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Tracing the History of the Computer - Windows 3.1x Graphical User Interface



Windows 3.11

Windows 3.11

Windows 3.1x is a graphical user interface, part of the Microsoft Windows family. There are many editions of this in the family of Microsoft Windows operating systems, released between 1992 and 1994, succeeding Windows 3.0. This family of Windows can run in either Standard or 386 Enhanced memory modes. The exception was Windows for Workgroups 3.11, which can only officially run in 386 Enhanced mode.

Windows 3.1

Base version

Windows 3.1 (originally codenamed Janus, of which 2 betas were published), released on March 18, 1992, includes a TrueType font system (and a set of highly legible fonts already installed) which effectively made Windows a serious desktop publishing platform for the first time. (Similar functionality was available for Windows 3.0 through the Adobe Type Manager (ATM) font system from Adobe.)

Windows 3.1 was designed to have a large degree of backward compatibility with older Windows platforms. As with Windows 3.0, version 3.1 had File Manager and Program Manager. But unlike all previous versions, Windows 3.1 and later supported 32-bit disk access, couldn't run in real mode, and included Minesweeper instead of Reversi.

Versions with special font support

A special version named Windows 3.1 for Central and Eastern Europe was released that allows the use of Cyrillic, and had fonts with diacritical marks characteristic of the Central and Eastern European languages. Microsoft, which introduced its own codepage 'Windows-1250' is supporting its use due to violation of many countries ISO standards (official Polish codepage is ISO-8859-2 which is ignored, however supported by contemporary IE, by Microsoft). There is also Windows 3.1J with support for the Japanese language, which shipped 1.46 million copies in its first year on the market (1993) in Japan.


Windows 3.11

Microsoft also released an update for Windows 3.1 which (aside from installing new files) changes the Windows version displayed in "About" dialog boxes to 3.11. Thus, Windows 3.11 isn't a standalone version of Windows, but rather an update from Windows 3.1, much like modern Windows service packs. For those who did not own Windows 3.1, full disk sets of Windows 3.11 were available.

Windows 3.2

For the Chinese market Microsoft released a Simplified Chinese version of Windows; the updated system identified itself as Windows 3.2. The update was limited to this language version, as it fixed only issues related to the complex writing system of the Chinese language.

Windows 3.2 was generally sold by computer manufacturers with a ten disk version of MS-DOS that also had Simplified Chinese characters in basic output and some translated utilities.

Modular Windows

Modular Windows is a special version of Windows 3.1, designed to run on the Tandy Video Information System.

Windows for Workgroups

Windows for Workgroups 3.1

Windows for Workgroups 3.1 (originally codenamed Kato), released in October 1992, features native networking support. Windows for Workgroups 3.1 is an extended version of Windows 3.1 which comes with SMB file sharing support via the NetBEUI and/or IPX network protocols, includes the Hearts card game, and introduced VSHARE.386, the Virtual Device Driver version of the SHARE.EXE Terminate and Stay Resident program.

Windows for Workgroups 3.11

Finally, Windows for Workgroups 3.11 (originally codenamed Snowball) was released in December 1993. It supports 32-bit file access, full 32-bit network redirectors, and the VCACHE.386 file cache, shared between them. The standard execution mode of the Windows kernel was discontinued in Windows for Workgroups 3.11.

A Winsock package is required to support TCP/IP networking in Windows 3.x. Usually third-party packages were used, but in August 1994 Microsoft released an add-on package (codenamed Wolverine) which provided limited TCP/IP support in Windows for Workgroups 3.11.

Limited compatibility with the new 32-bit Windows API used by Windows NT is provided by another add-on package, Win32s. There is the rumor that Microsoft didn't want to increment any mainstream Windows 3.1x version to something like "Windows 3.2" because it could be scrambled with the Win32 API or otherwise distract consumers from upgrading to some 'real 32-bit OS' like the upcoming Windows 95 might be. In fact, only for the limited Chinese market did Microsoft release a true Windows 3.2 version.

Windows 3.x was eventually superseded by Windows 95, Windows 98, and later versions which integrated the MS-DOS and Windows components into a single product.

Full OS or MS-DOS shell?

Windows 3.x requires pre-installation of MS-DOS (or a compatible operating system), which must be booted on PC startup. Windows is started as an application program, and can be terminated at any time, returning the user to the MS-DOS prompt. MS-DOS also provides device drivers for certain tasks such as CD-ROM or network access, specifically remote disk drive or remote printer access; these drivers run in real mode. In 386 enhanced mode of Windows for Workgroups, the networking drivers are running in protected mode. Windows requires specifically written applications, and has a specific on-disk file format, which is much more complicated than the format of MS-DOS executables. It has many of its own device drivers and for the most part its own memory management system.

Other considerations include the fact that MS-DOS does not isolate applications from the hardware and does not protect itself from applications. The memory-resident part of MS-DOS is akin to a library of routines for dealing with disk-type peripherals and loading applications from them; an MS-DOS program is free to do whatever it desires, notably replacing or bypassing part or all of MS-DOS code, temporarily or permanently - Loadlin uses this very method to boot the Linux kernel from DOS. Windows took advantage of this, and the degree to which bypassing was performed increased with every new release. Windows 3.1 and its 32-bit Disk Access superseded the BIOS code for accessing disks, while 32-bit File Access of Windows for Workgroups 3.11 bypassed the native MS-DOS code for accessing files. This opened the way for Windows 95's support for Long File Names, which made DOS file code and related 8.3 filename utilities obsolete.

Furthermore, an MS-DOS program running in the Windows environment can take advantage of those features of Windows which are natively unsupported by DOS. An MS-DOS program running on Windows for Workgroups 3.11 automatically uses 32-bit File Access rather than the native MS-DOS file and disk access routines. Similarly, a specially written MS-DOS program running on Windows 95 can access long file names.

Windows NT and its successors represent operating systems completely separate from MS-DOS legacy and their kernel is entirely composed of 32-bit code. MS-DOS (and Windows 3.x) programs run inside virtual DOS machines, which are implemented over the normal system API rather than underlying the system.


Windows 3.1x introduced new possibilities for applications, especially multimedia applications. During this era, Microsoft developed a new range of software that was implemented on this operating system, called Microsoft Home.


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