back to article Windows 3.11 trundles on as job site pleads for 'driver updates' on German trains

If you were thinking about forcing an AI to write a job ad for an administrator of an obsolete operating system, it looks like somebody has beaten you to it with a vacancy for a Windows 3.11 techie. The ad turned up on the Gulp.de job site and has since been removed, presumably because there are so many Windows 3.11 …

  1. pdh

    Improvement?

    > Tech companies might spend their time pushing the latest and greatest, however, the job posting is a reminder that not everyone is on the express train to modernization.

    I have to wonder: in what way would Windows 11 be an improvement over Windows 3.11 for this use case? Other than "Windows 11 is still supported, and 3.11 is not"?

    1. NickHolland

      Re: Improvement?

      replacement hardware -- Windows 3.1 doesn't run well on modern hardware

      replacement hardware -- hardware that plugs into Windows 3.1 machines doesn't tend to have a place to plug into modern hw (serial ports, most notably. And before you say, "USB!", remember USB wasn't a thing for Windows 3.1),

      application support -- it is safe to assume the authors of any application running here are not easily reached.

      skilled work force -- finding someone who knows how to deal with Windows 3.1 or the hardware that it runs on is getting difficult

      Interest in becoming a skilled workforce -- no one looks at "Windows 3.1 administrator" as a good stepping stone in their career in 2024

      security -- Sure, Windows 3.1 didn't offer a great "attack surface" like modern OSs do, but remember: Windows 3.x security was pretty much non-existent -- remember the login you could get through by tapping the ESCAPE key? There aren't really many "security updates" for Windows 3, because there wasn't any security.

      Your ideal employee should have all the modern professionalism we would expect (remember: it wasn't common in the 1990s, we were still making stuff up as we went), be smart enough to understand this is NOT a stepping stone in their career, but be stupid enough to be good with that.

      If you ignore all that, sure, the windows 3.1 application will probably work just fine for them.

      1. karlkarl Silver badge

        Re: Improvement?

        > replacement hardware -- Windows 3.1 doesn't run well on modern hardware

        Since DOSBox is so portable, and Windows 3.1 is so light, this setup could run on much more hardware than current Windows.

        1. mgb2

          Re: Improvement?

          And it runs just fine as a VM.

        2. katrinab Silver badge
          Windows

          Re: Improvement?

          And interface with hardware on the ISA bus, or a parallel or serial port?

          Because that’s probably what it is doing on a train.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Improvement?

            DosBOX works a treat on serial ports. It has the added bonus that you can specify which software-seen port number corresponds to which real-world port number, a very useful trick when getting PLC programming software that only knows about COM1 and COM2 to use a USB-to-serial dongle on COM7. (Been there, done that.)

          2. karlkarl Silver badge

            Re: Improvement?

            For ISA bus and parallel ports, then DOSBox (or another VM/emulator tech) really is your only choice.

            ISA and parallel at least are very tricky to track down on "modern" hardware.

            1. AJ MacLeod

              Re: Improvement?

              The brand new socket LGA1700 MSI motherboard I built into a PC earlier had a header for a parallel port... (Can't say whether it would work or not mind you as thankfully I don't deal with parallel devices very often any more)

            2. rafff

              Re: Improvement?

              ISA cards? I have a box of them lying around. I think.

            3. DanAU

              Re: Improvement?

              > ISA and parallel at least are very tricky to track down on "modern" hardware.

              There are modern-ish industrial motherboards that still have ISA slots and parallel ports, since companies have older industrial automation equipment that they need to keep running and it'd be very expensive to modernize (the old equipment still works so there's not much of a business case for replacing it).

              In fact, some motherboards have PCIe, PCI, and ISA all on the same board. For example, this board takes 7th gen Intel Core processors and has an ISA slot: https://elmark-automation.com/shop/msi-ipc/ms-98l9v20 . Unfortunately this one doesn't have a parallel port, but there's others that do.

              No guarantee that all ISA devices will work though, since these boards usually use a PCI-to-ISA bridge rather than a true ISA bus.

        3. Wanting more

          Re: Improvement?

          Yep at my workplace I setup up DOSBox to run a ancient application that drives an OMR scanner. The application was custom written in the 80s in Turbo Pascal by an outside contractor (we don't have the source code). The DOSBox solution worked well even talking to the parallel port (finding those cards is getting harder!). I haven't tested it on Windows 11 yet, but it's working on Windows 10 64bit fine.

      2. Filippo Silver badge

        Re: Improvement?

        It looks like all of that falls within the "Windows 11 is still supported, and 3.11 is not" case.

        1. cyberdemon Silver badge
          Coat

          Disappointed

          At the length of this thread and nobody has suggested a TWAIN Driver

          1. James O'Shea

            Re: Disappointed

            You, sir, are Evil(r). Almost Evil(r) enough to be a member of the Google Board of Directors.

            Damn, I wish that I had thought of that...

          2. J. Cook Silver badge
            Coffee/keyboard

            Re: Disappointed

            :: awards you one internet ::

          3. rcxb Silver badge

            Re: Disappointed

            nobody has suggested a TWAIN Driver

            Be sure to stop by the office at 22 Twain St, for an interview with Mr. Lionel Twain...

            Credit: Murder by Death (1976)

          4. Dan 55 Silver badge
            Alert

            Re: Disappointed

            Oh God no, you've just set off my PTSD.

          5. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Disappointed

            Don't you know? The ticket checks are done with an SCSI connected flatbed scanner on top of a trolley with a PC and a big UPS to scan the QR code on the ticket printouts (or phones).

          6. JamesTGrant

            Re: Disappointed

            ISA bus? Nah, it’s a train!

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
              Joke

              Re: Disappointed

              You sure it's not a bus replacement service?

        2. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

          Re: Improvement?

          I think there is probably a case to be made that the sort of hardware that went into a Windows 3.11 PC is getting rarer, and much is not manufactured any more. Things like replacement RAM would be a specialist purchase, nobody makes ISA cards or IDE hard disks any more. Good luck finding spares and repairs for 3.5" or 5.25" floppy disk drives, if your motherboard goes kaput, then kaput it is; about the only modern compatible component I can think of would be the PSU, and possibly a keyboard and mouse if you get a USB to PS/2 adapter for them; again, only useful if the system in question doesn't communicate exclusively over a serial port.

          1. rcxb Silver badge

            Re: Improvement?

            the sort of hardware that went into a Windows 3.11 PC is getting rarer, and much is not manufactured any more.

            For the most part you shouldn't need era-appropriate hardware. The OS doesn't need details on what type of RAM is in-use. Many/most modern PCs maintain DOS backwards compatibility. You might run into an issue if you still need an old ISA card (adapters exist that work for some), but PCI can still be easily found in specialty motherboards. UEFI firmware options in most systems allow USB keyboards/mice to be seen as PS/2, and SATA SSDs to appear as old IDE/ATA drives. Many video cards retain VGA/SVGA/VESA interfaces.

            And if that's not good enough, there are emulators out there. You could run DOS and Windows 3.11 under a web browser with reasonable performance these days.

            There's even active development in this space: "high resolution 256-color driver for Windows 3.1"

            https://www.os2museum.com/wp/win16-retro-development/

          2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Improvement?

            "Good luck finding spares and repairs for 3.5" or 5.25" floppy disk drives,"

            Gotek drives, beloved of retro computing enthusiasts, were originally developed for industrial uses, such as sewing machines and CNC machines as plug in replacements for physical floppy drivers. Just put the image on a pendrive or SDcard, select the correct image file from the front panel and suddenly the device thinks you just inserted a floppy disk.

            There are similar devices using PCCards or SDcards to emulate older hard drives too. USB to Centronics and USB to serial can be a bit hit and miss. Some work well in certain situations while others may not and vice versa. And some printer ports were "bit banged" to make more esoteric devices work, which can also be an issue.

      3. ChoHag Silver badge

        Re: Improvement?

        The chance that this instance of Windows is running directly on hardware is about zero and somehow I doubt they need to use it to access google docs or anything else modern or on the internet. If it does use live data there's probably a batch process somewhere involving FTP *without* the S.

        > skilled work force -- finding someone who knows how to deal with Windows 3.1 or the hardware that it runs on is getting difficult

        Evidently not.

      4. Rattus
        Megaphone

        Re: Improvement?

        RESPONSE IN CAPS

        replacement hardware -- Windows 3.1 doesn't run well on modern hardware

        THATS OK - THE HARDWARE THIS WILL BE RUNNING ON IS THE SAME VINTAGE - WINDOWS 11 WON'T RUN ON AN 80286 EMBEDDED SYSTEM

        replacement hardware -- hardware that plugs into Windows 3.1 machines doesn't tend to have a place to plug into modern hw (serial ports, most notably. And before you say, "USB!", remember USB wasn't a thing for Windows 3.1),

        IT DOESN'T NEED TO RUN ON MODERN HARDWARE - THE TRAIN IS 30 YEARS OLD, AND DOSN'T HAVE USB. IT DOES HOWEVER HAVE RS485 SERIAL INTERFACE TO THE DOOR CONTROL SYSTEM AND A SIMILAR RS232LINK TO THE SIGNALLING UNIT.

        AS FOR NETWORKING IT MIGHT BE IPX/SPX OR RAW ETHERNET OVER 10BASE-2....

        application support -- it is safe to assume the authors of any application running here are not easily reached.

        TRUE - BUT THEY DID WRITE SERVICE MANUALS, AND IT WOULD STILL BE CHEAPER TO FIND SOFTWARE COMPATIBLE WITH THIS PLATFORM THAN REPLACE A FLEET OF 60 POWER CAR AND COACH SETS (I.E. 60 TRAINS)

        skilled work force -- finding someone who knows how to deal with Windows 3.1 or the hardware that it runs on is getting difficult

        YES IT IS THAT'S WHY OLD PROGRAMMERS COMMAND SUCH A HIGH WAGE - KNOWING COBOL AND AIDA IS GOING TO FUND MY RETIREMENT IN 2037 WHEN I GET TO FIX THE Y2K BUG FOR A 2ND TIME (I.E. TIME-T EPOC)

        Interest in becoming a skilled workforce -- no one looks at "Windows 3.1 administrator" as a good stepping stone in their career in 2024

        IT IS A WONDERFUL PAYOUT JUST BEFORE RETIREMENT - PERFECT CAREER PLANNING

        security -- Sure, Windows 3.1 didn't offer a great "attack surface" like modern OSs do, but remember: Windows 3.x security was pretty much non-existent -- remember the login you could get through by tapping the ESCAPE key? There aren't really many "security updates" for Windows 3, because there wasn't any security.

        ALSO TRUE BUT GIVEN THAT THERE IS NO INTERNET ACCESS TO THIS DEVICE AND AS YOU HAVE ALREADY STATED MODERN HARDWARE DOESN'T HAVE THE SAME INTERFACES ANY MORE THE RISK IS QUITE LOW

        WHAT LOGIN? THERE IS NO SCREEN OR KEYBOARD ATTACHED? WHAT SECURITY - THIS IS TALKING TO A VINTAGE SYSTEM THAT IS IN PLAIN TEXT WITH NO USER SUPPORT AND NO AUTHENTICATION...

        Your ideal employee should have all the modern professionalism we would expect (remember: it wasn't common in the 1990s, we were still making stuff up as we went), be smart enough to understand this is NOT a stepping stone in their career, but be stupid enough to be good with that.

        TBH MOST OF YOU MODERN WEB TYPISTS ARE STILL MAKING STUFF UP AS YOU GO ALONG, AND AS ALREADY STATED THIS IS A PERFECT CAREER SUNSET - WHERE THE OLDIES LIKE ME DON'T NEED TO FIGHT YOU YOUNG WHIP-A-SNAPPERS TO GET A NICE PAYDAY

        If you ignore all that, sure, the windows 3.1 application will probably work just fine for them.

        SOUNDS GOOD TO ME

        TONG NOT QUITE FIRMLY IN CHEEK, IF THIS ADD WERE FOR REAL I WOULD EXPECT IT TO BE FOR AN EMBEDDED SYSTEM WITH SIMILAR REQUIREMENTS TO THOSE I SUGGEST ABOVE

        1. ldo

          Re: RESPONSE IN CAPS

          You could have rendered quoted text in italics, you know.

          1. The Indomitable Gall

            Re: RESPONSE IN CAPS

            It does save him from having to hit the caps lock every time he writes COBOL and RS232 though...

            1. ldo

              Re: hit the caps lock

              I use Shift for that. Caps Lock is my Compose key.

          2. Mike_Ryder

            Re: RESPONSE IN CAPS

            Or just used good ol' fashioned "quotation marks" around the quotes...

          3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: RESPONSE IN CAPS

            "You could have rendered quoted text in italics, you know."

            Is that allowed for Badge-less posters? Or is it just live links they can't do?

        2. Bebu Silver badge
          Childcatcher

          Re: Improvement?

          "KNOWING COBOL AND AIDA IS GOING TO FUND MY RETIREMENT IN 2037"

          Dealing with camels on stage will still be a bugger in 2037 I suspect. :)

          You aren't the skinny chap with the scythe? The last time he retired the wheels rather fell off.

          1. Evil Scot Bronze badge

            Re: Improvement?

            oooh a discworld reference.

            Here is another from that book.

            PRATCHETT IS SO COOL ! ! ! ! !

      5. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: Improvement?

        application support -- it is safe to assume the authors of any application running here are not easily reached.

        Fortunately several far-sighted people wrote shareware Ouija board simulators for Win3.

      6. neilo

        Re: Improvement?

        You can buy new MS-DOS compatible hardware here: https://nixsys.com/legacy-computers/ms-dos-computers

        They also sell built Windows 98 machines etc.

      7. lordminty

        Re: Improvement?

        Your ideal employee should have all the modern professionalism we would expect (remember: it wasn't common in the 1990s, we were still making stuff up as we went)

        Wot? Are you serious? In the 1990s I was a senior MVS and VM Sysprog responsible for 14 IBM mainframe images, most running in around 128MB of memory. We had no choice not to be professional. If we cocked up we took thousands of online users and the entire business offline and I'd get a personal visit from the IT Director (who was being given constant ear ache from higher up).

        Modern professionalism seems to consists of pushing out massively bloated, untested code and upgrades and then shrugging shoulders when it goes tits up.

      8. cantankerous swineherd

        Re: Improvement?

        cobol, I'm going to learn COBOL

        1. imanidiot Silver badge

          Re: Improvement?

          And with all the banks still using COBOL code you could probably make a pretty penny doing so.

      9. Kashifnawaz85

        Re: Improvement?

        "hardware -- hardware that plugs into Windows 3.1 machines doesn't tend to have a place to plug into modern hw (serial ports, most notably. And before you say, "USB!", remember USB wasn't a thing for Windows 3.1),"

        They're some companies who makes USB converter for those old machines. I used to work in Textile Testing Laboratory and we have a German machine for testing which used some very old connector to connect with very old DOS based PC. The machine was from the I think 1985 or before. So when our company decided to upgrade the PC they requested a USB converter from Texas Instruments and with that converter and modern Windows based PC software the testing machine works fine. So yeah they're solutions for old hardwares.

      10. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Improvement?

        "security -- Sure, Windows 3.1 didn't offer a great "attack surface" like modern OSs do, but remember: Windows 3.x security was pretty much non-existent -- remember the login you could get through by tapping the ESCAPE key? There aren't really many "security updates" for Windows 3, because there wasn't any security."

        Yes, this one a million time. Last year the Belarus train service was disrupted by a cyber-attack, presumably by another country now in war.

        The report of this mentioned "ridiculously obsolete operating systems". Looks to me a similar case waiting to happen in Germany ...

      11. Paul Floyd

        Re: Improvement?

        > replacement hardware -- Windows 3.1 doesn't run well on modern hardware

        You are quite likely missing the point there.

        I'd say that there is a good chance that this is running on old kit with something like a custom adapter card (perhaps as old as PC-AT format).

        Windows 11 doesn't work well on ancient hardware.

    2. theOtherJT Silver badge

      Re: Improvement?

      Depends rather what else is on this network that the thing needs to talk to I suppose. Win3.11 networking was, as the article points out, kinda... weird. It's possible that there's some other component has just been updated that now, when faced with a Win3.11 client just goes "The **** is this?" and refuses to talk to it.

    3. Grogan Silver badge

      Re: Improvement?

      No, they'd need a "real time" operating system, that's the point (mentioned in the article). DOS (the actual operating system) is a real time OS by nature. Rudimentary, but it knows nothing else. Well, that is to say, their program would run in real time. Windows is just their GUI, essentially an application.

      Linux can be made to be more like that with patchsets, or there are specialized operating systems (e.g. QNX, RTOS)

      1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

        Re: Improvement?

        For many "real time" purposes, Windows 3.x would be real time enough. It's not as if multi-tasking was enforced until Windows NT4 anyway and, even then, really badly. The key to programming on Windows 3.x, other than the perpetual headaches of data frame sizes and just general 16 bit horrors, was that unless the windows message queue was processed very regularly your application didn't multi-task in any meaningful way whatsoever. As a result, it was pretty real time and nothing more than a slightly prettier interface than DOS.

  2. Binraider Silver badge

    Networked 3.1... A scary prospect. In charge of movement of hundreds of tonnes of machines? Possibly even more so.

    But, still, I would consider it a much smaller attack surface and a hell of a lot more comprehensible than many more recent efforts.

    1. Mage Silver badge

      WFWG 3.11

      The 32 bit TCP/IP worked OK. NetBeui wasn't so good.

      1. AndrewB57

        Re: WFWG 3.11

        and what EXACTLY was wrong with IPXODI & NETX?

        don't answer that

        1. James O'Shea

          Re: WFWG 3.11

          Microsoft was what was wrong.

        2. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

          Re: WFWG 3.11

          You could doom. So: Nothing wrong.

      2. IGotOut Silver badge

        Re: WFWG 3.11

        Sorry to break your bubble, it could be running 16/4 Token Ring, and a card somewhere on the network has a fault.

        <Shudder>

      3. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge
        Flame

        Re: WFWG 3.11

        "The 32 bit TCP/IP worked OK. NetBeui wasn't so good."

        You should try setting that up on a bunch of remote workstations when the server guys have totally fucked up setting the switches up and you're not allowed to look at them .

        Time and time again "Oh it was set on half duplex 10mb, silly me "

        "Well thanks for sorting that after only 3 months of bitching by me and the staff"

        I had to rewrite the autoexec to try and try again to load the various components as the connectivity was so shit they'd normally fail on first load.

    2. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

      The entire attack surface is probably one serial port behind a screwed-down panel in the driver's cab. I'd suggest that if someone gained access to that, they'd already compromised the whole train. There's certainly no concerns with Wi-Fi or network vulnerabilities with something not capable of using Wi-Fi, and probably not attached to a network (certainly not the internet!)

  3. E_Nigma

    Real Time

    The thing about Windows 3.11 is that it's so simple, well known and light by today's standards that its response times are very predictable and thus it pretty much fits the bill for real time applications.

    1. NickHolland

      Re: Real Time

      DOS, yes, it basically was a real time OS. Or perhaps more accurately, a program loader with a file system, and your application owned the hw, and thus could be as real-time as needed.

      Windows 3.x was simple by today's standards, but pushed hard -- and unsuccessfully -- against its design limits (based on the HW it was designed for -- but because of the design, simply putting it on a fast machine with large amounts of memory didn't really fix anything). My memories of it was that it had anything but predictable behavior. There are reasons people were very excited about Windows 95 when it came out (and of course, reasons they were very disappointed).

    2. david 12 Silver badge

      Re: Real Time

      "Not quite an operating system" is just trolling, but WFW 3.11 really didn't have deterministic response times. There was a single thread, with co-operative multi-tasking. WinNT 3.x was a significant improvement, offering 2 digit instead of 3 digit typical response times. Unix derivatives might have been usable on better hardware, but on 16 bit commodity microprocessors it was DOS or bare-metal.

  4. AlanSh

    I remember those days!!!

    I used to teach admins how to get the most out of 640kb for DOS and how to integrate Windows 3.1x into their network. Drivers were interesting, especially when you plonked them into extended memory.

    Then there was the exra memory taken up by the enhanced redirector. I eventually wrote a basic redirector which could do all the enhanced redir stuff (proper logons etc.) by reverse engineering the ethernet packets. And it worked!!!

    When Windows 95 came along I (eventually) had wrote a script for a custtomer to update Win 3.11 to Windows 95 over the network (without losing user data) - which was a great improvement over the customers tech support option which was to walk around with about 80 floppy disks and rebuild them one by one.

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: I remember those days!!!

      MS used to produce a book which detailed so much of the Registry. It made supporting Windows so much nicer.

      Then the registry exploded in size, MS stopped telling everyone what could be done via the registry and...*sigh*. Good times.

    2. Clausewitz4.0 Bronze badge
      Devil

      Re: I remember those days!!!

      @AlanSh

      I used to teach admins how to get the most out of 640kb for DOS and how to integrate Windows 3.1x into their network. Drivers were interesting, especially when you plonked them into extended memory.

      It seems you can apply to the job. Dunno about your German skills,,,

      1. Paul Herber Silver badge

        Re: I remember those days!!!

        Deutsche Bundesbahn are good at training.

    3. James O'Shea

      Re: I remember those days!!!

      Ah. The long ago days of extended memory, expanded memory, extended-expanded memory... Stuff that made the memory models in early versions of Mac OS look good. And memory management on Macs stunk until OS X...

      Thanks, but I think that I'll pass.

      1. Patched Out

        Re: I remember those days!!!

        And this was all because IBM, in its infinite wisdom, chose to use memory-mapped I/O which took up the 64K just above the 640K base memory. The 8088 processor had a Memory/IO pin that they chose not to use. This could have been used as an extra address pin to remap I/O to another area.

        For a while in the 90's, I owned a Victor 9000 (Sirius 1). The Victor 9000 was in every way superior to the IBM PC (except that it was not IBM PC compatible, having come out just before the PC, which led to its demise) and did not have this memory restriction. It had 896K of contiguous memory space for DOS and applications.

      2. captain veg Silver badge

        Re: I remember those days!!!

        Memory models, eh?

        A colleague declared a pointer to be FAR rather than HUGE. It iterated records in an array that could easily exceed 64KB. Sadly, if it did then the results were garbage, because incrementing a FAR pointer only changes the offset and completely ignores the possibility of crossing a segment boundary. So if the array was big enough, only those elements in the first segment were processed, over and over again.

        The compiler didn't consider this any kind of problem. There was no runtime error. Just wrong (but plausible) results.

        This code had been in production for years before I noticed it.

        -A.

  5. Tim99 Silver badge
    Windows

    History?

    Around the time of Windows 3 a number of simple but "important" applications were written with early versions of QuickBASIC AND VB. QB was handy for opening up a (serial) network port and reading/writing something from/to expensive machinery: e.g. download results, write them into a file, check that they were OK, and then clear the results from the machine...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: History?

      VB OTOH (at least in the VB6 and later days) was terrible at serial port communications. I chalked it up to my poor programming abilities, but later found a website that examined the inconsistent, incorrect, and just plain broken things in VB's serial port handling.

      I'm still a terrible programmer, but at least my serial port struggles weren't my fault.

  6. Julian 8 Silver badge

    SE Trains

    when the were replacing the old slam door trains on Connex, they were a test bed for a lot of the more modern trains you see now. I used to sit at the front due to where the exit was for my station, and they used old Toshiba Satellte laptops for their serial port in them days (about 15/16 yrs ago) which was a surprise then as the laptops I had used for a number of years were serial port lacking. I did joke about trying to sell them my old stock of Satellite pro's. (480/490 CDT IIRC)

    Often the techie was "rebooting" the train and doing some code work in those days

  7. martinusher Silver badge

    The latest isn't always the greatest

    Industrial systems focus on the application, not the platform. Changing the platform for 'the latest' might be attractive to programmers who's job centers around the PC on their desk but in the real world you don't want to keep upgrading things that work satisfactorily because its wasting effort that should be focused on the product.

    In this case if you wanted to upgrade to 'the latest' then you'd need to change out the hardware and then go through an entire QA and certification cycle. It won't do anything for the actual operation of the train (except maybe make it less reliable, at least in the short term) so the effort will essentially be wasted.

    This is a difficult notion for programmers to understand. But they'd be wise to learn it. The amount of effort I've seen wasted by application programmers due to needless changing of platform and toolsets is incredible, especially as they always seem to be behind schedule with product delivery. Sure, there's always the risk that if you're not running 'the latest' then you might get some nefarious hacker taking over the system but that assumes that you're connected to the public Internet and so exposing the product to continual attack (which usually comes in the form of phishing, anyway).

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: The latest isn't always the greatest

      30 years on, the platform is part of the product. Being able to change that (even if only from W3.1 on metal to W3.1 in a VM) allows you to preserve your investment in the rest of the software.

    2. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: The latest isn't always the greatest

      The other thing about industrial systems is the sheer cost of replacing the machinery.

      £750 000 for ONE machine ... and then you need to run it for at least 10 years and more if you can.. and then you see the notice "No updating the OS as the system software has only been proven with win95/98/XP/ our custom linux build supplied with the machine"

      "But you can run it in a VM" but can the hardware running the VM interface safely with the hardware running the machinery? and what happens if its a custom PC built into the machine?

      The land of industrial controls is where the dinosaurs (like me) still roam , having spent the afternoon on the 30 yr old tooling lathe making 20 custom supports... while trying to remember how to program the thing someone give me my win10 powered CAD/CAM pc back :)

  8. CorwinX

    Way back in the time of the dinosaurs...

    I started work in a company with a small footprint IT-wise but massive in the music industry. You'd be familiar with at least one of its names.

    It had a couple of DEC mainframes and a bunch of Win 3.1 PCs.

    They'd moved from DECNet/NetBEUI to TCP/IP (just) but were still using DEC Pathworks for the IP stack.

    That bloody thing ate up so much low memory you were lucky to get 400K free memory, even after optimising Autoexec/Config.Sys to use HighMem.

    The Terminal Emulator software they were using to access the DECs - you pressed a key and waited a second or two for it to register!

    So I did what I could but then I got my hands on a pre-release Win4Workgroups upgrade disk (ie, install as an upgrade to basic Win 3.1, not fresh install).

    Without telling anyone, ditched Pathworks on my work PC, upgraded it and fine tuned the config to the gills to get around 560K free memory.

    Compared to the rest, mine ran like a bomb. Negotiated a bonus before I'd tell the Manager how I'd done it and then spent a couple of weeks sorting every PC in the building.

    Pathworks maintenance contract duly cancelled.

  9. jean_404

    if it ain't broke, don't fix it

    From a previous Register article :

    Nuke plants to rely on PDP-11 code UNTIL 2050!

    Programmers and their walking sticks converge in Canada

    1. Bebu Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: if it ain't broke, don't fix it

      《Nuke plants to rely on PDP-11 code UNTIL 2050!》

      At least with the CPU you could make one with a very small FPGA, core memory is pretty robust but could in principle be manufactured today. When I was a student long ago I worked out how build a pdp-11 out of standard TTL components from the Fairchild TTL Data Book (1978?) not too difficult. Naively I was going to microcode it so it would have been rather slow. :( Any Uni with a small teaching fab could knock off a truckload of LSI-11s.

      The instruction set was quite nice and macro11 wasn't too shabby. If the whole lot runs in core thats probably only 64K code plus 64K data at most so hardly a bloated java app.

    2. James O'Shea

      Re: if it ain't broke, don't fix it

      Damn, that has my tale of woe about an imagesetter ($150,000+) running on a controller still using Win NT 4 all to hell.

  10. mhoulden

    I have vague memories of watching a British Rail departures board screen booting up in the 90s. Forget Windows 3.1x. This one said "Acorn ADFS". I think they had a BBC Master powering it.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Yes, they were quite popular in that sort of situation because of Mode7/Teletext mode. Clear and readable text with colour and simple graphics, and the people you were giving information to were already familiar with the "look and feel" so could garner the info they need from the display in a quick glance. An early success in usability :-)

  11. vincent himpe

    i know places where they have CNC drills (Excellon) that are still driven by paper tape wired to a NOVA or a PDP-9 ( not an 11 !). some machinery is very long life and very expensive to replace. it's completely amortized , will outlive its users.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      My first paid programming job was to write a system for CNC programmers to use that could select and upload a programme over serial direct to the machines, write the programme to the correct format of floppy disk (both 5.25" and 3.5") for other machines, and write the programme to the paper tape punch for yet more machines. I ended up writing it in the SALT(??) scripting language provided with the Telix[*] comms package for core functionality because it had a "good enough" text editor, so a few file management functions and some external programmes called to handle other stuff. Customer was happy, and I got well paid :-)

      * I also looked at Procomm, but the scripting language was less useful. I also considered writing it from scratch, but the lovely comms in Telix + Salt meant a lot less work for me!

  12. mitchCycles

    Windows 3.11? Nothing compared to "Token Exchange Signalling System" on Treherbert Line

    Quote "The ‘Token Exchange Signalling System’ currently used on the Treherbert Line was first introduced in Britain in the mid-19th century and some of the equipment still in use today is believed to date back to the 1930s."

    https://news.tfw.wales/news/a-century-of-history-to-be-transformed-on-the-treherbert-line

    1. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: Windows 3.11? Nothing compared to "Token Exchange Signalling System" on Treherbert Line

      The functionality of those machines was actually quite difficult to replicate until relatively recently. The design might date from the later Victorian era but its a good example of a resilient, fault tolerant system design. Fault tolerance extends to faults in the connections between signal boxes, short and open circuits. The token release was often used to release a lock on the starting (section) signal so it could only be pulled off if a token had been released for that section.

      Old and clunky they might have been but from a logic design perspective they're works of art. I prefer the staff machines myself, they do the same job but they're also the kind of steampunk that modern designers can only dream of.

      1. wegie

        Re: Windows 3.11? Nothing compared to "Token Exchange Signalling System" on Treherbert Line

        And still in use on the Heart of Wales Line :-)

  13. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

    What? That news ended up here?

    It was two days ago on German golem.de and heise.de, a short-lived job position which got taken down quite fast.

    I would qualify, but er-no. Not rail. And not that part of Germany :D.

    But a lot of old tech, with Windows 95, Windows 3.11 and DOS is still around, controlling machines which cost in the multi-million. The only change most dare to make are slurping the printer port to a box which stores the "print" on the network instead of paper.

  14. ldo

    Would You Entrust Mission-Critical Business Systems ...

    ... to obsolete, unsupported software?

    What about mission-critical business systems with a safety impact?

    1. James O'Shea

      Re: Would You Entrust Mission-Critical Business Systems ...

      Son... in Ye Worlde of Printing, No Imagesetter = No Film = No Plates = No Output = No Job. (yes, new imagesetters can burn plates directly. Skip a step. No imagesetter still = No Job.) Current $150k imagesetters run on Win NT4. Thou Shalt Not Mess With the NT 4 machines. Not unless thou have a few hundred k in thy pocket to buy new imagesetters. The imagesetters work. Management is NOT replacing them until they die. I expect to be retired before they die; the things are indestructible.

      I expect that there are lots of mission-critical systems running on ancient hardware. Why, the USAF just a few years ago, in the 20-teens, retired the last of the ICBM launch computers, which used 8" floppies. I say again, 8" floppies. Single-side. Single density. 120kB.

      If it ain't broken, don't fix it.

      1. ldo

        Re: Current $150k imagesetters run on Win NT4

        And without support, you are just one crash away from total bankruptcy.

        > Not unless thou have a few hundred k in thy pocket to buy new imagesetters.

        Given how much they cost, did nobody think of locking in a proper support deal for the expected life of the product, at the time of purchase? Including upgrades to keep the software current? Because it seems to me it is just plain stupidity to allow yourself to get into this current position.

        1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

          Re: Current $150k imagesetters run on Win NT4

          You really stand out as "I know how it should be done" all over the comments. Here the "no propoer support deal" and so on. Without even reading his full comment you assume "did nobody think", like out fellow commenter James O'Shea wouldn't know, else why would he posting this here. "stupidity to allow yourself" tops it to the next level of rudeness. You must be very far off reality. In fact, so far, that I suspect "Trevor Axiom".

          1. ldo

            Re: you assume "did nobody think"

            Point out where somebody did think, if you think I missed something.

            Because if somebody did think, they wouldn’t be in this mess.

  15. cantankerous swineherd

    this sounds sort of safety critical?

    what am I missing?

  16. cantankerous swineherd

    I've got half a dozen 3.5 floppy installation disks for windows. version unspecified, but the label says for DOS systems.

    open to offers.

    1. Oh Matron!

      I've also got Windows for Workgroups 3.11 on 8 3.5" Floppies. I keep them to remind me of good times...

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Which language? English, Turkish, German or Russian?

      Actual disk are only of interest to serious collectors, and they probably have multiple releases/versions already :-)

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    WINE?

    WINE or whine? (In British - whinge)

  18. Sceptic Tank Silver badge
    Windows

    Train of thought

    Those drivers won't work with WFW 3.11. They're all retired.

  19. Bebu Silver badge
    Windows

    Just a thought....

    The WfW 3.11 software might run (better) under OS/2 :)

    Hold the Hobbes decomm ;)

    Probably runs quite well under some version of Wine/Linux.

    Fortunately I was well and truly in the Unix camp when WfW 3.1 came along. :)

  20. LozWhat

    I have just installed Windows 3.11 for Workgroups on a VirtualBox VM, I've also just created an OS/2 VM.

    Why? Just something to occupy my (now retired) mind.

    1. CorwinX

      How about DOS 3.3 / Win v1?

      Yup - got a VMWare VM which runs it fine except I haven't ever bothered to try to get a mouse driver into it.

      Just wanted to see if it would actually run.

      It runs off an emulated floppy drive A: and the entire VM is only 2.74MB uncompressed.

      Anyone wants it please suggest somewhere to send/upload it - can't see even M$ coming after me over copyright.

  21. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

    only 30 years ? seems longer with all the versions we've had since then .

  22. DJV Silver badge

    1938 Tube Stock - retired in 2021?

    Hah, no - they still had some running a few specials last year! See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8tGQr1fSXM

  23. Tron Silver badge

    Some fine words...

    ...which the author can eat when the next Windows update fails and turns their laptop into a doorstop. A version of Windows that is not being updated has the benefit of not being vulnerable to MSfail.

    Plus, for many jobs we do not need the added complexity and bloat of a modern OS, that increases its potential vulnerability. A much less complex GUI OS would be embraced. Something that just does the business without the issues that the Mac OS, Windows and Linux all have (and that's not just the technical ones). Something stable and secure, with VPN and distributed capabilities built in.

    Ironically, my internet connection is dropping repeatedly today.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Some fine words...

      Speaking of less complex OS', I just watched a Youtube video the other day of a guy running Pimega, the Amiga emulator on a Raspberry Pi. Just for the giggles, he then ran ShapeShifter[*] on the emulated Amiga and had MacOS running faster than it ever did on a real Mac :-) I wonder how many nested emulations it's possible to go with? He could have tried MacOS NES or C64 emulation.

      * If you want to try this, apparently ShapeShifter borks on a 68060 emulation so you need to downgrade to a 68040, and turn everything else to the max. Many years ago, on a real Amiga 1200 + '030 accelerator, I installed Windows 3.1 in MSDOS emulation mode. It was painfully slow. So slow, that I discovered the Win 3.1 splash screen is drawn from the bottom up :-)

  24. Luiz Abdala
    Pint

    8 megabytes?

    I read somewhere that the machines with Windows 3.11 on the bare metal had 8MB. Not gigabytes, not terabytes, but whooping 8MB of RAM.

    I think even LCD monitors (that weren't a thing on those days except for the shiniest new laptop of the era) have CPUs with that amount on the cache now.

    I wonder if you could run a dedicated ITX board (or similar) with a modern CPU, that runs a very compact VM (linux?), that uses solely cpu cache as memory, and leaves 8MB for the emulated Windows 3.11 to run.

    If you can't upgrade to another bare Windows 11 metal, maybe you can run the whole thing on a raspberry-like board (?) running a VM and keep all the retro-compatible serial ports, maybe get IDE-to-microSD storage and whatnot.

    I am amazed the whole thing still works.

    1. usbac Silver badge

      Re: 8 megabytes?

      A place I used to work for sold new PCs with Windows 3.1 and 4MB of RAM. In those days RAM was about $100 per megabyte. Only customers with really deep pockets would spring for 8MB of RAM.

      My first computer had 4K of RAM and ram all kinds of software.

      I work with embedded systems as a side gig. I'm just finishing up a project where I have a device with a touchscreen GUI and a web server. The entire OS and application is about 75KB (in flash memory), and the system has only 16K of RAM. Compared to my first computer, this embedded device is pure luxury.

    2. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

      Re: 8 megabytes?

      > I read somewhere that the machines with Windows 3.11 on the bare metal had 8MB.

      The EXPENSIVE and OVERSIZED machines hat 8 MB RAM. It ran fine with 2 MB RAM.

  25. Lewis R

    ArcaOS 5.1 runs Win 3.1 & DOS just fine...

    ...and on new, UEFI-based systems.

    Honestly, there's nothing like the speed of 16-bit DOS on a multicore system with lots of cycles.

    (Full disclosure: I'm the managing member of Arca Noae, LLC, the publisher of ArcaOS.)

  26. xyz123 Silver badge

    Wait til you see which government departments are still using windows 3.11 to syncronize FAR more critical systems.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What Type Of Support Would That Be?

    In 1993/1994/1995 I was part of a project creating MS Multimedia Viewer titles on Windows 3.11.

    It turns out that these titles run perfectly today using Linux/WINE..........

  28. BPontius

    I remember when 800 and 1200 baud (dial-up) were thought to be fast connection speeds, before the Internet. Remember playing with the program Gopher to browse the early days of the Net (all text). Compared to the complexity of Windows 10/11 memory management, makes the early days of HIMEM, upper memory and such seem trivial. Anybody else remember the bulletin boards you could dial into back in the day?

    There are several elements from DOS, Windows 3.11 and the early days of networking that linger on in Windows 10 & 11, SMBv1 (originally developed by IBM or filesharing with DOS), NetBIOS and WINS. Legacy, unneeded and insecure but continue to linger on 40 years later. Only 5 years ago the missile silos for nuclear missiles\ICBMs stopped running from 8 inch floppy disks. It takes three people turning and holding three keys simultaneously (on three separate and separated consoles) to launch after receiving the launch codes. There is no remoting into these silo systems either (still old school)!

  29. Miko

    If you ask me, it would be kind of pointless to upgrade the OS on some embedded system on a 30 year old train with 20 more years of expected service life from Windows 3.11 to, say, Windows 11. Even without considering the ISA cards and such, there would be at least another major OS upgrade required to keep the OS supported anyway.

    Although on the upside, an OS upgrade *would* create an opportunity to insert the DRM that bricks the trains if not serviced by the original manufacturer, allowing Siemens trains to keep up with Newag in innovative fleet monetization... sorry, I meant modernization, strategies. And you could always explain the intentionally-created issues away with the complexity of maintaining Windows 11!

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "If you ask me, it would be kind of pointless to upgrade the OS on some embedded system on a 30 year old train with 20 more years of expected service life"

      Yes, they may well go through one or more major refurbishments during their lifetime, but generally that's just the upholstery or maybe the actual seating. The mechanical bits are repaired/refurbed as needed, possibly with a "one off" fleet refurb, but generally the on board control systems are left pretty much as-in, not just for QA approval and safety regulatory reasons, but also the expensive retraining/re-qualification for the drivers if there are substantive changes. Luckily, Boeing don't make trains.

  30. low_resolution_foxxes

    A better question perhaps is what could such a mystical device be performing on a train?

    I'm thinking about the Red Dwarf vending machine or a toaster.

    But sadly, having a look around, it does seem that these trains have a Windows console with redundancy built into the drivers UI system...

    Presumably it's air gapped, so that's probably fine.

    Mad that a bare bones RaspPi would be a literal alien technology in comparison

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