Ah, my good friend General Protection Failure. I know him well.
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 …
Thursday 7th April 2022 14:12 GMT Dwarf
Thursday 7th April 2022 15:57 GMT Anonymous Coward
Thursday 7th April 2022 16:39 GMT The commentard formerly known as Mister_C
Friday 8th April 2022 04:31 GMT bombastic bob
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)
Thursday 7th April 2022 18:04 GMT 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.
Thursday 7th April 2022 18:24 GMT ShadowSystems
Thursday 7th April 2022 19:20 GMT David 132
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)
Friday 8th April 2022 07:49 GMT MyffyW
Thursday 7th April 2022 12:41 GMT Anonymous Coward
Thursday 7th April 2022 14:13 GMT Paul Herber
Thursday 7th April 2022 15:50 GMT 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.....
Thursday 7th April 2022 18:34 GMT 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
Friday 8th April 2022 08:21 GMT Martin an gof
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.
Friday 8th April 2022 09:14 GMT Prst. V.Jeltz
" 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"
Thursday 7th April 2022 16:42 GMT Tim99
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…
Monday 11th April 2022 11:45 GMT CrazyOldCatMan
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)
Thursday 12th May 2022 21:09 GMT Auntie Dix
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.
Thursday 7th April 2022 13:00 GMT CommonBloke
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.
Thursday 7th April 2022 14:28 GMT Ken Hagan
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.)
Thursday 7th April 2022 20:24 GMT yetanotheraoc
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.
Thursday 7th April 2022 21:14 GMT 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.
Friday 8th April 2022 08:49 GMT Anonymous Coward
Thursday 7th April 2022 13:06 GMT Version 1.0
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.
Friday 8th April 2022 04:18 GMT bombastic bob
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.
BUT! THE! REGRESSION! BACK! TO! 2D FLATTY FLATSO FLATASS McFLATFACE (in "modern?" versions) IS! TOTALLY! UNAPPRECIATED!!!
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.
Thursday 7th April 2022 13:27 GMT aerogems
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.
Thursday 7th April 2022 14:53 GMT Paul Herber
Thursday 7th April 2022 16:14 GMT Anonymous Coward
Thursday 7th April 2022 13:53 GMT Terry 6
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.
Friday 8th April 2022 09:02 GMT Fred Daggy
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.
Friday 8th April 2022 09:42 GMT Binraider
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.
Friday 8th April 2022 13:29 GMT Terry 6
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.
Thursday 7th April 2022 14:33 GMT Anonymous Coward
Ah.....the right to innovate......
Tim Patterson (MS-DOS)
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?
Thursday 7th April 2022 14:41 GMT Usually 1027309
Thursday 7th April 2022 15:56 GMT JimmyPage
Thursday 7th April 2022 16:39 GMT aerogems
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.
Thursday 7th April 2022 14:48 GMT AndrueC
Thursday 7th April 2022 15:29 GMT Anonymous Coward
Thursday 7th April 2022 15:54 GMT 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
Thursday 7th April 2022 16:01 GMT heyrick
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.
Thursday 7th April 2022 16:57 GMT Tim99
Thursday 7th April 2022 18:05 GMT Sandtitz
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.
Friday 8th April 2022 06:27 GMT Anonymous Coward
Thursday 7th April 2022 16:55 GMT JDX
Thursday 7th April 2022 17:57 GMT Anonymous Coward
Thursday 7th April 2022 18:02 GMT 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?
Thursday 7th April 2022 19:44 GMT heyrick
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
massmess of .ini files.
Friday 8th April 2022 04:23 GMT bombastic bob
Thursday 7th April 2022 19:46 GMT philstubbington
Thursday 7th April 2022 22:39 GMT Blackjack
Friday 8th April 2022 04:25 GMT 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.
Friday 8th April 2022 06:47 GMT mtfrank
Sunday 10th April 2022 20:03 GMT David 132
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…
Friday 8th April 2022 06:50 GMT Doctor Tarr
…. 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.
Friday 8th April 2022 07:47 GMT 45RPM
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)
Sunday 10th April 2022 03:33 GMT 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.
Friday 8th April 2022 07:55 GMT Tom 7
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.
Friday 8th April 2022 19:02 GMT captain veg
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.
Friday 8th April 2022 08:29 GMT 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.
Friday 8th April 2022 08:49 GMT Juha Meriluoto
Friday 8th April 2022 09:51 GMT 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.
Friday 8th April 2022 11:52 GMT Sloth77
Friday 8th April 2022 12:29 GMT Plest
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!
Friday 8th April 2022 13:17 GMT Dabooka
Friday 8th April 2022 18:23 GMT 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
Friday 8th April 2022 23:20 GMT fredesmite2
Saturday 9th April 2022 17:38 GMT steviebuk
Saturday 9th April 2022 20:16 GMT IanTP
Sunday 10th April 2022 17:42 GMT 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.
Monday 11th April 2022 07:22 GMT Duncan Macdonald
Wednesday 13th April 2022 10:15 GMT Binraider
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...)