I was told that something called Windows 3.1 not only existed once, but that it turns 30 this year. Despite being relatively short-lived, it turns out that this updated version of Windows 3 has taken some big strides, although they went a bit unnoticed, and they were just before some of us were using PCs. So happy 30th birthday Windows 3.1, this is your life.
According The register (opens in new tab), Windows 3.1 was released on April 6, 1992 as the successor to Windows 3 and brought some pretty notable changes. It came on good old (surprisingly hard in its boxes) floppy disks and is considered to be the first version of Windows available on CD-ROM.
Be careful with disk space as once installed it would use between 10MB and 15MB of storage. At the time, Windows was still running on MS-DOS, but some of the advancements in Windows 3.1 made the 16-bit operating environment feel quite new. Though probably not as fresh as these new UI animations for Windows 11 (opens in new tab).
Windows 3.1 brought the TrueType font system. These are the ultra-readable font styles developed by Apple and released for free to try to become the standard over the efforts of Adobe and others. Microsoft put a lot of development into these readable fonts that still exist today, such as Times New Roman and Arial.
Due to their design structure to maintain certain dimensions, fonts are versatile and can be scaled, rotated, and even bolded and italicized. They’re specially designed to be readable at lower resolutions, and given the screens people were working on at the time, that must have been huge for eye comfort.
Windows 3.1 also ushered in a new concept for Microsoft called The Registry. These are hidden settings in Windows that act as a database for supported windows and applications that are still in use today. Although it certainly got a lot more complex than this first iteration.
Windows 3.0 was also quite prone to crashes, thanks in part to hardware limits and the use of real mode, which saw the beginning of its usage decline. Real mode points to real locations in the computer’s memory and is generally required for DOS. Windows 3.1 booting up and adding more RAM seemed to usher in a new way of looking at computing and moving away from MS-DOS.
All this allowed the use of Enhanced Mode 386, which increased the memory limit from 16 MB to 256 MB. It could even give some DOS menus the ability to navigate with a Windows mouse. It was also probably the first time that many people discovered the wonderful world of driver compatibility issues.
Unfortunately, the world didn’t take long for Windows 3.1. The following year, Windows NT 3.1 would be released, which looked pretty identical but was very different on the backend from Windows 3.1. Then we had Windows 95 and the rest, as they say, is history.
Happy 30th Windows 3.1. And thanks for all the sources.