Windows 3.0, a graphical environment, is the third major release of
Microsoft Windows, and was released on May 22, 1990. It became the
first widely successful version of Windows and a rival to Apple
Macintosh and the Commodore
Amiga on the graphical user interface
(GUI) front. It was followed by Windows 3.1.
Windows 3.0 originated in 1989 when David Weise and Murray Sargent
independently decided to develop a protected mode Windows as an
experiment. They cobbled together a rough prototype and presented it
to company executives, who were impressed enough to approve it as an
2.1 Memory modes
3.1 Windows 3.0a
Windows 3.0 with
5 Software support
6 See also
8 External links
Windows 3.0 succeeded
Windows 2.1x and included a significantly
revamped user interface as well as technical improvements to make
better use of the memory management capabilities of Intel's 80286 and
Text mode programs written for
MS-DOS can be run
within a window — a feature previously available in a more limited
form with Windows/386 2.1 — making the system usable as a crude
multitasking base for legacy programs. However, this was of limited
use for the home market, where most games and entertainment programs
continued to require raw
MS-DOS Executive file manager/program launcher was replaced with
Program Manager and the list-based
splitting files and programs. The Control Panel, previously available
as a standard-looking applet, was re-modeled after the one in the
classic Mac OS. It centralized system settings, including control over
the color scheme of the interface.
A number of simple applications were included, such as the text editor
Notepad and the word processor Write (both inherited from earlier
versions of Windows), a macro recorder (new; later dropped), the paint
program Paintbrush (inherited, but substantially improved), and a
calculator (also inherited). Also, the earlier
Reversi game was
complemented with the card game
The Windows icons and graphics support a full 16 colors in EGA, MCGA
and VGA mode while Windows 2.x had only a very limited palette for
colored menus and window boxes with in-application graphics being
monochrome. 256-color VGA and MCGA modes were supported for the first
Windows 3.0 includes a Protected/Enhanced mode which allows Windows
applications to use more memory in a more painless manner than their
DOS counterparts could. It can run in any of Real, Standard, or 386
Enhanced modes, and is compatible with any
Intel processor from the
8086/8088 up to 80286 and 80386.
Windows 3.0 tries to auto detect
which mode to run in, although it can be forced to run in a specific
mode using the switches: /r (real mode), /s ("standard" 286 protected
mode) and /3 (386 enhanced protected mode) respectively. Since
Windows 3.0 (and later Windows 3.1) runs in 16-bit 286 protected mode
and not 32-bit 386 protected mode, the default setup is to use the
64 KB segmented memory model. However, on 32-bit CPUs, the
programmer had access to larger memory pointers and so it was possible
to expand program segments to whatever size was desired (the maximum
limit being 16 MB due to segment descriptors being 24-bit). Since
Windows API functions were 16-bit at the time, they could not use
32-bit pointers and thus it was necessary to place the portion of the
program code that performed OS calls in a 64 KB segment, like
in DOS, although 32-bit instructions may be contained in the code.
(Ami Pro was the first Windows application to require a 386). Because
Windows 3.0 can access only 16 MB total of RAM, even on
386 or higher CPUs which have a theoretical capability of utilizing
This was the first version to run Windows programs in protected mode,
although the 386 enhanced mode kernel was an enhanced version of the
protected mode kernel for Windows/286.
The official system requirements for Windows 3.0:
8086/8088 processor or better
384 KB of free conventional memory (real mode), 1 MB
(Standard Mode), or 2 MB (Enhanced Mode)
Hard disk with 6-7 MB of free space
CGA, EGA, MCGA, VGA, Hercules, 8514/A or XGA graphics and an
appropriate and compatible monitor
MS-DOS version 3.1 or higher
Also, a Microsoft-compatible mouse is recommended.
Windows 3.0 cannot run in full color on most 8086/88 machines, as the
built-in 640×350 (16 color) EGA and 640×480 (16 color) VGA drivers
Intel 80186 instructions. MCGA 320×200 (256 color) and
640×480 (2 color) drivers did not contain these instructions. This
could be worked around by installing the Windows 2.x EGA/VGA drivers
(which support color menus and frames, but not in-program graphics),
replacing the CPU with an NEC V20/V30 (8086/88 pin-compatible chips
with an 80186 instruction set), or by using a modified VGA driver that
supports the 8086/88 (originally written in 2013).
dropped support for the Tandy 1000 line by 1990, so a Tandy graphics
driver was not provided for Windows 3.0, but the Windows 2.x Tandy
driver could be copied into the target system and used.
Windows 3.0 was the only version of Windows that could be run in three
different memory modes:
Real mode, intended for older computers with a CPU below
and corresponding to its real mode;
Standard mode, intended for computers with an 80286 processor, and
corresponding to its protected mode;
386 Enhanced mode, intended for newer computers with an
processor or above, and corresponding to its protected mode and
virtual 8086 mode.
Real mode primarily existed as a way to run Windows 2.x applications.
It was removed in Windows 3.1x. Almost all applications designed for
Windows 3.0 had to be run in standard or 386 enhanced modes.
Microsoft Word 1.x and Excel 2.x would work in real mode as they were
actually designed for Windows 2.x). However, it was necessary to load
Windows 3.0 in real mode to run SWAPFILE.EXE, which allowed users to
change virtual memory settings. Officially,
Microsoft stated that an
8Mhz turbo 8086 was the minimum CPU needed to run Windows 3.0. It
could be run on 4.77 MHz 8088 machines, but performance is so
slow as to render the OS almost unusable. Up to 4 MB of EMS
memory is supported in real mode.
Standard mode was used most often as its requirements were more
in-line with an average PC of that era — an 80286 processor with at
least 1 MB of memory. Since some PCs (notably Compaqs) did not
place extended memory at the 1MB line and instead left a hole between
the end of conventional memory and the start of XMS, Windows could not
work on them except in real mode. Standard mode was still widely used
on 386 PCs as many only had 1-2 MB of memory and used the 386SX
chip (a cut-down version with a 16-bit data bus), so they could not
run Enhanced mode well.
386 Enhanced mode was a 32-bit virtual machine that ran a copy of
16-bit Standard mode, and multiple copies of
MS-DOS in virtual 8086
mode. In 286 mode, the CPU temporarily switches back into real
mode when a
DOS application is run, thus they cannot be windowed or
switched into the background, and all Windows processes are suspended
DOS application is in use. 386 enhanced mode by comparison
uses virtual 8086 mode to allow multiple
DOS programs to run (each DOS
session takes 1MB of memory) along with being windowed and allowing
multitasking to continue. Virtual memory support allows the user to
employ the hard disk as a temporary storage space if applications use
more memory than exists in the system.
Normally, Windows will start in the highest operating mode the
computer can use, but the user may force it into lower modes by typing
WIN /R or WIN /S at the
DOS command prompt. If the user selects an
operating mode that cannot be used due to lack of RAM or CPU support,
Windows merely boots into the next lowest one.
In December 1990,
Microsoft released Windows 3.0a. This version
contained an improved ability to move pieces of data greater than 64KB
(the original release could only manipulate one segment of RAM at a
time). It also improved stability by reducing Unrecoverable
Application Errors (UAEs) associated with networking, printing, and
low-memory conditions. This version appears as "Windows 3.00a" in
Help/About Windows system dialogs.
Windows 3.0 with
Based on Windows 3.0a,
Windows 3.0 with
Multimedia Extensions 1.0 was
released in October 1991 to support sound cards like the Creative Labs
Sound Blaster Pro, as well as
CD-ROM drives, which were then becoming
increasingly available. This edition was released to Original
Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), mainly
CD-ROM drive and sound card
manufacturers, and some PCs came preloaded with it. This edition added
basic multimedia support for audio input and output, along with new
applications: Media Player, CD audio player, more advanced Help
format, screen savers, and a new clock. These new features were
integrated into Windows 3.1x.
Microsoft developed the Windows Sound
System sound card specification to complement these extensions. The
new features were not accessible in
Windows 3.0 Real Mode.
The MME API was the first universal and standardized Windows audio
API. Wave sound events played in Windows (up to Windows XP) and MIDI
I/O use MME. The devices listed in the Multimedia/Sounds and Audio
control panel applet represent the MME API of the sound card driver.
MME lacks channel mixing, so only one audio stream can be rendered at
a time. MME supports sharing the audio device for playback between
multiple applications starting with Windows 2000, up to two channels
of recording, 16-bit audio bit depth and sampling rates of up to
44.1 kHz with all the audio being mixed and sampled to
Windows 3.0 was the first version to be pre-installed on hard drives
by PC-compatible manufacturers.
Zenith Data Systems
Zenith Data Systems had previously
shipped all of its computers with
Windows 1.0 or later 2.x on
diskettes, but committed early in the development of
Windows 3.0 to
shipping it pre-installed. Indeed, the Zenith division had pushed
Microsoft hard to develop the graphical user interface because of
Zenith's direct competition with Apple in the educational market.
However, Zenith PCs had to run a proprietary OEM version of Windows,
because they used hard disks with 1024 byte sectors instead of the
normal 512 bytes, and could not use the standard SWAPFILE.EXE
Windows 3.0 was not available as a run-time version, as was the case
with its predecessors. A limited-use version of Windows 2.x was often
bundled with other applications (e.g., Ami Pro) due to the low market
penetration of Windows.
Standard retail and OEM distributions of
Windows 3.0 were on high
density 1.2 MB and 1.44 MB floppy disks. A 720 KB
version was also offered, and a 360 KB edition could be ordered
from Microsoft. Fully installed,
Windows 3.0 used 5 MB of hard
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Windows 3.0 was the first Windows version to see widespread use,
DOS still remained dominant (especially for games) and
freeware and shareware applications for Windows considerably
outnumbered commercial ones. It also significantly spurred sales of
new PCs with larger RAM capacities as many older machines lacked the
speed or memory to handle a demanding OS like Windows properly, and
some could not run it in protected mode due to outdated BIOSes or lack
of proper implementation. Since very few applications used protected
mode prior to Windows 3.0, PC manufacturers sometimes did not bother
including functional support for it in either the hardware, BIOS, or
Windows 3.0 had a software update that was never released, increasing
the speed of the floppy disk drive. By the time it was ready to be
launched, a new version of Windows was released.
All editions of
Windows 3.0 became unsupported after December 31,
GEOS (16-bit operating system)
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Windows 3.0 Gallery — A site dedicated to preserving
and showcasing Graphical User Interfaces
Windows 3.1 Rocks Mailing List — Support, links and freeware
downloads for users of Windows 3.x.
Windows 3.0 Modes and Memory Requirements
Microsoft Windows family
Windows 95 (Development)
Windows NT 3.1
Windows NT 3.5
Windows NT 3.51
Windows NT 4.0
HPC Server 2008
Server 2008 R2
Home Server 2011
Server 2012 R2
Windows Preinstallation Environment
Embedded CE 6.0
Embedded Compact 7
Pocket PC 2000
Pocket PC 2002
Windows 10 Mobile
List of versions
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