Happy 20th birthday, Windows 3.1

After the due celebrations for the first 25 years of OS/2, another important computer-related anniversary takes place during these days: it’s the twentieth “birthday” of Windows 3.1, the OS-wannabe GUI that began to turn Windows into the incredibly powerful and well-known brand we take for granted today.

Benj Edwards reminds us that on April 6, 1992, Microsoft released Windows 3.1: it was the first really successful version of the Windows GUI running atop of MS-DOS, bringing important improvements over the previous version (released two years before) and selling three million copies in the first two months.



Windows 3.1 was the first version of the Microsoft operating environment (as we used to call GUIs running atop an external OS back then) to break compatibility with real-mode CPUs (8086/8088), requiring an Intel 80286 processor to run in “standard mode” or a 386-class CPU to take full advantage of the software and (underlying) hardware capabilities of the time.

CPU support aside, Windows 3.1 featured the “Program Manager” to manage groups of applications and the “File Manager” to copy, cut and paste files within a graphical tree-like view: the two features have been merged into “Windows Explorer” from Windows 95 onward.

Windows 3.1 introduced True Type fonts, vector-type char sets invented by Apple years before that for the first time turned the Microsoft GUI into a viable desktop publishing platform. The operating environment also saw the first appearance of Minesweeper, a rudimentary version of the Registry (now a fundamental part for the inner workings of Windows), a “modular” and customizable Control Panel, Object Linking and Embedding technology to dynamically share images and data within programs, better support for multimedia and so on.

It’s easy to evaluate the heritage of Windows 3.1 and subsequent, minor revisions considering that the operating environment was still supported for embedded applications until 2008, and that Microsoft decided to leave the OS/2 project co-developed with IBM after having experienced the huge success of its own product.

Image source: GUIdebook

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My first PC had DOS 2.11 (A XT Intel 8086 3.77 MHz, 640k of RAM, 2 5.25 inch drives, and an amber monitor that I could emulate CGA graphics on.)

I guess I'm just poor but I'm still using my 486 DX2 66Mhz I used to run Win 3.1 on it but now I run Win 98 it runs kinda slow but it does what I need.

Daniel_Pooh said,
I guess I'm just poor but I'm still using my 486 DX2 66Mhz I used to run Win 3.1 on it but now I run Win 98 it runs kinda slow but it does what I need.

Indeed you are.

You can sell that as a antique and problably buy a 100-200 dollar PC.

htcz said,

Indeed you are.

You can sell that as a antique and problably buy a 100-200 dollar PC.

We've been together for so long I've formed an emotional connection to this PC I don't think I could ever give it up plus it still serves me well.

I'm 30yo... I used Windows 3.11 back in the days, on my 486 DX 33MHz Great memories.

I have a Win 3.11 VMWare image I play with sometimes, with some old games I used to play when I was a kid, somewhere in 1993 or 1994.

What was cool (and sometimes bad) with Windows 3.11 is that you had to really understand how a computer works to configure and use your stuff like your brand new Sound Blaster Pro (DMA, IRQ, etc.).

Today, everything is dumbified... people are using a computer like they use a microwave....

Before Win 3.1 even came out, I was using a Packard Bell 286 with MS-DOS 5.0... that was really cool too.

I remember playing with this.. every application was a new thing to play with... every weekend format the hard drive so i could start again with pretty much the same apps.. ah nostalgia.. (:

Happy birthday Win3.1 (:

MidnightDevil said,
I remember playing with this.. every application was a new thing to play with... every weekend format the hard drive so i could start again with pretty much the same apps.. ah nostalgia.. (:

Happy birthday Win3.1 (:

So I wasn't the only one was always formatting and reinstalling Windows or whatever other OS I found at the used software store that week. Family thought I was crazy, but it was fun.

Guess i'm old... I was nine and remember the event. The upgrade from 3.0 to 3.1 with pop soda looking at blue white screens. I also remeber the outraged discussions (but not the exact numbers). Windows was 5 or 6 entire floppies! Dos 6.0 was already out of proportion with its 3 floppies.
I was lucky, my 386 had a 120 Mb harddisk (took 2 5,25 inch bays) that was never ever going to be full. The machine featured an insane amount of ram, 6 Mb or 10Mb or something.

Oh it also was the start of upgrade problems, Program X did not work!

It was also the time strange hacks appeared. I think there was a driver to make the pc speaker act as a soundcard. Quality was horrible but my father did not want to spend money on a soundblaster card, audio on a pc is irrelevant and annoying.

Great times!

Palpatine said,
IT HAS NO START MENU!!!

Because it was never created. Nor because it was actively removed and replaced by something that doesn't do everything the Start menu did.

I can't believe people still want to interact with the hardware today like they did back then.

No one has to set IRQs today.
No one complains about how Microsoft made the interaction simpler.

Now that Microsoft want to take management responsibilities away from users, everyone is in an uproar.

I loved to hate you Win 3.1

Your legacy is appreciated.

dotf said,
I can't believe people still want to interact with the hardware today like they did back then.

No one has to set IRQs today.
No one complains about how Microsoft made the interaction simpler.

Allowing the OS to automatically assign hardware resources, good. Dumbing down the OS into Fisher-Price's "Baby's First OS", not so good. Maybe for the grandparents but some of us like to be the one in charge of our computer.

TRC said,
....

Replacing the hand crank on an automobile with and electrical starter good.
Adding radios, gps, Electronic fuel injection, not so good.
Some of use like to read the paper and navigate with maps and control the air fuel mixture ourselves.

s3n4te said,
Windows 3.1's UI is more useable than Windows 8's UI. Happy birthday Win 3.1!

Always has to be someone that doesnt think.

I remember using Geoworks at that time I bought a game that required Windows needless to say I biked 8 miles 6 times with a floppy disk to copy the c:\Windows folder (I've paid Microsoft back about 150 times since then) I just thought it was cool it had a terminal to connect to my BBS's (not a very good one though no colors)

I remember my school used Macs and Commodore 64's. The Commodore 64's had a game called 'The Great Giana Sisters'. It was a rip-off of 'Super Mario Bros'. I was jealous because all I had at home was Windows 3.1. Two years later I discovered 'Doom'. I wasn't jealous anymore.

Using Windows 3.11 (I know it's not 3.1) for old school dos stuff. Although I liked and used Windows 3.1, 3.11 was far better for me. lol

I had MS-DOS and a grayscale monitor at home, so I went crazy after seeing in my school Paintbrush and Prince of Persia, both for the first time on a color monitor. There was just one color monitor and 50 grayscale monitors so all the kids used to fight for occupying that one seat in front of the color monitor.

Windows 3.1's biggest advance was that it ran exclusively in protected mode, no more real mode resulting in cleaner memory management.

Edited by UXGaurav, Apr 13 2012, 4:27am :

Dinggus said,
I definitely remember .wav files! Is the sound recorder still on Windows?

It is, and believe it or not the Windows 3.1 version has more features.

I was about 5-10 when I first used win 3.11 for workgroups. This was the first Windows I've used. My family had this on a Osborne x86 pc. I remember having to type in "win" just to start Windows, since windows was just an app on top of MS-DOS. Ah the good old days of playing with win programs like paint, soltaire, program mamager, file manager.

Though the PC belonged to my parents, my interest in computing was born out of secretly turning their PC on and having a play on it. I even remembered playing Wolf3D on it (without my parents knowing) lol.

Many changes have influenced technology while I was growing up and still am.

I still have Windows 3.1 running on my old IBM PS/Note 425 laptop that I bought from Sears back in the day - 20 years old - wow, how many computers have I bought since then...

Since I'm still holding onto my 5 1/2" floppy disks with Windows 1.04 and Digital Research's GEM 1.0 (wonder where I can find a disk drive to load that with) it's not a surprise that people get nostalgic when it comes to a classic operating system. It was a big thrill to install those on my DOS-based Kaypro PC (turbo-XT) that was upgradable to a 286 processor. (Unfortunately, Kaypro went bankrupt, the store I bought the PC from went under and then the PC was struck by lightning - but at least I was able to upgrade to a fancy Gateway 386 box...)

Installing software and using computers felt like a much bigger event back then, which is where the nostalgia comes from. Sure, we griped about it at the time and had no idea we'd look back on it fondly some day, but here we are.

There was something about spending an entire afternoon getting stuff configured and running, or tinkering in crappy software that didn't really feel crappy because it was ALL crap (imagine if ALL available software looked and felt like something from a Linux repository, but even uglier--no, not Java, but you're on the right track). We didn't really care whether the developer of an app we found on a shareware BBS had a reputation or not, because we didn't know anything about them anyway. Hell, we'd go to computer shows and PAY for obscure shareware floppies just to have a new application to toy with.

Wow, computers have come such a long way. I remember when computers were only DOS. I never got a chance to use 3.1 but I do remember when computers at the library had Win98 but a neighbor bought a second hand computer that had it on it. I was like "Whoa...."

this bring back fond memories. of top-lined 286 machine. humungous 10 mb hard disk. the dreaded 3.5" diskettes. and being proud of the ability to squeeze 635 kb of ram out of config.sys and autoexec.bat tweaking using QEMM.

Actually, Windows 3.0 was the first very successfuly version of Windows considering that 3.1 although it featured some architectual improvements, didn't put Windows on the map, it was 3.0. When you take into account Windows 1.0, 1.1, 2.0 286/386, it was even the success of Windows 3.0 that made MS make the decision to go with the WIN32 API, apply it to the still developing NT OS and drop OS/2.

I'm confused. The Win32 API wasn't even introduced until Windows NT 3.1 and didn't exist in any other version of Windows before then. Windows 3.1 was an enormous improvement in both architecture *and* usability, and much more than you seem to suggest. It was also the first version of Windows with a televised ad campaign, and the version that made Windows a household name.

This is very well-documented history.

Mr. Dee said,
Actually, Windows 3.0 was the first very successfuly version of Windows

I disagree. It would be Windows 3.11

Happy Birthday ! I remember Windows 3.1, I still have copies of the FLOPPY Disks, along with DOS 6.22 , hmmmmmmmmmm wonder if I should install it on an old P4 system I have here???..

xpablo said,
Happy Birthday ! I remember Windows 3.1, I still have copies of the FLOPPY Disks, along with DOS 6.22 , hmmmmmmmmmm wonder if I should install it on an old P4 system I have here???..

We'll you be able to get DOS drivers for the P4?

Damm, I feel old, I remember using Windows 2.0, OS/2, and the large number of 5 1/2 inch and 3.5 inch floppies to install them. Thank god the Zip drive came along to save me...

Redtop said,
Damm, I feel old, I remember using Windows 2.0, OS/2, and the large number of 5 1/2 inch and 3.5 inch floppies to install them. Thank god the Zip drive came along to save me...

Had to love installing from floppy disks. "Insert disk 18." click click click click....a few minutes later. "Insert disk 19". Even better when it told you to go back and insert previous disks again so it could install a driver or something.

My oldest kid is sharing his birthday with Win31
He turns 21 today... How cool is that?

On the other hand... Damn, I'm old!

Funny how you picked that screen to show in the article. I use to @#%(^!*^ hate seeing that message after I dropped to DOS to play a game, then came back into windows, forcing a reboot. Ahhhhh the good ole days of win.ini, config.sys & autoexec.bat files

naap51stang said,
Funny how you picked that screen to show in the article. I use to @#%(^!*^ hate seeing that message after I dropped to DOS to play a game, then came back into windows, forcing a reboot. Ahhhhh the good ole days of win.ini, config.sys & autoexec.bat files

The good ol days when rebooting Windows didn't mean rebooting the PC..

greenwizard88 said,

The good ol days when rebooting Windows didn't mean rebooting the PC..

A lot of the games did require you to reboot the pc, using a boot menu to select a low base memory profile so the games would actually load. I still remember having to have a collection of boot disks just to get certain games to run with the sound and mouse driver at the same time.

greenwizard88 said,

The good ol days when rebooting Windows didn't mean rebooting the PC..

1) As said, anyone who wanted their applications to run well (or at all) customized their autoexec.bat into a boot menu allowing them to choose, at start-up, an optimized configuration for Windows or DOS games (or anything else that required tinkering with memory settings). Rebooting Windows, at least in the case outlined above, very frequently meant rebooting the PC.

2) Today, rebooting the whole PC takes less than half the time it took back then to "Exit to DOS" and relaunch win.exe.

Joshie said,

2) Today, rebooting the whole PC takes less than half the time it took back then to "Exit to DOS" and relaunch win.exe.

You must have an insanely fast computer because Windows would always exit and restart almost instantly for me. You could still do this in Windows 9x also by holding the shift key. It would exit to DOS and restart instead of completely shutting down.

TRC said,

You must have an insanely fast computer because Windows would always exit and restart almost instantly for me. You could still do this in Windows 9x also by holding the shift key. It would exit to DOS and restart instead of completely shutting down.


SSDs are a wonderful thing. I spent more time in WfW than versions that preceded it, and one thing I'll never forget is staring at the logo splash, waiting for it to load.

It didn't help that I had no soundcard at the time. Waiting in silence is the worst way to wait.

wahoospa said,
I used 3.1.
Anyone know which version of Windows had the first virus? I'm guessing Windows 95 maybe?

At that time, there were DOS viruses; after all, Win31 ran ontop of DOS.
The one I remember the most (due to the damage it caused me) was NATAS, a boot sector virus.

xfx said,

At that time, there were DOS viruses; after all, Win31 ran ontop of DOS.
The one I remember the most (due to the damage it caused me) was NATAS, a boot sector virus.


Go back further. Early Apples were notoriously swamped with viruses and pretty frequently mocked for how easily infected they were.

wow thats amazing to hear. windows 3.1 was the first OS i ever used as a kid. means i was around 3-4 yo and i was playing wolfenstien and doom with it

ShareShiz said,
wow thats amazing to hear. windows 3.1 was the first OS i ever used as a kid. means i was around 3-4 yo and i was playing wolfenstien and doom with it

Yeah I play these two games also

ShareShiz said,
wow thats amazing to hear. windows 3.1 was the first OS i ever used as a kid. means i was around 3-4 yo and i was playing wolfenstien and doom with it

I hope you were booting to DOS with customized boot files for that!

Joshie said,

I hope you were booting to DOS with customized boot files for that!

Of course.
I also remember deleting a system font and having my whole PC turn Klingon.
rough.

Joshie said,

I hope you were booting to DOS with customized boot files for that!

And using the "Upper memory"...........................

Actually didn't use a computer with a operating system on it until 1994 or 1995, I just use a floppy disk back in the day.

Enron said,

I had a 1.44mb floppy disk with 20 "apps" on it.

I subscribed to a monthly shareware disk club. I think it was in 1994. I was in a queue at midnight when Windows95 was released...damn, I'm a dinosaur!!

Enron said,

I had a 1.44mb floppy disk with 20 "apps" on it.

And I had a 40 MB HD........... which was a big one at the time.......
For the youngers here: yes 40 MB not 40 GB...................... :-)

Fritzly said,

And I had a 40 MB HD........... which was a big one at the time.......
For the youngers here: yes 40 MB not 40 GB...................... :-)

I first installed it on a Zenith 286. I remember having to delete WordPerfect 6.0 for DOS first because it took up most of the 20 MB hard drive. Later I bought a 3.5" floppy drive so I could play Jeopardy. The old floppy drive controller didn't support them but I finally figured out how to use the PC-DOS Driveparm utility to override it. This all happened in 1997 though; I was a poor student and it was a really old computer.

TRC said,

I first installed it on a Zenith 286. I remember having to delete WordPerfect 6.0 for DOS first because it took up most of the 20 MB hard drive. Later I bought a 3.5" floppy drive so I could play Jeopardy. The old floppy drive controller didn't support them but I finally figured out how to use the PC-DOS Driveparm utility to override it. This all happened in 1997 though; I was a poor student and it was a really old computer.

In those days one of my favourite game was F117 by Microprose; a great combat flight-sim and its size was around 1400 Kb.................................

I was 6 when it was released 4/6/1992 I didn't use a PC with Windows on it until 1995 I think or maybe 1994 I not sure now lol.

i remember using win 3.1 for the very 1st time when the school i was at ordered in 3 MESH desktop PC's an a huge external CD rom Drive that you had to put disks into caddys to load them into the drive.

The King of GnG said,
Heh, it was the SECOND Windows I put my hands on in my life. Go figure how old I am :-P

Yeah, the first 386 we had ran Windows 3.0. The 486 had 3.1 though. It was so awesome back then.

The King of GnG said,
Heh, it was the SECOND Windows I put my hands on in my life. Go figure how old I am :-P

I still have my original disks for DOS, Windows 2.0, 3.1, 3.11...

Xerax said,
Damn, I was -2 Years old when this came out.

My first PC was already 10 years old by then :-/ I'm felling old thinking back about it.

Xerax said,
Damn, I was -2 Years old when this came out.

I was 2 months old when it came out, and used my first computer in 2007 with windows vista.

Three quarters of the people at Neowin had probably just been born (or not even) when this software was released into the wild! Remember it so well.

Farstrider said,
Three quarters of the people at Neowin had probably just been born (or not even) when this software was released into the wild! Remember it so well.

Used it Like a BOSS

Farstrider said,
Three quarters of the people at Neowin had probably just been born (or not even) when this software was released into the wild! Remember it so well.

I was born well before Win 3.1 came out. It was the 2nd Windows i used(Win 3.0 was the first i used). I was 9 when it came out and thus i started with it. This bring back all those cmd based memories.

soldier1st said,

I was born well before Win 3.1 came out. It was the 2nd Windows i used(Win 3.0 was the first i used). I was 9 when it came out and thus i started with it. This bring back all those cmd based memories.

They keep saying 3.1 I only remember using Windows 3.0 on my dad's old 286. Before that it was Windows 286. I remember the day he installed 3.0 and I was like WOW COLOR!!!! I printed some drawings on the old Laser Jet haha. Was disappointed to find it only printed black... I miss those days.