Running Windows 3.1 in DOSBox
Windows 3.1 might not have been the gaming powerhouse that later versions of Windows would turn into, but nevertheless there are a number of games that will run only when using this particular version of Windows. Luckily for us, it’s actually possible to install Windows 3.1 in DOSBox, giving complete access to the ancient operating system and allowing you to run many more classic PC gaming titles. Setting up Windows 3.1 in DOSBox isn’t terribly difficult, though there are several hurdles to overcome. The main one being obtaining a copy of Windows 3.1 itself. Although Windows 3.1 is discontinued, it’s still technically under copyright so we cannot offer it for download. Obtaining a second hand copy of the operating system is of course possible, but most copies of the OS came on floppy disks. Since most PCs no longer have floppy disk drives, you may need to find an old PC that you can use to copy the data to a more modern storage medium, such as a CD-ROM (you do still have a CD-ROM in your computer, right?). When shopping for a copy of the ancient OS, look for Windows 3.1, 3.11 or Windows for Workgroups 3.11. Windows 3.1 was actually a pretty significant upgrade from Windows 3.0, so don’t be tempted to shell out for a copy of Windows 3.0 instead.
Once you have obtained a copy of Windows 3.1 and you have hardware suitable for accessing the media it comes on, you simply need to copy all the files from all the discs (or the one CD) into a single folder. We also recommend creating a custom configuration file for your Windows 3.1 DOSBox installation.
In this video tutorial we go through the process of installing Windows 3.1 in DOSBox.
Our video tutorial was based on the instructions we found on the excellent retro-gaming website, Vogons.org. Visit that link to view the tutorial in full and also download the drivers required for smooth operation.
Windows 3.1 for beginners
Windows has changed a bit since version 3.1 and if you find getting around to be a little difficult, here are some pointers.
Browsing your Windows 3.1 machine – There’s no “Computer” or “My Computer” in Windows 3.1. To browse the emulated PC, open up the “Main” program group by double clicking on it then click on “File Manager”.
Changing screen resolution – Some Windows 3.1 games will refuse to run unless you change your screen resolution, but how do you do that in Windows 3.1? Open the Main group by double clicking on it and then click on “Windows Setup”. You should see a window like the one shown below.
Click on the “Options” menu and choose “Change System Settings”. The window shown below should then appear.
Screen resolution is changed by selecting “Display”. In the picture the user has selected a 640×480 screen mode with 256 colours. This is a typical screen mode for many Windows 3.1 games. Be sure to click on “OK” when you are done making changes.
Mouse pointer is stuck in DOSBox – Press and hold the Control key and then press F10, this should release the mouse pointer.
Installing new games – Typically you install new games by inserting the CD (or even the floppies if you have a suitable drive) and then opening File Manager. Click on the CD icon at the top of the window (it looks a bit like a poking tongue). The contents of the CD will then be displayed on the right of the window. Look for “Install.exe”, “Setup.exe” or something similar and double click on it to start the installation process.