Windows

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.

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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.

72 comments
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.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

I think that this is slightly late. None the less as Win 3 whatever ran on-top of DOS you would have to get some form of DOS Installed and running before you could even consider opening Windows. ;) Col

John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro
John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro

Yeah, VPC was a poor choice to start with. To properly 'run' such an experiment, I should have just configured up that old Prolinea and been done with it. I still may. Like I said, VPC was supposed to have been a shortcut to get the software tested. It did however, turn into an interesting time getting all of the pieces together for supporting Windows 3.x in a VPC environment, so it wasnt a total loss.

John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro
John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro

That might be interesting, but Linux is a pain enough to get running today. I absolutely hated RedHat 5x and 6x when I tried them. I could probably leave that to someone like Jack Wallen. :)

Jaqui
Jaqui

the default mozilla suite browser installed can't even load TR's forums. [ though google basic search pages works, it doesn't have any ajax in it ] and it's a major upgrade of installed packages to get the minimum needed for even an older version of Seamonkey or Firefox to be able to install or use them.

John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro
John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro

Actually, I've got a copy of OS/2 Warp 4.0 as well. I've already got it up and running on a PII 450 right now. After I'm done fighting with the Windows 3x install, I'll probably give Windows 95 a run. But don't worry, OS/2 is on the To-Do list. As a late 90's OS, it certainly qualifies in the testing.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Q. What's the difference between WfWg 3.11 and OS2 Warp? A. Once upon a time, WfWg 3.11 was actually useful.

John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro
John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro

I've gotten Netscape 3.01 to work, but Javascript blows up with it as well. I've been looking for a copy of Netscape 4.x, but so far the versions I've installed have all delivered GPFs. This is a problem with my copy of Windows I think. As for Autoexec.bat and Config.sys, they work the same in the VPC VM as they do in a real computer. They all load normally.

John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro
John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro

Great suggestion! Thanks. I've since tried Netscape 4.07 and Opera 3.62, both of which I got from there. Unfortunately Netscape gives a General Protection Fault (the Windows 3.x version of a bluescreen). Opera seems to be ok so far. It will even mostly render TechRepublic. The drawback to it is that it is only a 30 day trial. Even though the new versions of Opera are free, this one still wants to be purchased and registered.

Bizzo
Bizzo

It's an experiment to see if hardware and software from around 1993 will still work in today's environment.

John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro
John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro

Admittedly there's no good reason to be running Windows For Workgroups anymore. The point of the original article was, just how modern do you have to be and how much old technology can you get away with and be productive in the 21st Century. http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/classic-tech/?p=146 Windows 2000 is still perfectly serviceable as an platform, but the question remained - what about Windows 98? Windows 95? And yes, what about Windows 3.x. Windows 3.x isn't completely unusable on a day to day basis. It just doesn't hold up very well in the 21st Century.

John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro
John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro

No... you're right. Windows 95 or anything after it would be completely painful on a 486. Although Windows 95 is *supposed* to be able to run on a 486 if you put enough memory on it. Kind of like how Vista is supposed to be able to run on a single core P4 if you put enough memory on it. You can do it, but you'll hate every minute of it.

Shellbot
Shellbot

Excellent :) Your an open source fan then? ]:)

s_georgiev
s_georgiev

Perhaps I am the last person in the world, who will prefer VPC over VBox, but when we are talking about Windows 3.x, VPC completely win. This is because VPC is emulating S3 Trio 64, which is very well supported (with 3rd party drivers) in Windows 3.x environment, network card and sound card are working very well too. I have installed Windows 3.0, Windows 3.1 and Windows 3.11 in QEMU, VirtualBox, VMWare Workstation, Parallels Workstation, Bochs and VPC 2004, 2007 (just because I can, as someone said before) - both with TCP/IP support and installed internet browsers. Not very usable, but works... VirtualBox doesn't have Windows 3.x guest additions (and Windows 9x too, sadly...), its emulated graphics hardware lacks of any drivers for Windows 3.x, I tried to use VESA patched VGA driver (it still can be found in some internet sites) - with various success, because it works but very slow. In fact, I found drivers for Windows 9x (VBEMP - for some old video adapters and for emulated VirtualBox adapter), but they were very basic (unaccelerated at all) and damn slow in Windows 95/98/Me. So, VPC 2004 and especially 2007 won the battle for Windows 3.x emulation. VPC also won in my OS/2 tests - I succeed to install and use OS/2 in VPC 2007 with and without hardware virtualization. I was unable to install successfully OS/2 in all other virtualization software, except in Parallels Workstation, but only with hardware assisted virtualization. And it was not so stable in Parallels. This is strange, because Parallels was founded as OS/2 virtualization software.

John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro
John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro

Hmmm... As anyone who actually USED OS/2 Warp at the time would remember, it ran circles around WFW and was more solid than even Windows 95. It probably wasnt until Windows 2000 that Microsoft had an OS as solid and useful as OS/2. IBM's problem was they couldnt market it to save their lives. Even the PC division wouldnt preload it from fear of Microsoft.

AlexNagy
AlexNagy

but why would you care? Recycling old hardware so it doesn't hit the landfill? Saving a few pennies (literally, with the price of storage going as low as I've ever seen it (internal 1TB drives for $170 anyone?), same with memory and CPUs) here and there won't save the company budget, nor will it allow you to be productive. Your IT guys, instead of being able to monitor for network intrusions, will be looking to make sure there's even an internal network up and going at any given time. There's a reason why companies stop supporting old technologies. There's a reason we call old hardware and software "outdated" and having reached it's EOL. It's either not productive at all anymore to use, or not productive enough when compared to current tech. Perhaps just for the geek cred it's interesting, but leave that sort of stuff for Slashdot.

AlexNagy
AlexNagy

I don't think I did, see my reply below to bizzo.

bus66vw
bus66vw

It works. I use it for old games not to work on. I have another old Toshiba desktop that needs some rework but it was working well In 2002 for the listed requirements: * Email * Word Processing * Spreadsheets * Databases * Web surfing * Audio/video playback * IM If I ever get enough time to refit it with a new CDrom drive, I would need to add a new requirement to your list; Anti-virus (Avast?)

Dumphrey
Dumphrey

It sounds like it could be haiku.

GSG
GSG

As soon as I read Balthor's post, my first thought was "Balthor Strikes Again".

Jellimonsta
Jellimonsta

Balthor is an open horizons kind of guy/girl. The time and space continuum are but a minor hindrance to Balthor! :D

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

You'll usually have more grief making nonMS work with MS if MS has a competing product and nothing works as well with MS as MS. With that, I'm not surprised that VPC runs Microsoft products better than other offerings. I'd question the VMware not running it better as I get better performance out of Dos, win98 and winXP under *nix hosts VM. Unfortunatly, my win3.11 install diskettes have long since rotted out else I'd dump it on top of my Dos VM and see how it really ran. I'd actually like a pure dos VM and a win3.11 VM just to round out the OS collection. I also prefer VMware over Vbox though due to better USB support and such. (afterthought); did you try testing with VMware on a *nix host OS to see how all your various guest OS ran? I'd be curious to hear what you found. I've been able to test winXP VM under VMware on both platforms by keeping the VM directory on a partition both OS can read from.

JackOfAllTech
JackOfAllTech

I believe almost all large Mainframe shops still use OS/2 machines to manage the LPARs.

John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro
John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro

Then generally hardware issues or problems with non-Microsoft software. Hardware manufacturers often make shoddy drivers that wind up making the whole system unstable. Windows has long suffered from that problem.

-Q-240248
-Q-240248

DOS 5.0 was better because it was a better conventional memory manager (among a slew of other cool commands). If you don't have conventional memory configured properly, you will easily crash WFW.

-Q-240248
-Q-240248

Unfortunately, most Windows problems were directly related to the user. In fact, that has not changed much over the last decade or so.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

The file/print servers ran OS/2 Warp 4.0 and were rock-stable; I only remember one reboot of the servers in my territory over the year I worked there. I think they upgraded to OpenBSD and Samba in about 2004.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I still have a cleaner disk for them. Hey, it doesn't take up in space...

jbaviera
jbaviera

I've got a couple extra that I'm reasonbly certain still work!

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

He could do some pretty shnazzy things that us Windows SysOps didn't get for a long while after. Route modem/BBS to a telnet port; Warp did that, Win2k eventually could also. Sadly, Warp was an OS I missed while exploring the Windows offerings of the time.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

why should the facts stand between me and a good punch line :-) You're dead on about the marketing. Madonna should be running Microsoft; both of them are better at marketing than creating what they're selling. I think it's safe to say only hobbyists and TR columnists would be interested in running either Warp or WfWg 3.11 today. I'm enjoying reading your attempts. Now where did I put those MS-DOS 3.2 floppies? Never mind; they were 5.25s.

John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro
John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro

That site just lists up to NetScape 3.04 Gold. The last version of NetScape that works with Windows 3.x is NetScape 4.08 which is listed on a seperate page: http://sillydog.org/narchive/full4.php Unfortunately, my Windows 3x install keeps GPFing on it, so I can't use that either. :( It's a Windows problem, not a problem with Netscape I dont think.

JackOfAllTech
JackOfAllTech

Have you lost your curiosity or did you never have any? Not everything has to have a business purpose or a positive ROI. Don't you do anything just for the FUN of it? This is cool stuff and exercises the brain. I have WFW running under DosBox on my PC at home just because I can. It made me feel good to be able to overcome the problems. All work and no play make Jack a dull boy!

AlexNagy
AlexNagy

That's how I got started with computers. I ran Red Hat Linux on an old IBM PC330 486 all the way up to RH8. It's how I got started in web design (and why I still push myself in that field, even if it's only benefit is for me personally). But I've never tried reviving something so old you actually need hardware emulators to get it to run (well, except for MAME, for obvious reasons).

Bizzo
Bizzo

But you really have missed the point. It's not about saving pennies, or actually reusing hardware for any particular purpose. You may ask the same question about vintage cars. Why do people spend thousands getting vintage cars road worthy, when they could quite easily buy a new one for a lot less? Why do people restore antique furniture when they could get perfectly good new furniture? I work for a massive IT company, so I know why companies stop using and supporting old technologies. "Geek cred"? Perhaps. But have you never done anything just to see if you could? If you haven't, then you'll always miss the point.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Q to Worf, from the 'Q Who' episode of Star Trek: Next Generation.

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