This month, thirty years ago, Microsoft released Windows 3.0, a graphics environment that made a dramatic leap from its predecessors in terms of capacity and popularity. Here's what made Windows 3.0 special:
The first successful version of Windows
Previously, on IBM PC-compatible machines, most PCs ran Microsoft MS-DOS, a command line-based operating system that normally only one program at a time. When computers came to power in the early 1
At that time, ideas about graphical and mouse-based computer interfaces developed on the Xerox Alto began to filter into the personal computer industry. After witnessing several early GUI-based operating system approaches, Microsoft released its own graphical mouse-based interface, Windows 1.0, in 1985. It ran on top of MS-DOS and provided a bitmap view with non-overlapping application windows.
Neither Windows 1.0 nor Windows 2.0 were successful in the market. Then came Windows 3.0 in 1990, another GUI shell running on top of MS-DOS. It enabled multitasking of both MS-DOS programs and specially written Windows applications. Unlike previous versions of Windows, it turned out to be a hit, with over 10 million copies. Support for third-party applications followed and Microsoft strengthened the dominance of the operating system in the PC market.
Here are some elements that came together to make both Windows 3.0 unique and successful.
RELATED: PCs Before Windows: What MS-DOS Usage Actually Looked Like
The New Program Administrator
As a shell, Windows 2.0 had used MS-DOS Executive, which was basically a glorified list of files with no support for application icons. In comparison, the "large" 16 color icons in Windows 3.0 felt like a revelation, detailing an icon that rivaled expensive color Macintosh computers with relatively inexpensive PCs.
Program management was also easy to use. Compared to MS-DOS alone, or the MS-DOS Executive shell of Windows 2.0, Program Manager offered a very non-intimidating interface. Users could easily find and launch applications, while they were usually protected from accidental file-based corruption.
To manage files in Windows 3.0, you had to start a separate application called File Manager. Today File Explorer is both the main interface and file manager of Windows 10.
The debut of Microsoft Solitaire
Solitaire has become so strongly associated with Windows that it is difficult to see the two apart. The famous collaboration first came about in 1990 when Microsoft released the very first version of Solitaire with Windows 3.0. With its detailed maps (and funny map backs), Solitaire proved to be a good example of Windows' graphics capabilities. And of course, it was also a great way to pass the time between office tasks.
Solitaire featured card faces designed by Susan Kare, who had previously designed many graphics and fonts for the Macintosh. She also designed most of the icons for Windows 3.0. Microsoft used Kare's map images all the way up to Windows XP and eventually replaced them in Vista.
Windows 3.0 also included the Reversi game with every copy. While Microsoft Reversi dropped in Windows 3.1 (for the benefit of Minesweeper), Solitaire shipped with Windows all the way up to Windows 7. (Now it's a weird pay-to-play spoof of its own, but that's a completely different topic. )
Better Memory Management and True Multitasking
Windows 3.0 included advanced memory management that allowed it to use large amounts of RAM, enabling both larger programs and true cooperative multitasking for the first time. When it came to multitasking MS-DOS programs (which many people still used often), Windows 1.0 and 2.0 basically served graphical application launchers. In Windows 3.0, users were able to run multiple MS-DOS applications simultaneously, which felt magical at the time.
What kind of MS-DOS applications were people running in 1990? Anything and everything from Lotus 1-2-3 to Captain Comic. Windows also proved a boon to multi-node BBSes at the time, making multiple instances of DOS-based BBS software easy to run on one machine.
A new "3D" look
It seems amazing today, but the Windows 3.0 buttons were an eye-catcher for the graphical interface at the time from a PC. They contained simulated highlights and shadows that gave the illusion of depth, and as a result, most people called the buttons "3D".
Overall, the neatly executed Windows 3.0 interface felt clean and professional, with detailed icons, thoughtful window layouts, and beautiful fonts. For the first time, Windows matched (and arguably surpassed) the visual quality of Mac OS, which most considered the standard GUI of the time. That visual flair made Windows 3.0 so hugely popular.
A Turning Point for PCs in the Battle Against Macs
Windows 3.0 marked a turning point in the evolution of PC compatibility when machines capable of a good graphical interface (and all of the peripherals involved) become cheap enough for regular users. In 1990, you could buy a PC that could run Windows 3.0 for less than $ 1000, while the cheapest color Macintosh at the time was about $ 2400. With a PC, a mouse, and a $ 149 copy for Windows, you could build an almost Mac-like machine on the cheap.
As more people buy a platform, more companies want to develop for it, and that's exactly what happened with Windows 3.0. While there was little or no third-party support in the eras of Windows 1.0 and 2.0, many software vendors stepped on board to support Windows 3.0, including Aldus with its popular desktop publishing software Aldus PageMaker. For office productivity, Microsoft has released excellent versions of PowerPoint, Word and Excel for Windows 3.0, among others. You could actually get some work done in Windows 3.0.
And finally CHESS.BMP
If we close our look at Windows 3.0, who can forget the glorious high-resolution 16-color wallpaper ( 640 × 480!) That Microsoft included with every copy?
In an era when VGA cards finally became mainstream, many users began using the environment in higher resolutions such as 640 × 480. For example, Microsoft has added CHESS.BMP, a graphical showcase that depicts a handful of chess pieces flying through the air over a seemingly endless chessboard. Windows users didn't get built-in screen saver support until Windows 3.1 in 1992, so we took the little pleasures we could get. CHESS.BMP fits perfectly into the picture.
Congratulations, Windows 3.0!
For a fantastic past experience, we will show you how to install Windows 3.1 in DOSBox and run it on a modern PC. Windows 3.1 was released a few years after Windows 3.0 and had a similar interface.
RELATED: Install Windows 3.1 in DOSBox, Set Up Drivers, and Play 16-Bit Games