back to article Windows 3.1 rebooted: Microsoft's DOS destroyer turns 20

Yes it crashed a lot. It crashed less than its predecessor though, and kept Microsoft on the path to desktop domination. This was Windows 3.1, released on 6 April 1992, nearly two years after Windows 3.0 was pushed out in May 1990. Minimum system requirements are MS-DOS 3.1 or later, 2MB RAM, and a hard drive with 6MB free. This …

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JDX
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memmaker

At least in some ways we've moved on a long way :)

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Re: memmaker

I liked hand tuning config.sys and autoexec.bat. With enough tweaks you could get more than 640k base memory available if you didn't need graphics. If I remember correctly it was just a matter of creating an upper memory block in the video video address space, which since it started at 640k DOS was smart enough to recognise it could use. I may even still have a boot floppy configured that way somewhere.

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Boffin

Re: memmaker

Yeah - that's all coming back to me after reading your post as well. Fighting TSR (Terminate and Stay Resident) programs for lower memory and managing the early graphics card allocations... XMS, A20, interrupts.... Good times! That was when everyone on AOL actually had a brain, because you had to have one to figure out how to get onto BBS's.

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Childcatcher

Re: memmaker

Not memmaker, QEMM which had better memory management tools. And which was obviously the target of MS's ire at the time because they broke it with every .x.x.x upgrade. And of course to get support you had to disable it and run memmaker instead.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: memmaker

DR-DOS didn't need anything like memmaker, it just worked.

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Re: memmaker

Worth remembering that Microsoft gave a clear message about their predatory intents by ensuring that DRDos Windows users could not use Smartdrive to cache effectively hobbling performance. DRDos was hugely frugal by loading memory resident programmes into legacy reserved areas of memory it freed up base memory easily. Using memmaker was more of a black art to get anything like the results of DRDos you needed to load programs in the correct order to fit the available spaces in the the upper memory blocks..

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Thumb Up

Good article

I'm in the process (in the background) of doing the same - installing W3.1 on a Virtualbox VM. Nice to know that it will be possible. It will be interesting to compare it with W7.

Word 2 - good enough for most jobs, I reckon - apart from the fact that its approach to document encryption is laughably poor.

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Re: installing W3.1 on a Virtualbox VM

It will work in DOSBox, no VM required. I've got it running on my N900 phone -- which has better screen resolution and colour depth than my first few PCs.

-A.

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Re: Good article

find a copy of HP NewWave and install that on top of Windows 3.1 and then compare it to Windows 95/98/ME/2K

long file names, folders in folders, document templates and more. It was still Microsoft DOS and Windows under it but it was a great add-on. Windows 95 license restrictions ended all the 3rd party desktop add-ons so from 95 onward it was what Microsoft decided you got instead of the market doing it.

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I actually still have...

Almost mint condition, boxed with manuals, install disks for Windows for Workgroups 3.11

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I actually still have...

Yeah, we had 3.11, I think my dad ahem borrowed them from work.

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Re: I actually still have...

I still have the original disks (5in floppies) of Windows 1.0. Am hanging on to them as I reckon they'll be worth something one day.

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Re: I actually still have...

Heh, I WOULD have them still, shrinkwrapped at that, but my wife made me throw out all of the...what was the term she used again?....'junk that I'd never find a use for'. Granted I haven't had a floppy drive to shove them in since before that, but still....

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Re: I actually still have...

> I still have the original disks (5in floppies) of Windows 1.0. Am hanging on to them as I reckon

> they'll be worth something one day.

First time for everything, eh?

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I had WfW3.11

It wasn't much use except for running a webbrowser. I did most of my work on DOS. At least starting Windows only took 3 seconds on my 486 DX2-80 with a whopping 28 Megs of RAM.

I still wonder, what is is that makes modern Windows versions so bloated? I mean Windows didn't really gain any useful features. It still only starts programs providing them with a GUI. There still is no usable shell, no network transparency for applications, no nothing.

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Re: I had WfW3.11

I have the same question for Linux, which used to run in a few megabytes. Now its really a gigabyte to be usable.

My strong suspicion is that its the introduction of high level languages.

Can you imagine writing a 50Mbyte executable in Assembler?

But in an OOP..well just type new()...:-)

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Anonymous Coward

You reckon that wasn't bloated?

I had but a 286 with 640kB (and 1MB video ram), but with a bit of creativity you could cut a windows 3.1 installation down to... 2.3MB IIRC. From 20 or so (the capacity of my hard disk drive back then) or about 12 if you told the installer to be nice-ish. It still wasn't fast nor especially useful. If only I'd known, I'd gotten minix and played with that for a while. As it was I stuck with tinkering with DR-DOS (and tp7, or at least its nicely quick compiler that went well with my then-favourite editor, qedit3), and mostly forgot about windows as it didn't buy me much. Oh, and tried and failed to install linux on the 386 succeeding the 286, losing my FIDO archive in the process. The lost tagline archive might be worth reminiscing over. The software certainly isn't.

What we could and should do instead, is to look forward but keep testing our software on hardware much slower than we'd normally use, just to iron the most eggregious resource hogging out a bit. There is quite a lot to be gained there.

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Re: I had WfW3.11

Yes, that might be one of the points. Another one might be the dependence on bad libraries. Felix von Leitner once replaced the libc with his own version which immediately resulted in much smaller executables.

I mean I used to write software in Pascal on DOS, and it was fairly small. An executable file rarely had more than a few kilobytes, despite using a language which checked for integer overflows.

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404
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Re: I had WfW3.11

You must have been loaded... Seriously, memory was EXPENSIVE! I still remember paying $200 for 8MB (on sale) for my Cyrix P133+ Win95 machine... My old IBM 286SX boat anchor Win3.1 machine was retired and I was thrilled as hell to see that video clip of the Hindenburg on my 1x cdrom on the new one.... ahhh 14.4 modems and lions and tiger and bears...

:)

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Re: I had WfW3.11

As I type this, I actually have a 4 (or could be 8) mb SIMM in my hand, fresh off a shelf of memories (both real and spiritual). I remember my first PC was a DX2-66 with 8Mb ram, and dual floppies to do 'lots of backing up'.

3.1 and DOS 5 is where I learnt my trade and can recall all the Hi-mem tricks, especially ramdisk

interestingly a lot of the dos commands I still use today

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Re: I had WfW3.11

Jesus, those cyrix chips were piss awful. I remember getting some into the shop and being thoroughly underwhelmed. The AMD DX4's outperformed them. The Intel P133 was the king of early chips.

You also had to match memory pretty closely especially if you were using 72pin modules.

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Re: I had WfW3.11

indeed, I still use a lot of hybrid dos batch files combined with script especially when crawling directories.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I had WfW3.11

Even Linus Torvalds himself, calls Linux bloated

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/09/22/linus_torvalds_linux_bloated_huge/

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Re: I had WfW3.11

Calling the Intel P133 an "early chip" is amusing. My first PC was a 386-DX20 and I'd been using PCs since 8088.

My first PC used SIPP memory modules (normal 72pin except it had actual pins rather than surface connections).

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kb

Re: I had WfW3.11

Its a combo of the software and the hardware friend. Do you have any idea how many drivers Windows has to initialize on your average desktop? Sound, third party video (with taskbar apps for both usually), NB/SB, SATA, USB devices, its a lot of stuff to load. Then are all the startup programs, the services, loading the apps you use into superfetch. Frankly windows just does a whole lot more than it had to do back then. I mean you could fit the entire contents of the HDDs AND the memory of the first 8 machines i owned strictly into RAM on my PC and still have room left over!

As for Win 3.1 it made a great embedded OS, it was so low frankly it would run on just about anything. i remember seeing a couple of kiosks a few years back still running win 3.1, you could tell because the place got a surge and they rebooted. But if you want that kind of boot speed today you'd really need something like one of the embedded OSes where you don't ever update anything, its all just "there" and ready to go. for example most ASUS boards and netbooks have ExpressGate, my EEE will boot into EG in less than 6 seconds and gives me all the music on my HDD, flash games, browsing and chat. its pretty nice if all you want is the web.

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Re: I had WfW3.11

It rather depended on what programs you were running, the weak spot of the Cyrix was the coprocessor (maths processor as we used to call it) if you ran anything that depended on it you were dead in the water. However gamers were very fond of them supplied at very low prices they could outperform intel chips costing nearly twice as much but only if your game liked them and most did it was a no brainer. did you ever come across the SGS Thomson 486 DX 2 80 that was a big surprise the 40mhz bus plus some trick internals meant it benchmarked nearer to the 486 DX4 120 billy bargain chip!

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MS still the underdog then

At that time, MS was still the underdog to the likes of Lotus123, Wordperfect and Novell - but the popularity of these and other DOS/Windows applications meant that Apple was no longer in the running for the corporate desktop. Windows 3.11 (WFWG) was a winner as it meant that the network client was integral to Windows and no longer had to be built underneath in DOS, before starting Windows. Additionally, users could network between themselves - they didn't have to be connected to a server, unlike some other offerings of that era.

MS started to win later, as Lotus, Wordperfect and other big players seemed to have difficulty moving to the WIMP world, with many users running DOS versions of their applications under Windows, rather than the new Windows versions.

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Re: MS still the underdog then

Yes I have to agree it was more 3.11 than 3.1 that changed things, particularly because of the network support for Novell.

I'm probably one of the few people for whom Windows 2.0 and higher were becoming necessities not toys. I started doing DTP work in Ventura 1.0 DOS/GEM. By the time Win 2.0 was out, Corel had released their Draw program (2.0 for me) which was very helpful making illustrations for Ventura. Windows 3.11 finally made it all work together. I owe my current IT support job to that work. I assembled the manuals, printed them, and stored the files to disk for later output by services. The Novell Network admin got tired of me breaking the network because my print jobs had filled all the available disk space on the network. So he made me a print queue operator and taught me the basics of watching available network space, adding saved files to the print queue, and reordering jobs so I wasn't holding up other people's work. Years later when I was working elsewhere that knowledge, combined with the fact that I wasn't afraid to turn off the Novell server when it had crashed eventually landed me my first real tech support job.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: MS still the underdog then

"MS started to win later, as Lotus, Wordperfect and other big players seemed to have difficulty moving to the WIMP world"

There was just a *little* bit more to it than that.

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Re: MS still the underdog then

Apple not in the running? Were you serious? The SE10 was a fantastic server and coupled with a bank of MAC+'s you had a FAR better corporate solution than the windows offerings. I remember the alternative was a crappy 3.11 workstation setup to a winchester drive server. The Macs far outstripped the windows machines.

Aldus pagemaker and freehand were better than anything windows had to offer in 1992. It was only when 98 and NT4 were widespread did the MAC base start to erode.

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Re: MS still the underdog then

mac's were far too expensive to buy except for specific roles, and network unfriendly as I recall when was asked to price up a network - the 2 mac's I proposed were comparable in price with all the other machines required & directors just said no to macs.

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Re: MS still the underdog then

Lotus, Wordperfect, etc didn't have trouble moving to WIMP. This was the height of Microsoft's monopoly abuses - Microsoft broke competitors office applications with almost every patch to Windows (so eventually people stopped using non-Microsoft office apps).

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Re: MS still the underdog then

Although Aldus Pagemaker was first written for Mac, by 1992 it had legions of Windows 3.1 users.

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Pint

OMG - is this a wormhole?

They screen grabs are giving me flashbacks about failed floppy disk backups and stuff? Please stop

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How did it win? Simple economics

Although there were other OSes around (notable OS/2 - a "better DOS than DOS, a better Windows than Windows") which were arguably technically superior, Microsoft "won" by the simple expedient of licensing a copy of Windows 3.1 with every Intel processor sold (to "combat piracy" - sound familiar?). So manufacturers and home builders got a copy for "free", and to put anything else on the computer increased the cost further (there weren't many credible alternatives to the Intel 386 at the time). Only Escom Office dared to break the monopoly, putting OS/2 on its machines rather than Windows.

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Boffin

Re: How did it win? Simple economics

Not true.

It was easy to get chips without Windows back then. However, there was no activation or copy protection on Windows (or Office!) install floppies. This made Windows incredibly easy to pirate. I mean seriously, Jet Set Willy (with that horrible colour map thing) was harder to take a working copy from.

This in turn meant it was effectively free to home users This meant that home users knew MS Office where they didn't know WP or Lotus 1-2-3. An available skilled workforce meant Windows+Office had an immediate financial advantage for any company thinking of installing productivity software.

And thus, Microsoft won. They won due to ease of piracy.

Why they keep trying to stamp it out is beyond me. If MS want Win8 to rule the world, all they need to do is remove Activation and plant a few good torrents.

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Re: How did it win? Simple economics

I agree totally with dogged post, those who want Windows for free and never going to pay for it and the pirates will always find a way around any product keys/activation techniques.

As MS makes most of its money out of Windows from manufacturers paying to have Windows preinstalled on PCs that they ship why bother with all the activation BS which only serves to annoy genuine users.

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Meh

Re: How did it win? Simple economics

It won by two parallel strategies...

1 Allow and encourage people to take a copy and use it at home.

2 Get the PHBs to ignore people who actually knew what was good or bad in IT.

They were not alone in (1). A colleague was once told by WordPerfect that they would be disappointed if he didn't put it on his own computer. It was an industry wide thing that only a few like AutoCad did not follow.

Microsoft stopped this strategy once they were in a position of dominance. Many of the others had already been "taken out" by then.

(2) has been one of the biggest causes of problems in IT. We have management who were taught that the advice they received in the early 1990s was wrong. They have taught their successors this and then some of them have moved into even greater positions of power.

The fact that Dilbert and his boss are still checked every day by IT workers may be an indication that we are still there as well. People in control who not only do not understand what they are controlling but feel that this lack of knowledge makes them better than those who do. This has led to the BOFH being something we recognise as well.

I remember thinking that Windows 3.1 was interesting and then 3.11 did network stuff. I didn't really see what the problem was. Why did those network servers look like that? Surely it would be easier for IT if they had a GUI like me. Now I am IT and have GUIs all over the place. Perhaps the command line may come back. I hope so.

The PHBs have remained under Microsoft's spell though. I see that as the "real" reason that Linux has not taken off on the desktop years ago...

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Anonymous Coward

"Get the PHBs to ignore people who actually knew what was good or bad in IT."

Yet they (and possibly a few like vendors) get hailed like great innovators and causes of world-wide computer-y goodness.

And, yeah, even Trevor wrote an article in which he got all giddy when he discovered windows 8 will have a supposedly usable command line, honestly this time, when he's a complete fanboi-in-denial, running everything with hundreds of GUIs open all the time, including webmin for his linux boxes. His denials that he really isn't a fanboi, honest, sound remarkably like so much marketeering from his governing company to me. But I digress.

The command line has never been away. It got pushed out of offices, but to run a serious infrastructure you can't have your shop consist of thousands of GUIs. You automate. (Clueful shops do that. Not-so-clueful shops fail to scale. If you have chronic IT problems that you can't quite pin down, this is a good angle to investigate.) And as it happens, a CLI is just about the most easily automated interface* we've come up with so far. Humans can use it, scripts can drive it. That's all you need, really.

As to linux, well, their particular fanboi tendencies haven't been productive. Lots of enthousiasm, not enough skill in talking to the PHBs, and often a bit too focused on attacking their nemesis instead of providing real solutions for real problems. That the commercial competition didn't quite deliver is neither here nor there; to be a better replacement you have to deliver on the promise better than the replacee. Yet all the same, linux is quite big, there's lots and lots of software available, and given the right support, reasonably (if not quite perfectly) usable. We'll see more of it, count on it. Might take a generation or two, though.

* I've seen things that were billed "CLI" but were not in any way or form automatable. Then, as would be the obvious conclusion, they weren't command line interfaces. And indeed they weren't. The term for that sort of thing is "TUI".

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Re: How did it win? Simple economics

It was simple economics, but not there. MS won when they finally got around to leveraging their OS monopoly to undercut the apps vendors: $99 Competitive Upgrade to Word If You Have a WordPerfect License! $99 Competivie Upgrade to Excel if you have a Lotus 1-2-3 or Quatro Pro License!

They also got a boost from a bad PC Magazine review of OS/2. The review complained about the impossibility of installing it from the 17 or more floppy disks (1.44 hard cases actually) about 3 months before MS released 95 on its 22 plus floppies. MS was fortunate in that the CD-ROM drive was just becoming popular when they released their OS, and they were able to quickly move their installation to that instead. Ah those were the nightmares: create a bootable DOS disk that would recognize you CD-ROM so you could install Windows 95 directly from CD.

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Re: How did it win? Simple economics

Economics, yes, but not just for copies of DOS/Windows. MS was primarily a maker of software development tools. Long before DOS, we used MS compilers for 8080/z80 CP/M machines. When DOS got its boost because IBM shipped it with their 8088 PCs, MS already had excellent, for the time, dev tools. As a result, software development for DOS/Windows was easier and cheaper. Apple was a completely closed system and a pain in the a#@$ for developers. IBM had good tools for OS/2, but the cost was higher and the market smaller. MS made deals with PC manufacturers that made DOS/Windows cheaper for them, though they had to agree to ship it on every PC. People didn't care, because all of the software ran on DOS/Windows. It may have crashed alot, but at least it ran. It wasn't even available for Mac or OS/2.

As for the frequent crashes, the same cheap, easy development model also made for quick and dirty hardware drivers. The result was that 9 times out of 10 the flaky crashes were caused by buggy 3rd party hardware drivers. But, it also made every new piece of hardware PC compatible and increased the competition, making peripheral hardware for PCs cheap and plentiful. Apple was quite the opposite. And while OS/2 could run on the same hardware, the myriad hardware manufacturers were not about to double their costs just so it would work for a smaller and smaller niche market. Ironically, what lead MS to dominate the desktop was their openness and catering to software developers.

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@Jaybus

Some good points there too, especially vis-a-vie third party drivers, which truth be told were still the primary causes of crashes under 95 too. I remember the Sr. Tech telling me to replace the sound card on a system that was having NIC issues. I was all 'WTF?!? It's a NIC issue not a sound card issue.' Of course Sr. was right, the audio card driver was conflicting with the NIC driver and replacing the audio card was the simpler solution.

In the end it wasn't any ONE thing that gave MS the market it was a bunch of them. I just still happen to be of the opinion that a few too many of them were underhanded even if there were legitimate ones like the apps development angle.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: How did it win? Simple economics

Why Microsoft (and other major business/entertainment software companies) are so vehemently against piracy?

It creates jobs. DRM solution sellers, IP lawyers, call centers for activating your software, the 'Windows Genuine Advantage' marketers etc.

It's also a method to reassure shareholders that measures are in place to protect their investments in the software company. "Hey, we have DRM, you can park your money with us safely."

Still, anything that is digital will be pirated. You can easily find software from Adobe and Microsoft on torrent sites, and working cracks for them.

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Re: How did it win? Simple economics

More economics. Windows 3.0 worked on much of the installed base of PCs at the time (enough to run Word, Excel etc.), similarly with Windows 3.1. OS/2 (and later Windows NT) had higher memory and CPU requirements usually requiring a hardware upgrade. That was a key OS/2 v Windows discussion point in Microsoft itself around 3.0 launch (Windows 3.0 only had a small development team compared to OS/2. About 30 I think, including management etc.).

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Holmes

Re: How did it win? Simple economics

It was in the WordPefect for Windows v5.1 Licence Agreement that if you had a company copy, you could also load it on a PC at home. It was not "pirating".

I am looking at a copy of that agreement right now, because I still have my boxed copy from work, with floppies, heavy manuals and everything. When my company went over to Word, most people tossed their WordPerfect boxes in the bin, but some of us took it home.

We all (except some PHBs) thought Word was crap compared with WP. We especially missed the "Reveal Codes" feature, and Word would render our old WP files in peculiar fonts; they had only been in Times Roman, but this was Microsoft punishing us for ever having used WP.

I used WP right up until I went to Open Office. I must try re-installing it one day.

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Re: How did it win? Simple economics

God, I *STILL* miss Reveal Codes! :-\

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Re: How did it win? Simple economics

My post on WordPerfect looks a bit OT where it is, but I was actually replying to Spanners who was comapring Windows licensing policies with WordPerfect's.

Why (since the new software in this forum) do replies get separated from the parent?

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Mushroom

Re: How did it win? Simple drug-dealer's economics

The first hit is free and you pay for the rest of your life.

Win 3.1 was almost free, as was the version of MS Office that ran on it.

After a majority of businesses had tied themselves into closed file formats ( "addicted") they started raising the price, justifying it with features that most users would have paid to have removed. But, hey, no way out, and no way not to "upgrade" to a more expensive fix.

They were also ruthless with the competition. Drugs dealers kill rivals. So did Microsoft (metaphorically speaking). It blatantly abused its position to put competitors out of business. Sometimes it ended up in court, but win or lose, it knew its competitors were not coming back from the corporate grave.

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networking?

wasnt it 3.11 that first introduced some form of networking in the core? Or was that 95..

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