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A trip down (extended) memory lane

Windows for Workgroups 3.11 was the first version of Windows that I used, and I thought I might have another look at it, just for the fun and nostalgia value.

But I wasn’t going to install it on a real machine – I have setups I don’t want to lose! So VMware was launched and I had a try getting it to work on a virtual machine.
Just a word – the original machine which ran WfW 3.11 no longer has it installed; not that Microsoft would be too worried about multiple machine uses of an essentially dead product. The machine originally came with IBM PC DOS and OS/2 (neither of which now live on it either).

Initially, I was going to put PC DOS on the VM first, because Windows at this stage wasn’t really an OS in its own right, it needed DOS to run the setup. However the IBM PC DOS floppies weren’t looking too good, and the PC DOS install had a hiccup. It completed, but important stuff like himem.sys (deals with extended memory, so you can have over 640k RAM) weren’t installed, so it wasn’t much use.

So instead I downloaded FreeDOS, the free and open source DOS system, that claims pretty damn good compatibility with MS-DOS. I had to find a mirror that worked, and a version that worked, but when I did, I successfully installed FreeDOS on my 200 MB virtual hard drive.

Now, to the Windows install – with screenshots (click any one to make it bigger, thanks Zooomr)!
Instead of switching physical floppy disks constantly, I used dd on my Linux host machine to make disk images of WfW’s 8 floppies that I could soft-swap in VMware. Another benefit of this was installation was a lot faster coming off the host’s hard drive rather than the floppy drive.
For anyone interested, the command you use to make floppy images is:

$ dd if=/dev/fd0 of=imagename.img

So to the install. It started off with a simple A: followed by setup.


It’s a bit strange that the non-GUI element of Windows setup has remained virtually unchanged from WfW 3.11 (and probably earlier) to XP. There’s two times you see the blue screens in Windows – you’re either installing or you’ve BSODed. Vista will change that, however, and finally gets to a GUI install fairly quickly.

Installing Windows

Some options to set (I chose a custom install).

Next Disk

After some frantic copying of files, I get the first ‘next disk’ prompt.

Better get used to those, they’ll be six more yet (did they do a CD version of WfW?). Soon we get thrown into a graphical install system (and may I add without the customary restart XP install needs).

Graphical Goodness

Those rounded buttons died in 95, when they went positively rectangular, before coming back again (in a different form) with XP’s visual styles. Maybe Microsoft were accused of being too much like Mac OS.

5 Megs Needed!

Don’t you just love those retro window decorations, I know I do. Oh, and just over five megabytes needed for the full install. What? An operating system in 5 megabytes!! Couldn’t happen nowadays.

Disk Swapping Again

Disk swapping GUI style. And eventually the install finishes, and I’m told to restart. I do so, but FreeDOS starts complaining that its extended memory manager has been hijacked by Microsoft’s one. And more problems throw when loading (that’s a file, not a URL) just displays the graphical Windows boot screen endlessly.

Boot Windows - or not...

Disabling the graphics on booting tells me something about invalid opcode (I think that’s what it said). From Googling, that looks pretty serious in that it’s firing invalid instructions at VMware’s virtual processor.

So no Windows nostalgia for me :(. At least, not without installing it on a real computer.

If anyone’s got any tips on how to run WfW with FreeDOS on VMware, then comment away and I’d love to have another play with WfW. Or if you used WfW as well, I hope these install screenshots brought back memories.

If you never used Windows before 95, you missed out on classic window decorations, Program Manager, File Manager, 386 Enhanced Mode, the classic Control Panel, Windows Setup and loads more classics. And all those Windows 3.11 apps, Lotus SmartSuite with Ami Pro, 1-2-3 et al, and I can’t even remember any more…

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  1. […] Quick update – if you remember, I had problems getting Windows 3.11 for Workgroups running on top of FreeDOS in VMware (wow, long sentence). […]

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