Windows 3.x

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Template:Infobox OS

The Windows 3.x family of Microsoft Windows operating systems were released from 1990 to 1994. The 3.0 release was the first widely successful version of Windows (see history of Microsoft Windows), enabling Microsoft to compete with Apple Computer's Macintosh and the Commodore Amiga on the GUI front.


Windows 3.0

Windows 3.0 was released on May 22, 1990 and included a significantly revamped user interface as well as technical improvements to make better use of the memory management capabilities of Intel's 80286 and 80386 processors. Text-mode programs written for MS-DOS could be run within a window (a feature previously available in a more limited form with Windows/386 2.1), making the system usable as a crude multitasking base for legacy programs, though this was of limited use for the home market, where most games and entertainment programs continued to require raw DOS access.

The MS-DOS Executive file manager/program launcher was replaced with an icon-based Program Manager and a list-based File Manager, thereby simplifying the launching of applications. The MS-DOS Executive was still included as an alternative user interface program. The Control Panel, previously available as a standard-looking applet has been re-modeled after the one in Mac OS. It centralized system settings, including limited control over the color scheme of the interface. A number of simple applications were included, such as the text editor Notepad and the word processor Write (both inherited from earlier versions of Windows), a macro recorder (new; later dropped), and a calculator (also inherited). The earlier Reversi game was complemented with a card puzzle named Solitaire.

Windows 3.0 was the last version of Windows to advertise 100% compatibility with older Windows applications.

The Multimedia Extensions

The Multimedia Extensions were released in Fall 1991 to support CD-ROM drives and sound cards, which were then becoming available. The Multimedia Extensions were released to Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), mainly CD-ROM drive and sound card manufacturers, and added basic multimedia support for audio input and output and a CD audio player application to Windows 3.0. The Multimedia Extensions' new features were not available in Windows 3.0 real mode. Windows 3.1 would later incorporate many of its features.

Windows 3.1 and later

Missing image
Windows 3.11 startup logo

Windows 3.1 (originally codenamed Janus), 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.) This version of Windows also included a relatively simple antivirus program called Microsoft Anti-Virus for Windows; this later became known as the antivirus program that detected the Windows 95 upgrade program as a computer virus.

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. Windows 3.1 was also the last version of Windows not to use the right click or to have a ready 'copy and paste' method. To copy something to a diskette the user had to use the File Manager.

A special version named Windows 3.1 for Central and Eastern Europe was released that allowed the use of Cyrillic and had fonts with diacritical marks, characteristic for the Central and Eastern European languages.

Native networking appeared in Windows for Workgroups 3.1 (originally codenamed Kato), an extended version of Windows 3.1 which included SMB file sharing support via the NetBEUI and/or IPX network protocols, included the Hearts computer game and introduced VSHARE.386, the Virtual Device Driver version of the SHARE.EXE TSR. Windows for Workgroups 3.11 supported 32-bit file access, full 32-bit network redirectors and the VCACHE.386 file cache, shared across 32-bit file access and the full 32-bit network redirectors. Also, standard mode is no longer supported in Windows for Workgroups 3.11 and Reversi was not included with WFW 3.11. TCP/IP networking under Windows 3.x relied on third-party packages, such as Winsock. An add-on package from Microsoft (codenamed Snowball) also provided TCP/IP support in Windows for Workgroups but it was not generally available.

Limited compatibility with the new 32-bit Win32 API used by Windows NT was provided by an add-on package, Win32s.

Windows 3.2 was a Chinese-language release only.

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.

Memory modes

The Windows 3.x family could be run in three different memory modes:

  • Real mode, intended for older computers
  • Standard mode, intended for computers with a 286 processor
  • 386 Enhanced mode, intended for computers with a 386 processor

Real mode set the computer to run as though it were an 8088 computer, including the real mode limitation that it could only address 1 MB RAM. The expanded memory scheme was used to utilize any memory the computer had beyond 1 MB. This slowed down the computer significantly, and was used only by users of legacy applications that would crash in Standard and 386 Enhanced modes. Windows 3.0 was the last version of Windows that could run in real mode.

Standard mode required a 286 or better processor, and ran the computer in the CPU's protected mode. This let it directly access all the computer's RAM at once, and enabled virtual memory, multitasking, and memory protection to make Windows more stable in the event of an application crash. Note that standard mode is no longer supported in Windows for Workgroups 3.11.

386 Enhanced mode required a 386 or better processor. It implemented all the benefits of Standard mode, plus 32-bit addressing, for faster memory access and program execution. However, this mode required new device drivers to support it, so peripherals with older drivers would not work, and users were given the choice to either wait for updated drivers from the manufacturer; unplug the peripheral from their computer; or run Windows in Standard mode.

In either the Standard or the 386 Enhanced modes, Windows 3.1 had a functional limit of 256 MB of memory and in Windows 3.0, it is 16 MB. At the time, most 386 computers had 8 MB RAM or less, so if the memory consumed were to balloon to 256 MB, most of this would be as virtual memory on the hard disk, with massive paging slowdowns.

Full OS or MS-DOS shell?

Pre-NT Windows systems, not only 3.x and earlier but also 95, 98 and ME, have a complex, original, hybrid and not fully documented internal structure. Most notably, they require MS-DOS in order to run, and run 'on top' of MS-DOS. As a consequence, it can be difficult to decide whether they are operating systems or MS-DOS extension shells. Many users consider them to be operating systems, because they appear to behave as such, while other people, often having used other environments, refute this label.

Windows 3.x requires pre-installation of MS-DOS, 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. On the other hand, 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. 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 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 utilities obsolete.

Furthermore, an MS-DOS program running in the Windows environment could take advantage of those features of Windows which were natively unsupported by DOS. An MS-DOS program running on Windows for Workgroups 3.11 would automatically use 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.

The same operating principles applied to Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows Me which still mixed 16-bit and 32-bit code. With each successive version, however, 16-bit code became less apparent.

Windows NT, Windows 2000, and their successors represent operating systems completely separate from MS-DOS legacy and entirely composed of 32-bit code. MS-DOS programs run inside virtual DOS machines, which are implemented over the normal system API rather than underlying the system.

History of Microsoft Windows
Windows: 1.0 | 2.0 | 3.x | NT | 95 | 98 | Me | 2000 | XP | Server 2003 | Server 2003 R2 | CE | Mobile | Longhorn | Blackcomb

External links

it:Windows 3.x hu:Windows 3.x nl:Windows 3.x ja:Microsoft Windows 3.x pl:Microsoft Windows 3.x pt:Windows 3.x zh:Windows 3.x


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