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Windows 3.1 is officially 30 years old

Solitaire
Solitaire (Image credit: Microsoft)

What you need to know

  • Today marks the 30th birthday of Windows 3.1.
  • Windows 3.1 introduced several features that have since become ubiquitous, such as the CTRL+C and CTRL+V shortcuts for copy and paste.
  • Windows 3.1 reached its end of support 21 years ago in 2001.

Windows 11 may be the latest operating system from Microsoft, but today is about Windows 3.1. It's the birthday of the classic OS, marking 30 years since its launch on April 6, 1992. Windows 3.1 introduced several key components, many of which have digital descendants on Windows 11 and imitators on other operating systems.

Windows 3.1 brought PCs the CTRL+C and CTRL+V shortcuts for copy and paste. It added TrueType fonts and came with screensavers and a media player as well. Gamers had two options for games that preinstalled games: Solitaire and Minesweeper.

Selling over 3 million copies in the first three months it was on the market, Windows 3.1 was considered a success. It was more user-friendly than Windows 3.0 and introduced many people to the idea of a personal computer in their home.

How To Geek took a deep dive into the impact of Windows 3.1 for the operating system's 30th birthday.

Sadly for those that miss the days of the MS-DOS and command line being king, Windows 3.1 reached its end of support in 2001.

If you want to boot up Windows 3.1 in 2022, you can run it on your iPad. Doing so will get you access to the classic versions of Minesweeper and Solitaire. If you're running Windows 3.1, you don't even need Xbox Game Pass to play Solitaire without ads.

Those that love classic technology may also enjoy looking through a recent auction that included original mouse prototypes and an unissued piece of Microsoft stock.

Windows 3.1's birthday comes only two days after the birthday of Microsoft, which was founded on April 4, 1975.

Sean Endicott
News Writer and apps editor

Sean Endicott brings nearly a decade of experience covering Microsoft and Windows news to Windows Central. He joined our team in 2017 as an app reviewer and now heads up our day-to-day news coverage. If you have a news tip or an app to review, hit him up at sean.endicott@futurenet.com (opens in new tab).

11 Comments
  • CTRL + C / CTRL + V which even Apple copied. What does the Command Line have to do with Windows 3.1 though? The "MS-DOS" command line is still in Windows 11. You could argue that Windows 3.1 was the OS that killed the MS-DOS command line being king.
  • That's not true, I remember quite a lot of command lines being required during that time. Hell, I think that's how we used to shut down right? Exit Windows through CMD (wasn't it eve the Exit command?) and you could turn the machine off once you saw SOS.
  • "That's not true, I remember quite a lot of command lines being required during that time." Agreed but the statement was about Command Line being "king" and Windows 3.1 started the path for its reduced need. "Hell, I think that's how we used to shut down right? Exit Windows through CMD (wasn't it eve the Exit command?) and you could turn the machine off once you saw SOS." No quite. Shutdown Windows took you back to MS-DOS, you then turned the PC off. Exit closed CMD. p.s. SOS?
  • Guessing it was an echo command to tell the user to "Shut Off System"? Final line in autoexec.bat that previously started the windows command.
  • Ah, I must remembering it backwards. I do remember exiting Windows back to DOS before shutdown. Maybe that's how you started the OS, or at least how I started the machine up since I knew nothing about batch files? Basically I was just speaking of how the OS was just on top of a DOS layer and that lasted until the Windows ME/XP days.
  • The Command Line in Windows 11 isn't actually DOS even though it looks like it.
  • I do remember using Windows 3.1 even though I was very young at the time. But one thing which I find astonishing is there was no right click in Windows 3.1! I clearly remember the mouse we used, it definitely had two buttons. But I guess we never had to click the right button back then. Unbelievable!
  • Would be nice to go back to the days when software actually worked. Now a days we have computers that are 1000x as fast and they still can't do some of the things the old machines did with reliably speed and low-latency. Windows 3.1 was a pain for people to program against but when something worked in Win 3.1 it do so with consistency, speed and low-latency. Now, we've got viruses and exploits like crazy and many of the old programs that use to run good on Pentium III don't run so well anymore. Specking of Win 3.1. Windows XP 64 Bit and Amiga 500 were highly reliable. I can't really say the same for Windows 10 (after build 1809). After build 1809, Windows 10 started getting seriously unreliable IMO.
  • Agreed. Not only software back then actually worked but it looked nice as well. Windows 3.1 had the best icons of all Windows versions. Sharp and crisp looking, something that can’t be reproduced by today’s 4K display.
  • Software was also a lot simpler back then.
  • Windows 3.1 was 16 bit, which means it could only address 64K of RAM in a process. You could address more memory through paging, which was a pain. Windows 3.1 did not have threading, so you had to use the event queue and break things up in small chunks of processing. This gave the illusion that things were running simultaneously in a program. Also, Windows 3.1 could only display 256 colors at one time, so an optimal palate of colors had to be loaded into the graphics prior to rending. There was no Internet Explorer yet at that time. Primary you had desktop application using the the local file system isolated to just your computer. In the business world, sharing was done through networked file systems. The underlying windowing system of Windows 1.x - 3.x laid the foundation to how Windows works with things like focus window, switching windows, etc. It is nice to remember how things were. Windows has come a long way.