Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Living on a Cloud in Windows 3.11

Here's the challenge.

Survive on the internet using Windows 3.11.

I started doing some digging to see if I could get old Win16 drivers, I didn't have any luck, I didn't really expect to find anything I could use. Luckily - I had a backup plan - Microsoft's Virtual PC 2007. Sure, Dos & Windows are no longer supported in VPC2007, but it was supported in the 2004 version. So we're off to the races!

First challenge, install Dos with CD-ROM driver.

Ah, the memories started flashing, the good old days of skipping the boot process to get right to DOS to run Doom. I digress, the point is I had a backup copy of Windows 3.11 put on to an ISO CD image. Which is no problem to mount on to the virtual machine, so long as the installation knows there's a CD-ROM drive. Ah, the CD-ROM driver. I did some research and was able to find an oakcdrom.sys file to use, luckily enough I was able to find the floppy image for DOS add-ons from Virtual PC 2004 on the web. I know it's kind of like cheating, but the point here is to get online with Windows 3.11 and survive. So I went with it.

After installing the additions to the virtual machine, it was time to install Windows 3.11 (Windows for Workgroups to be specific) Ah the memories. I remember this process taking a lot longer, but hey can't blame technology for for running up against nostalgia.

I had some experience with this install from the late 90s, when I was a teenager I thought it'd be fun, well geek fun, to install WfW311 on a Pentium Pro 200 machine, what I remembered was that I needed to get Win32s. Win32s are a subset of 32bit software designed for Windows 3x.

As you may, or may not imagine, this is a version of Windows that does not come with any type of Internet software - No TCP/IP, No Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, etc. So I had to go ahead and install a virtual network driver, ah yes please let me edit that config.sys, once more with feeling. The driver install was a lot easier than I remember, though I was surprised I was able to edit config.sys and autoexec.bat with ease, as it turns out those DOS commands are burned in to my memory.

I had to locate the TCP/IP stack for WfW3.11 (thanks Google!), this install went pretty easy and was pretty standard.

After a bit more research I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Internet Explorer 5 had a version for Windows 3.11, with eager I went ahead and downloaded and installed.

Alright, EPIC FAIL for IE5 on WfW3.11, no joy - I could barely get off the ground. I had a crash as soon as the browser tried to load msn.com. I ventured over in to control panel, IE5 installed an Internet applet to adjust IE5's settings. I went ahead and changed the home page to google.com. Ah, no crash... but hey wait a minute - I can't click on anything! It turns out any result Google returned, I couldn't click on!

After all this tinkering about I needed to take a breather, I found an install of AIM 1.0 which was said to work on Windows 3.11, and oh boy it does! Now remember, this version of AIM stored the buddy list in a file on your computer - not on the server as the current versions do. After the install and the sign on, I had no buddies! Lucky for me, I remembered a few screen names. One person I messaged was using an IM aggregate and saw actual HTML markup on my IMs, another was using the official AIM client and was able to see my IMs without HTML markup but my text was small. No biggie, I was online, I was on AOL IM and I was surviving, in one aspect, on the web in Windows 3.11.

So back to Internet Explorer, while I couldn't click on any organic listings, to my surprise I could click on paid advertisements! Lucky for me. I did a search for Google Docs to see, well if I could do anything productive, while I could click on Google's ad for the docs web site, the page couldn't be displayed! Bummer.

Email. I knew I could chat on AOL IM, but could I get to my gmail? Yes, Yes I could! It wasn't pretty, but it worked.

When all was said and done on this test, would I recommend using WfW3.11 for anything other than a trip down memory lane? No way, it was a fail.

But it was fun to try.


  1. Old school! I miss the command line (in weak, ill moments)

  2. PROPS, I HAVE 2 3.11 boxes too, one on a P4 and the other a dual core.

    3.11 is PURE WIN!

  3. Good OS. The old epoque when Microsoft didn't made an "advertising-OS"... this started in Win95 OSR2 :(

    Which NetScape version do you use to check your mails??? It seems to be recent and should navigate as IE6 does on the Web (or more, who knows?)...

    I'm looking for a good web explorer which could navigate on the newer Web for my win311fw, and a task lister lol :)

    See you later

  4. Hey... great article.
    Can you send me your iso with Windows 3.11, please? I miss the old Win 3.11 :) My last time I used it about 9 years ago so ... I became melancholy :D

    Thank you!

  5. Could you please give me a run down on how you accomplished connecting to the internet with Windows 3.11? Every time I start it with the WfW3.11 installed as the network card, it tells me:

    The Windows for Workgroups network was not started. Check your configuration, or run Setup again to set up Windows for Workgroups properly.

    The Windows for Workgroups network driver was unable to load.

    Follow the page URL I supplied and use my contact form on my page to give me a response if you would, please. I want a full functioning copy of Windows 3.11. :(

  6. Corlen, you have to run setup from dos, go to the windows directory and just type setup. You have to install your network card driver in there.