R.I.P. Windows 3.11

I bet you didn’t know that Microsoft still sold Windows 3.11. Or at least they did, up until November 1, 2008.

Although almost no one uses it as a desktop operating system these days, Windows 3.11 was a popular choice for “embedded computers” – that is, computers dedicated to single tasks like cash registers and information kiosks. Because it was so easy to program for, and so reliable when configured as an embedded OS, there are still millions of computers out there still running Windows 3.11. Computers that control alarm systems. Computers that control sprinkler systems. Computers that control heating and air conditioning systems. Computers that control industrial machines (I know of at least one company in Charlotte that uses a Windows 3.11 computer to control a machine that cuts sheet metal). And until very recently, Windows 3.11 powered the in-flight entertainment systems of Virgin and Qantas airlines.

Released in May 1990, Windows 3.11 required a minimum of a 10MHz processor, 640KB RAM, seven megabytes of hard drive space, and a graphics card that supported CCA, EGA or VGA graphics. Contrast this with Windows Vista, which requires a 1GHz processor, 512MB of RAM, 20GB of hard drive space, and a graphics card with at least 32MB of memory and you can see why a company making thousands of cash registers might go with 3.11 over Vista or even XP Embedded.

So long, sweet prince! We’ll miss you and your Hot Dog Stand theme!

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