screenshot of Windows 3.1 running in a virtual machine

Windows 3.1 is alive

I went down a rabbit hole this weekend and found myself looking at a download of a Windows 3.1 ISO file. I haven’t used Windows 3.1 since Windows 95 was released. It was the first OS I used as an adult. When I was stationed at Ramstein AB in the early ’90s, our supervisor had a Windows PC in his office. Because I worked the grave shift and he worked days, I could use the computer to write letters and (mostly) play DOOM.

So of course when I saw the download, I had to try it.

I used VMWare to create a virtual machine, then I had to install MS-DOS — which was pretty easy to find from the Windows download page. But installing ancient software on a virtual machine is a little different from doing it on a real machine. You have to initialize and setup a floppy drive and CD-ROM. There’s a lot of rebooting involved. Thanks to VMWare Advisor for the super helpful video.

Installing it all was fun, and it brought back memories of shuffling through floppies to find the right setup disk order.

Once it was up and running, I realized that the environment was almost foreign to me now. How do you close a window? Where are my files? How do I delete a file? And don’t forget that you have to boot in DOS and then type WIN at the prompt to start Windows.

screenshot of Windows 3.1 running in a virtual machine

The raw install of MS-DOS and Windows 3.1 is a whopping 6 MB. Compared to a recent Ubuntu 20.04 install at 3 GB, it’s almost an email-able file.

I have no idea what I’m going to do with this, but it was a blast from the past. File this one under, “Because I can.”


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