Windows 3.1 turns 30 today • The Register


Time flies, whether you’re having fun or just trying to figure out which registry change left your system desperately annoyed, and before you know it, Windows 3.1 turns 30.

Windows 3.1 was more than a user interface refresh of the previous Windows 3.0. Arriving on April 6, 1992 and still under MS-DOS, the operating environment brought support for TrueType fonts, introduced the Windows registry, and dropped support for older silicon. Windows 3.1 insisted on 80286 or higher, ultimately sticking a knife in the heart of the real mode that was still supported in Windows 3.0.

As well as a visual update (although nothing compared to what would come a few years later with Windows 95), multimedia support was improved, and Microsoft introduced a concept called The Registry.

The Windows Registry was (and remains) a database of settings hidden in the environment, meant to replace or supplement the .INI configuration files scattered in the environment both by Windows and by applications targeting the platform. It’s a convenient database, but one that has grown considerably more complex over the next 30 years.

Windows 3.1 also increased the maximum available memory: when running in 386 enhanced mode, the limit was 256MB, compared to Windows 3.0’s 16MB (though care should be taken with the version of the HIMEM.SYS driver.

Having to run in standard or 386 enhanced mode also made things much more stable, although the elephant-on-a-traffic-cone nature of Windows perched on DOS meant that there were still plenty of opportunities for sudden crashes.

Windows 3.1 sold very well, with an attractive user interface and easy-to-use multimedia features. It did, however, have a relatively short lifespan. The networking shortcomings would be at least partially remedied by a rapid succession of releases of Windows for Workgroups, increasing the version number to 3.11 in 1993 and also dropping standard mode. Windows 95 appeared soon after, eventually merging MS-DOS and Windows (in a way).

And then there was Windows NT 3.1, released in 1993 that looked like Windows 3.1 to everyone on the surface, but with an entirely different architecture lurking underneath.

Support for Windows 3.1 ended over 20 years ago, but its influence continues to be felt today, even though the stacks of floppy disks used to install it are long gone. ®


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