Windows

Microsoft Windows 3.x is where it all started for most of us

The first version of Windows most TechRepublic members used was 3.x, but the poll shows just how common that experience turns out to be.

Before the end of the year, Greg Shultz created a retrospective look at Microsoft Windows splash screens, spanning all the way from 1.0 to Windows 8. The gallery had me waxing nostalgic about the many versions of the Windows operating system I have used over the years. My first Windows experience was Windows 3.0.

The memories had me wondering how common my experience was when compared to the rest of the TechRepublic membership, which meant it was time to take a poll. I asked this simple question:

What version of Windows was your first version of Windows?

The results of the poll showed that my experience was indeed most common, but I did not anticipate the magnitude by which Windows 3.x would dominate the poll. Does your personal experience match the poll results?

About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

102 comments
guy
guy

Win 3.1 wins this because it was around that time that PCs became more accessible. The prices started to get down to where Mr-slightly -above-average-income could afford them. But if you want know who's an old fart - I started programming in FORTRAN on coding sheets that then had to be converted and entered into the computer memory using coding switches and an "enter" button. Then I moved onto punch-cards and then a terminal. I eventually learned BASIC on a SuperBoard and later a ZX80. MY first pc (lower case) experience was an Apple IIe witha green screen and my first IBM compatible was a 286 with Win 3.1 on a colour monitor. Those were the days.

SunGlassesTK
SunGlassesTK

The first version of Windows I used was Windos 3.0 or 3.1, not sure which version it was, however, didn't know how to use it except for a two or three functions. Before than I was learning DOS, didn't know that very well either, but was better at that than Windows 3.1. I thought DOS was great.

xultan
xultan

My first microsoft experience was with DOS 2.1, slowly to DOS 3.2 and Windows 3.0

scotth
scotth

Still have an old 3.5 mouse pad with all the key combinations on it.

brussell
brussell

I remember saying this Windows c**p will never succeed, the install was too much of a headache. I hung onto Geoworks GUI running on top of DOS on a 286. Once I made the move to Win 3.1, I still hated the install. The floppy disk ....praying each of them would work. Of course, if you had a CD drive you were rich, if you could make it work you were smart !

guy
guy

It makes sense that Win 3 would rank the highest since it was at about that time in history that personal computing started to take off. Before that few people could justify the expense. What the survey also points to is the average age of Tech Republic readers. For Win 3.x to be your first OS, you would now be older that 40, probably closer to 50.

markp24
markp24

Hi, My roomate had a pakard bell computer with Dos 5.0 and Geoworks (and AOL 1.0) on it before i got to see Windows 3.0, then 3..1 cam out when i was interning and thats where it all started for me. (prior to that in HS used to use Autocad 10 on 8086 ibm pc's (and i hated computers, i just like to draw in autocad)

tfl
tfl

I recall well the day IBM announced the PC. I was in Chicago attending a course and was super excited by the device and the potential. I went back to London that weekend and my career was all Pcs ever since then. I saw the birth of PC-DOS/MS-DOS, Windows and NT. I was not overly convinced that Windows would be worth it initially - I was proven wrong. Having seen the original DOS(s), Windows did make many things easier for many people. And that enabled MSFT to grow the user base dramatically. In the DOS days, I was a wizard at writing application specific drivers for laser printers - I did some interesting things particularly with HP LaserJets and several WP packages. Windows, with it's single driver for every application, wiped that small, lucrative niche for 6. :-( But stuff like that did make a huge difference Windows suffered from being DOS based - and that included WIn95/98/ME. It just wasn't secure - and couldn't be made so. The growth of the internet, sadly, exploited that weakness. Microsoft did the right thing, IMHO, in dropping moving over to a single kernel across it's consumer and business client OSs. In 1988, I went freelance and with my partner, built a direct-mail company using PCs and Laser Printers. With a .dBase database, we could produce very high quality stuff cheaply - and we had some cool clients. Our first purchase was a Dell 386/DX in early 88. I got 4mb of ram, 640x480 colour graphics and a 320mb disk. WIth the monitor and other gubbins it came to just under 7000 UK Pounds and that was with the discount. That machine flew (compared to earlier systems we had based on the 8086 and 80286). We were a Dell reseller for many years - but in those days, we typically sold PCs for between 2k and a lot higher and made a margin on 10-20% for the hardware and sometimes more for the software. Equipping small offices with a network and a few PCs was lucrative business if you knew your stuff. Ahh those were the days. What I do find vaguely amusing is that Microsoft is pushing PowerShell which is little more than a grown up version of the batch scripting language we got in DOS 1.0. And doesn't Server Core look a lot like a DOS box (or Lan Manager circa 1987 for that matter). Mind you, the Unix guys were right and PowerShell is here to stay (although that is an argument for another day).

yelnats60
yelnats60

I had start my computer world with a Commodore VIC 20 and grew from there. C64, 128, DOS 6, Windows 3.1 , Win 95, Win 98, Win XP , Vista and Windows 7 along with the Windows 8 beta, I'll stay with Windows 7 as I experiment with many different OS's including Linux Ubuntu, Backtrack , Puppy and many others. Just a lot of fun fooling around. I still have my VIC 20.

Marc Jellinek
Marc Jellinek

If you were using a computer prior to 1990, you might have touched Windows 286/2.11. If you were using a computer between 1990 and 1995, you might have touched Windows 386, 3.0 or 3.11. If you were using a computer between 1995 and 1998, you might have touched Windows 95... This isn't a technology poll, it's a demographic poll.

bobmatch
bobmatch

Say what you want about Windows 3.1 but it did make a PC a lot easier to use then DOS 3.1! Also even though we snicker about once having an AOL account, it was better that getting on the internet using that UNIX command prompt interface! Being a bad speller not being able to use that backspace key was a killer! Remember the big upgrade for a machine with preinstalled Windows 3.1? It was DOS 6.x! But the fun part is for no extra charge you still got BASIC with the code example game of Gorilla. In my first computer hardware class I took some down time and wrote a small basic program which had my name bounce around screen and changed color every time it hit the side. The teacher thought well of me after that

kush13
kush13

I had a copy of the original Dos 1.0 from Bill in NYC as a gift meeting him there and becoming a lifelong friend of his. I still have it and it supports NOTHING. LOL Interestingly enough I actually had the world's first POS operating on an Intellivision with two giant 8" floppy drives acquired from a friend when he left a closing Continental Can plant, and a TV monitor, and a tape drive unit from General Electric in my parts store in Pompton Lakes NJ. What a mess of hardware that looked like something from Einstein's lab in where he was born (yep, I was there too) Milan, Ohio!!! I wrote the software and developed 'the loader' as it was later referred to as the world's first com file. I received a file basically an 'IO.sys' from an old friend that worked at IBM in Franklin Lakes NJ to setup the inputs as there were none in existence! I had to load a system kernel from a tape drive to set up variables and memory locations, but with little ram, I had to dump that and then load the main program with the freed memory. This all had to be done like it is today in one sweeping operation. Biy was it tough to make all that happen. I could only process ONE ITEM at a time. Long story made short. LOL HAHAHA KusH

kush13
kush13

I remember actually using the first 'windows'software many years ago. I actually had a network running with several c=64 Commodores, several drives, and GEOS, Graphical Environmental Operating System. It was literally a windows OS that was originally designed by the builders but was modified when the game cartridge hit the market and was later added by booting it up to restructure the kernel and use what the system was actually originally designed for by its builder. I still own and have all of the original hardware and software with all of its options!!!!!!!!!!!!!! KusH Spring Hill, FL

afbechyne
afbechyne

Having wourked in DOS for so long with many applications, I liked playing with Win 3.1 and moved up to Win 3.11 later because I needed the network capability. I have a Compaq 486DX33 with 8 MB Ram on my work bench with DOS 6.22 and it still runs like a charm! I even showed my boys' some older DOS based games like Quake, and they loved it! I can't seem to get rid of that antique.

RickGTOC
RickGTOC

Bought a mouse for use with a DOS graphics program on an IBM PC-AT. On that machine, I had to partition and format the drive, install DOS, and insert all the little DIPs into the Intel AboveBoard. BTW, I 'supercharged' that AT by replacing the stock 8 MHz crystal with a 'roaring' 12 MHz crystal and tweaked the memory refresh rate via Debug to enhance performance. Win 1.x came with the mouse. I installed it and wondered why anyone would tolerate that slow, clunky UI. I really wanted a Lisa, but I also wanted to eat and live indoors. First real use of Windows was Win 3.1 on my first 486DX machine. I think the reason that is the most common first Win version among TR grayhairs is that it was the first version to actually be useful. I did have to restart Windows a several times a day to clear the 'heaps' and reclaim memory. I updated the 486DX to WFW and added drives to it for use as a local file share for our little workgroup, finally retiring it when I left that site in 2003. One highlight of its later years is that it was immune to Nimda when it wreaked havoc on our other PC's with their newer Win versions..

mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

Many of us old dinosaurs started with CPM and UNIX.

kschlotthauer
kschlotthauer

I remember seeing Windows 286 and 386 at EGGHEAD Software and wondering what the heck it was. The I played with 2.0 a little and didn't like it. Then a friend introduced me to Mahjong on 3.11 and I was hooked.

MikeGall
MikeGall

Never installed it though I helped a teacher out one lunch installing Office on 10 or so workstations. Something like 25 floppies, I did a marathon discjockey :-) After the first 10 floppies I had all ten humming along "ggg ggg ggg" ah the lovely sound of the read heads finding home :-)

sboverie
sboverie

Win 3.0 was my first experience with Windows. What I remember was that it tended to crash so easily that I named the bat file from win.bat to lose.bat. Windows 3.1 was more stable but still prone to crashing. I copied the install disks onto the hard drive and, when a crash was so bad, I could reinstall it quicker to fix problems. During this time, the important thing to know was memory management. Then applications came out to help manage memory. Win 95 was more stable but still clunky. Win 98 was even better. I missed Win ME and Vista and went to Win 7 which has been very stable. Each update fixed problems inherent in the previous versions and most were backwardly compatible. I have worked with NT 4 and NT 2000 as enterprise versions and also found improved performance with growth. I like Windows but I am aware of flaws; some of those flaws will be fixed in future versions. I do wish there was another OS that was not Windows, OSX or Linux; a new start with state of the art OS features could make the transistion to the computer we thought would be using in the new millinium.

alan.schuh
alan.schuh

I don't recall any PCs coming with DOS/Windows pre-installed. Mine came with 2 boxes full of diskettes, including Office, which had its own 18 + 1 disks, and Netscape. It took a couple of hours to install all 38 disks, but when I had finished my computer was one of the studliest (for a short time) around as I had DOS 6.22 and Windows 3.11 for Workgroups, latest full version of Office, and Netscape, 64Mb and the fastest CPU available at the time. Didn't help at all with the ladies...

don.howard
don.howard

Was MS Windows 386, and it pretty much sucked dead bunnies. However, it did get me interested in the whole window/multi-tasking concept (even if it was really just task switching). After looking around, I found DesqView/X with DR-DOS and ran that for a couple of years. I think the emphasis in the survey on MS Win 3.x is because it was the first version to have the stability to be adopted by the corporate world; especially when Windows for Workgroups 3.11 added decent networking capability.

Dfsabatine
Dfsabatine

I did but the TRS-80 for $750, but when Quantex offered the "hot box" of the day I was hooked. It seemed like I reloaded the OS every weekend, the crowning moment was the sound card driver kicking in with the " the power of sound" in an Asian accent. The hours I spent tweaking are just unbelievable.

paradoxstorm
paradoxstorm

My first experience with Windows was version 3.1. At the time, I was a diehard Mac person and Windows seemed poorly built and clunky. It wasn't until XP came out that I actually began to like Windows. I'm thoroughly enjoying Window 7 now.

JamesRL
JamesRL

I was working at a software company and played with them both. They were both not terribly useful, but a glimpse into what was coming down the road. Now the first time I played with a Mac, the OS did strike me as very useful.

ddearborn
ddearborn

Started with an Apple IIc - which was awesome for it's day. In the work world, we started with DOS and were very happy to move to Windows 3.11 - despite the amount of time it took to install and the gazillion disks. I remember a disussion with my counterpart in another office about how we'd NEVER fill a 1 GB hard drive. makes me laugh to think of that - yes I'm old. :)

yooper
yooper

It was early 1993 and I had been using a Commodore64 as my main computer. :) I was at the Mott centre in Detroit and my mom asked one of the IT people if they could show me around for a bit. This women showed me one of the computer running Win 3.11 and I was fascinated by the wallpaper, windows etc. The first time I used 3.1 was in 1995 and still remember my friend showing me how to minimize, switch windows, etc. I think overall, one of the big advancements for me going from a C64 to a PC running windows is obviously not having to wait 5 minutes to load a program off a 5 1/4 floppy then have to stop and turn it over, reboot to load another program, etc.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I clearly recall in 1988 loading W2 to run a desktop publishing app called 'Pagemaker', and installing a font pack upgrade. Several months later we loaded Lotus Symphony, the first office app suite I can recall seeing. Say, what ever happened to 'Reversi', the 'Othello' clone?

funkie55
funkie55

Before Windows 3.0 I had used GEM. It operated under CP/M (remember that?) which operated on the CPT word processor.

mark16_15
mark16_15

I teach English for IT. When I ask my students which was their first OS, I get XP followed by 98. Conclusion most of those who took this poll are a bunch of old farts. (My first Windows version was 3.1 but my first OS was CDC 6000 series, but don't tell anyone, it dates me)

DOSlover
DOSlover

I was doing a business management (IT) course at the time and the OS side of training started with DOS, then moved into Windows for Workgroups 3.1 and then Unix System V. The mantra of the lecturers at the time was that 3.1 was not actually an operating system but more a memory manager that was multitask and GUI interfaced. I still like DOS but 3.1 could do some handy little things.

mr020radioman
mr020radioman

Some computer people started with a Commodore 64 or a Radio Shack TRS-80. when Windows 3.1 hit the computer world the demand for more memory, CPU speed and Icons, and Hard Drive space. After that the rest is history.

bobmatch
bobmatch

While I wasn???t in the computer field back then, I did have some dirt on my hands from that bygone era. I worked on repairing cash registers that used totem memory! When the repair company went on strike, I had to keep things running by trouble shooting some of this stuff down to the components. I ran data lines back to the computer room (which used platters for memory storage). It was the death of the era for sure when in 1999 I had to dismantle and cart out to the dumpster my employers??? old main frame. This thing sported a reel to reel tape drive! (So 1950???s si-fi!). We now have dishwashers with more computing power. Now a days if your PC craps out it???s almost cheaper to just heave the whole thing and get a new one, if you even want to be bothered. After all your phone can do most everything a computer does; nevertheless, us old farts still need a computer, the screen on these phones are just too dam small!

FL-Jan
FL-Jan

Our first computer at home was a Tandy with one 3.5 and one 5.25 floppy drives, no hard drive. With printer and monitor, we paid over 2k dollars, hence, the computer was named Wilma after my aunt that had just left me a small inheritance that covered the cost. However, learning MS-DOS 3.x was and is still a valuable experience. My daughter, only 5 yrs old back then, learned DOS by age 6. At age 10 she could type 120wpm! She learned more with our next computer running Windows 3.1. In 7th grade, they would pull her out of class to fix problems in the networked computer lab at her school! When most 16 yr olds get jobs in fast food joints or retail stores, she was working at a company that was digitizing major legal cases onto CDs. After seeing her work for just a week, they handed her the task of digitizing the Exxon-Valdez case! Needless to say, her older brother, 5 yrs older, was shocked at the money she was earning at 16, but admitted he was only interested in playing games on the computer and using the hunt & peck method to type a paper for school. Since we had to boot to DOS from a 3.5 floppy, there were never crashes and we thought we were quite clever to be able to create menus for diskettes with multiple games or programs on them:)

FL-Jan
FL-Jan

I remember teaching BASIC to 4th - 6th graders in an after school enrichment program in 1990. They were amazed at what they could do IF they paid attention to the boring intro. We had trains puffing across the screens, names bouncing around in different colors, and even computer conversation programs - very basic conversations in BASIC!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

The first time I saw it was as one of four games included free with a box of ten 3.5" diskettes (from Verbatim?). As I recall, there were three different versions of the free game diskettes, with a total of twelve games given away over the years. Mahjong Tetris PipeDream Tut's Tomb (Some game with cats and mice) (Some game with a snake and apples, a variant of something even older) Blackjack Can anyone help me fill in the gaps?

nylentone
nylentone

I think you mean you skipped Windows ME. No one misses it. I would consider Windows 3.1 an upgrade to that rotting piece of crap.

nylentone
nylentone

But I would say the first Windows version to actually match the quality of the Mac OS was Windows 2000.

pghegseth
pghegseth

The IIC was the first computer I brought home to the family. I "grew-up" using CP/M loading it into a DEC PDP1105 which was bootstrapped by loading code via front panel switches. Then an ASR33 (line printer + reader/ punch) would read in the operating system via mylar tape (61 meters in length ~ 200 feet). The whole process took about an hour just to load the OS. Man am I glad those days are passed! My first PC was a Gateway 486 tower running DOS 2.2. I've lived through all the Microsoft OSes released since then up to and including Win7.

nylentone
nylentone

but just about the worst floppy technology ever. Most of the slowness was actually due to excessive error checking by the loading routine, because Commodore didn't update it to accommodate the much improved interface with the 1541 :P

wizard57m-cnet
wizard57m-cnet

I kept it installed when I updated my old 486DX4 Overdrive from 3.1 to 95! Along with a few other old favorites...Commander Keen, KiloBlaster, Nascar 94, Commander Blood to name a few.

JamesRL
JamesRL

I made a living doing desktop publishing for a while, supplemented it by teaching others Pagemaker. It was more fun than teaching DOS scripting by far.

I am Gorby
I am Gorby

bloody clever, in its day! Faster, easier, etc on lesser hardware than Windows.

bullapat
bullapat

from one old fart to another. so you a teacher and you don't think history is important? Is history not important in the computer industry? Please do a search on Windows for WorkGroups(WFW), OS/2 and Presentation Manager and why Microsoft decided to split from IBM on the user interface for their respective Operating Systems. Then after you've collected some articles, please do me a favour, let your students compare that with what's happening between Google and the other social websites right now. When you aware of what happened in the past, you much more likely to side with a group of people that tries to prevent it happening in the future. By the way, i'm sure you know Bishop Desmond Tutu and so will your students. He said something a couple of years ago that made me realise for the first time that history is alive only if you prepared to learn from it.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

if it wasn't for the old farts? Just askin'... ;-)

nylentone
nylentone

The poll only asked which Windows version was your first. If it had been first OS, I would have chosen C64. I'm 33, I'm not that old, but grew up destitute and so my first computers were all stuff that was old when I got them. But all these newbies, they don't know what to do when stuff doesn't work the way the books tell them, because they don't have any idea how computers really work on a basic level. Doing some machine language programming on a 65xx based computer should be a prerequisite for any degree if you ask me.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

The older I get, the more I realize I need a wide-screen laptop for work. Unfortunately, my employer has provided me a netbook with a screen so small, my reading glasses need reading glasses to see it...

bobmatch
bobmatch

Back in High School, the computer club taught its students how to use punch cards! My first taste in using basic was when I built a Sinclair Z80. But it wasn???t till I got a real computer, a Gateway 486 DX2-50, did things take off. I bought a book, ???The Absolute Beginners Guide to Basic???. After a few years I bought a copy or Power Basic and started compiling. I started to dabble in C and C++ but I never seem to have the time or energy to study. MS dropped basic, DOS programs don???t run on computers anymore so now I just surf the web, and fall asleep in front of the Tube. Besides, writing Apps for tablets and smart phones is the future!

yooper
yooper

I agree, but the floppy technology was pretty much in line with most 8 bit systems of that era. I had problems with of course, but you have to understand, back then the PC industry was young and there was a lot of hit and miss as far as user friendliness went. Most ports weren't labeled and the manuals were vague at best. The 1541 spun at 300RPM, and you're right, there was a lot of overhead with ECC and such.