet (remodeling a bathroom… it’s not like I buy them on a daily basis) its flush power was illustrated, somewhat bizarrely, with a picture of 10 pool/snooker balls being flushed.

        As I said to my wife… if you stand up and look down at the toilet bowl and see that you’ve just passed a load of pool balls, you probably need to see a specialist…

  17. Doctor Tarr

    Good Memories…

    …. No doubt with rose tinted glasses.

    I started my first IT job at this time. Had to do many 3.1 and 3.11 installs and fixes as IT support. All user documents were stored on a netware server* so a simple reinstall was the best option. You just had to set the desktop theme to the one the user had before, and they were happy - even if it was the migraine inducing Hot Dog.

    There wasn’t much you couldn’t fix without pkzip, laplink and a serial cable (if you needed to get data off the ‘dead’ machine)

    *these were never referred to as servers. They were called the Winchester in respect of the dual 1GB drives they contained.

  18. 45RPM Silver badge

    It was a bit dog slow though. After years of using PCs, this was the straw that broke the camels back for me.

    I had a 20MHz Opus PC V 386 at the time, with a generous 8MB RAM, 160MB hard disk and 387 co-pro - and it felt like it was running in concrete boots. Admittedly, when I upgraded to a 486DX2 it was snappy - and my friend with a 12MHz 286 really suffered (you could see the windows drawing rather slowly on that one!)

    I needed a 68k machine for learning 68k assembly. I bought an 8MHz Mac SE - and was astonished to see this lowly machine, albeit black and white only, steamroller the 386 for just about everything except playing games and maths heavy tasks. I was sold. Windows was out, and it was Mac from then on for me (admittedly with a heavy dose of Linux and I still have two Windows machines at home. But the daily runner is a fruit)

    1. quxinot

      Around this era, I recall if your computer was 9 months old, it was decidedly out of date, and drastically slower than the latest.

      Whereas today, the hardware has been perfectly acceptable for years, but the software is just slowing down as it bloats. Today's 'slow computer' probably just needs the software trimmed. Yesterday's 'slow computer' was measurably slower on tasks a user would actually do.

  19. Tom 7 Silver badge


    I remember getting a copy of Petzold's Programming Windows 3.1 and tearing into it with glee. In a few hours I'd got a program where two of us on separate machines could text each other in a split window. By the following day we could text and modify the same drawing and the boss decided it was time to get back to proper work.

    I found him trying to teach himself C not long later but he never got good enough to use the code he'd swiped.

    1. captain veg Silver badge

      Re: Petzold!

      That was the book that launched Visual Basic!

      Many of us who had preferred C over assembler for DOS programs suddenly discovered that the same calculus applied in spades for GUIs. I faithfully typed in the 80-odd lines of code necessary to get the words "Hello world" on the screen using the Windows SDK (compiled in DOS, natch) and decided that life was too short.


      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Petzold!

        Same here. I dabbled in programming in the DOS days. The Windows SDK killed my enthusiasm.

      2. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Petzold!

        That's where Rule #1 "Laziness is the Mother of Invention" comes into play. You dont type in shit you can cut and paste from elsewhere. I think that's why people hate C++ - they're just not lazy enough to sit down and learn templates.

  20. revenant

    Gone, but not forgotten

    Our first family PC was a Packard Bell machine running 3.1. It gave good service until I fried the motherboard while trying to 'improve' it.

    But I kept the hard drive and it lives on (all 170MB of it) in VirtualBox. Mouse integration is a bit iffy, but other than that, it functions well. I occasionally fire it up just to remind myself how simple life used to be before OS and application bloat (and modern UIs) set us on a never-ending upgrade train to nowhere.

  21. Juha Meriluoto

    30 years...

    ...and no amount of exorcism has been abel to remove The Registry, a veritable invention of the Devil himself...

    1. hayzoos

      Re: 30 years...

      And systemd brings the beast to Linux, along with binary logs.

  22. RobLang

    It was the first time I had tech envy

    My Dad had a Zenith 8088 running DOS at home on 5 1/4" floppies and that felt very cool and professional. It's all he needed for the kind of work that he did on it. I wrote roleplaying games in Wordstar on it, printing out on the furiously loud dot matrix printer. My mate's Dad had a brand new 386 with 3.1 and I never looked at the Zenith in the same way again.

  23. Sloth77

    elephant-on-a-traffic cone


  24. Plest Silver badge

    Simpler times...

    I remember walking into a shop on Tottenham Court Rd and buying a sealed and boxed copy of the original Windows 3.1, manuals and the floppies came sealed inside the cardboard envelope with a a window on the side. A warrenty card you posted back to MS!

    The first real, proper version of Windows you could actually do stuff with, use it to get productive. As others have said, a shareware version of pkzip.exe was all you needed to fo a full backup of Windows!

    Simpler times...

  25. Dabooka

    Ah, fond memories

    I think printer drivers were discs #12 and #13?

    We must have all had a installation set of these tings either in a dedicated hard case, wallet or often a big sodding elastic band. In many ways I preferred it back then to now.

  26. TheGriz

    "Support for Window 3.1 ended more than 20 years ago, but its influence continues to be felt today, even if the stacks of floppy disks used to install it are long gone."

    I actually still have a set of the 13 1.44mb original Microsoft Windows 3.11 installation diskettes. So hate to correct you, but they are NOT "long gone". LOL

  27. fredesmite2

    And it still dog shit 30 years later

    The only improvement in Windoz since is the configuration option that lets you select the Blue Screen of Death with another color to be more "user friendly "

  28. steviebuk Silver badge


    Didn't realise it started in Windows 3.1 thought it was Windows 95. Always thought it was an attempt to stop piracy.

  29. IanTP

    My First PC

    It was from Radio Rentals (who remembers them) it was a 486 sx33 and came with Windows 3.11 for workgroups, my first upgrade was to a 486 DX4/100 and a friend who had a Win 95 CD, I still miss them both.

    Mines the one with a box of floppys in the pocket :)

  30. frankyunderwood123

    Oh, the memories...

    3.11 (or was it 3.1.1) - "Windows for workgroups", I seem to recall, was the very first desktop OS I had access to - I'd seen the very first Macintosh in a department store back in 1985, but it was so far out of my reach. I was on my good old ZX Spectrum still.

    In the years between 1985 and 1994, it was DOS and IBM clones, once I started working - heck, I didn't even use a computer at work until about 1992. (I was a draughtsman, using pen and ink on a drawing board)

    I got a job at a company called "advanced cabling", with my new found draughtsman CAD skills. The company specialised in - yep, you guessed it, cabling for computer systems. As such, they were fairly up to speed with what was happening.

    However, as a fairly lowly CAD guy, churning out boring diagrams of cabling installations, they gave me an old 286 to work on.

    I mastered 3.11 in about ... heck, a day, just dropping right into DOS and poking about.

    1995 rolled around, by that time, I'd been poking about on the company network.

    In those days, very little was locked down - I learned to discover network shares in DOS - not exactly difficult - and found, oh my, windows 95 install files on a server.


    I upgraded from 3.11 to win95 on that 286, with a 512kb graphics card over the course of a week - I had nothing else to do - I finally somehow managed to get it running, although obviously it ran pig slow.

    I knew one of the guys in the IT department who had access to hardware and he sneakily helped me with a 386 rig - all of this, completely behind the back of my boss.

    He was clueless.

    One day, his favourite secretary was given a brand new computer - yeah, she was young, sexy and sadly clueless, spending most of her time painting her nails, but it was decided that she should get an upgrade before the people that actually used computers.

    I recall him parading the machine about the office, "Look, we've got windows 95!" - wh00t.

    Some days later, he came into my poky little cubicle area just as I was booting up - big splash screen "Windows 95"

    He was livid, he blew his top - "Why, what, WTF? - why are you using this?"

    I was given a disciplinary and nearly lost my job.

    Oddly enough, a colleague of mine DID lose his job for another reason, got drunk at a lunch work do on his final day - and the idiot keyed the bosses car before he left.

    I got the blame for it, they couldn't prove it, I handed in my notice.

    Good times.

  31. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

    Antique but still not forgotten

    Would anyone like to guess how many systems STILL run windows 3.1 ?

    1. Binraider Silver badge

      Re: Antique but still not forgotten

      It's still widely used HMI's for old industrial control systems. I can think of around 50 sites in the UK that I know for definite still have an instance of it in production, and shall continue to do so for some time. There are a whole lot more that have DOS machines as HMI's too.

      Airgap and ports behind lock and key mean these systems are fine for intended application. Hardware lifetime will ultimately limit them.

      I keep copies of 3.1 around in a VM for certain old applications that aren't cost effective to redevelop onto current platforms. I also have some real metal to run old OS on CF to IDE. A lot of these old applications are sensitive to hardware timings and need real metal to behave.

      IEC60870 and similar specifications are interesting technologies to work on if you fancy a niche market to work in.

      As noted elsewhere in the comments, swapping for new is obviously possible; but generally not cost effective; and new kit invariably does not have the working lifetime (software-related) that old, simple stuff did. Something of a fan of VXWorks amongst newer hardware types myself (which thankfully does have longevity, though resellers building on top of it often don't have the same attitude to long life - they need to sell you the next model...)

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