Microsoft

Windows 3.1 experiment hits a wall

My experiment to see if you can still run Windows 3.1 in a business environment hits an early major setback as networking problems immediately appear. Read on to see what went wrong and where things stand.

My experiment to see if you can still run Windows 3.1 in a business environment hits an early major setback as networking problems immediately appear. Read on to see what went wrong and where things stand.

--------------------------------------------

As I had mentioned before, I planned to run an experiment to see if you could still be productive with old technologies. The first thing I planned to do was to see if I could survive a week running Windows 3.1. The experiment hit the wall almost immediately when a combination of limitations in Virtual PC and Windows 3.1 conspired together to put the experiment to an early end.

The initial plan

My initial plan was to create a 1993-era environment complete with vintage equipment and Windows for Workgroups 3.11. To that end, I had an old Compaq Prolinea 425/s set and ready to go. This was an old 486SX-25 machine with 4MB of RAM. It seemed like the best way to go to see if you could really make do with old technology.

The problem was the Compaq needed a CD-ROM to make it easier to install Windows and all the other software. Not having a spare that would go into the unit, I decided to just go with the Virtual PC version of WFW that I had installed a while back. Doing so wouldn't give the full effect, but I figured it would be good enough to start the experiment.

Virtual PC limitations with Windows 3.x

It was a good plan, but the combination of Windows 3.x and Virtual PC quickly became a headache. Most of the problem revolved around the choice of emulated hardware that Microsoft uses for its virtual environment compared with Windows 3.x support.

Essentially none of the emulated hardware is supported by Windows 3.x. To make anything work, you must run around and gather up all the necessary hardware and software needed to make the system work acceptably. The necessary hardware drivers to make Windows 3.x play nice with Virtual PC include:

Each driver presented its own challenges, but eventually I got everything up and running. The next problem, however, was overcoming limitiations with Windows 3.x itself.

Windows 3.x limitations

As if getting the emulated hardware to cooperate wasn't bad enough, I then encountered the problem of getting creaky old Windows 3.x to make it into the twenty-first century. I at least had a head start because I chose to use Windows for Workgroups 3.11, which was at least designed with networking in mind. Naturally, it was designed with early 1990's networking in mind, which was little help.

WFW ships with support for the two most popular protocols of the day -- NetBEUI and IPX.  Of course, both of those protocols are useless for connecting to the Internet in general, and NetBEUI in particular won't connect to anything anymore. That means downloading a TCP/IP stack for WFW.

Installing it was easy enough. Merely extract the files from the EXE and run Setup. Configuring TCP/IP, on the other hand, was a pain. Yes, the stack could support DHCP, but not as completely as you're used to in this day and age. DHCP in Windows 3.x allows you to automatically draw an IP address and Netmask, but it won't automatically pull the default gateway or DNS information. That means you must find those numbers and add them manually. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but certainly a bit of a pain that defeats the purpose of DHCP.

The next and biggest problem came in the form of Web-browser support. The latest and greatest Web browser I could find for Windows 3.x was Internet Explorer 5.01. This was suprisingly modern -- I thought IE 4.01 was the last version for Windows 3.x. Alas, it's not modern enough. After installing this browser, it quickly became apparent that you can go almost nowhere with IE 5.01.

IE 5.01 doesn't support the JavaScript used by most modern Web sites. And you can completly forget anything with AJAX or Flash. The JavaScript limitiations were enough to put the brakes on things.

Google loads with errors, but search result links don't execute. AltaVista works with minor complaints. Most major Web sites, however, wont render at all. For example, visiting TechRepublic causes the browser to completely seize up.

I was hoping to find a newer browser that would support JavaScript at least, but no such luck. Not even open-sourced Firefox or Mozilla offer a Windows 3.x version of their browser.

Dead in the water

So, for now I'm pretty much stuck. An OS without useful Internet access in the twenty-first century is essentially useless. I still have a copy of Microsoft Office 4.2 to install, but without Internet access to download the necessary filters to bring it closer to this decade, it will be basically useless as well. On top of that, I'd still need to figure out how to connect Windows 3.x to our Exchange server and find a serviceable IM client.

It doesn't bode well for old Windows 3.x. I think I may be forced to give it an "F" and move on to Windows 95.  Right now it gets an Incomplete.

If you want to see what I went through to configure Windows 3.x in Virtual PC, check out my Windows 3.x/Virtual PC Photo Gallery.

75 comments
TheAnonymousApple
TheAnonymousApple

I actually used MS-DOS 6.22 and Windows 3.1 on a Compaq Prolinea 4/25s as my main system up until about 2010, when I got a netbook.

amma1
amma1

retry but with windows nt 3.51 or 4 sp6a

Sematary
Sematary

I run DOS and WFWG on a P166 with 64 mb of ram. You are completely correct about the browser being essentially useless but if you're looking for software that works on it, the sites that carry that software are pretty much designed with that in mind. Actually, everything works really well, except for one aspect, which I haven't figured out yet - which is what led me to this page. I can create shares on that machine and connect to them easily enough from my Windows 7 and Windows 8 machines but in reverse, I can't do it. I just get an error that says network unavailable. I can SEE the networked machines. I just can't do anything with them. In reverse - from 7 to wfwg, I can send files to the wfwg machine, which is cool since I downloaded a dos mp3 player the other day. :-)

But I really want to figure out why I can't connect in the other direction


jessejoh
jessejoh

I can't exactly remember what, but I do remember getting 3.1 somewhat modernized. I believe I got it to 32mb or 64mb of ram, and used "Opera" for a full featured web browser. I can't be completely sure, but this was my unfortunate necessary setup for a while about 13 years ago because my other computer bit the dust and my family had no money to replace it. I used a very old computer I got from my math teacher, and spent days working with it and another computer's hardware before I finally got something to work. I could be wrong, but I believe I needed to install the ram after the BIOS check, while the computer was still on in order to register the full amount on windows. Do not try any of this at home! After all is said and done, the computer struggled to fit my needs and was eventually replaced. Another funny story about that... I believe I replaced it by finding out how to install windows 98 on the old bugger (it wouldn't work normally as the pc was just terrible)!

wolverine79936
wolverine79936

I know is this a old article, but I tried the same. I couldn't find any "archaic" hardware to run on in reality so had to do VirtualBox myself. I got everything running, but everytime I ran Word the silly thing would give me a blue screen of death. I use to use VirtualPC but find VirtualBox much more versatile. Just FYI. :) The only thing I have not tried yet is repartitioning my second hard drive and seeing if I can get Win 3 to run on my modern AMD triple core. I doubt this would work though, I don't think there are any nVidia drivers for Win 3 anymore. ;)

thomgood
thomgood

Look a little harder.You have a variety of TCP/IP options available,some IBM mainframe/mini connectivity options, and some available Jscript and javascript support. Hint: some of the needed software was bundled with/within a variety of Server products, including NT. Your article amused me. One of WFW 3.11's strengths was it's Unix and mainframe connectivity. You have difficulty finding the Jscript & Javascript support because it was suppressed temporarily as part of the attempts at avoiding the Antitrust judgement.It's in the later MS releases of their Java package before distribution of the Java VM was returned to Sun. I suspect that the VM environment is causing most of your problems, and that .NET rather than jscript are causing some of the others .

OldER Mycroft
OldER Mycroft

Seems to me that you all missed something so far. The basic premise is to consider by testing, the considered viability of old hardware for more modern software applications, therefore you should be utilizing the best opportunities available. Virtual PC 2004 or 2007, whichever you choose, is only a cut-down version of the original package which, by the way, is also now available for free. So if your gonna use an emulator to "go back in time", why start off with a limited-ability product like [u]Virtual PC[/u] ?? Try using the full product and opt for [u]Virtual Box[/u] instead! http://www.virtualbox.org/ After all, in trying to get away from the mistakes made by Microsoft, why deliberately expose yourself to the version that inherently contains all those same mistakes?

Others don't play well with me
Others don't play well with me

an old version of linux to try your expiriment on? I have an installable 3 cd version of Linux, Mandrake 8.2 ( Bluebird ) [ community download version, not their pro pack retail version ] this one is, I think, from about 2000.

marco.a.simao
marco.a.simao

Hey man, i have an OS2 Warp original instalation, on the original floppy disks. This would work better than this think, why dont you give a try?

-Q-240248
-Q-240248

You should find an old copy of Netscape, the preferred browser in those days. If using WFW in VM, does the autoexec.bat config.sys files have any issues loading?

AlexNagy
AlexNagy

I think this was a waste of time. Windows For Workgroups 3.x? You have got to be kidding me. I don't even consider running 95 anymore (although I have an OEM copy with USB support).

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

Okay. I've got just what you need. An old 1988 Compaq Presario laptop. It has a 80486 processor and is very fast with WIN3.1 on it. It boots to PCDOS 6.2. I've not had any luck trying to run WIN3.1 on anything beyond that level of hardware. After that, it was the newest thing of WIN95(ugh). I wouldn't even try to run it on the hardware of today, not even under a virtual environment, just way to many differences in the IRQ and then that was way before the NIC age. The closest you might get would be an old 3270 emulator card, maybe.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

Terrorists hit computers and software with this driver and codec stuff.

John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro
John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was going to try to see if it was possible to still run old technology in 2008. To start off, I was going to try running for a week or more doing real work with Windows 3.1. However, poor Windows 3.x can't even get out of the starting gate as I mention in Classics Rock: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/classic-tech/?p=157 Part of the problem was the Virtual PC environment I chose, but even after those problems, Windows 3.x is outdated enough that you can't get a Web browser that will surf the Web reliably. In and of itself that practically precludes Windows from being serviceable. I still have a copy of Office 4.2 to install along with a 16 bit version of Outlook, but I think it's going to be a complete lost cause. Any recommendations about how to get it working or what to do next?

Editor's Picks