Win31/DOS question for you history fans

In the early ’90s I got my first Windows computer, a Leading Edge 386 running Windows 3.1. Out of the box it booted into Windows, presumably courtesy of a win.exe command in autoexec.bat.

I was in college and I mainly used computers to write papers with WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS. I was still pretty new to the DOS world and I didn’t fully understand that you run DOS programs by typing in an executable name at the prompt. So I created a WordPerfect icon in the Program Manager. The PC booted into Windows and I used the mouse to start WordPerfect. I think you could run DOS programs in a window, but I always ran WordPerfect full screen.

In retrospect this seems insane. Windows 3.1 consumed a lot of resources and I was basically using it as a glorified launcher for DOS programs. If I were using Win31 now I think I would boot to the DOS prompt and start win.exe if I needed to do something in Windows. On the other hand, DOS computers were still pretty impenetrable to me in those days and Windows was a great help getting started.

Family, if this were 1993, would you boot to Windows and start DOS programs using icons, or would you boot to a DOS prompt?

Conversation 16 comments

  • mattbg

    Premium Member
    07 May, 2022 - 9:47 am

    <p>Circa 1993, I would boot to a DOS prompt and load Windows when needed.</p><p><br></p><p>However, there was a point around that time when it evolved that most of the apps I was using were Windows apps, so I likely switched to having it auto-boot into Windows between 1993 and 1995. I am not old enough to have needed DOS word processors, so my first word processors were Windows (Word 6.0, probably).</p><p><br></p><p>Also, some Windows advantages started to creep in, such as modem terminal apps that were able to work in the background under co-op multitasking, which was a big deal given the modem transfer speeds at the time, and with DOS tying up the whole PC while a file downloaded.</p><p><br></p><p>I would never launch DOS games from Windows.</p><p><br></p><p>By the time Windows 95 came around, I never looked back, so I guess whatever problems coming from running DOS inside Windows were solved by then.</p>

  • Greg Green

    07 May, 2022 - 10:19 am

    <p>I can’t remember how I went from Windows to DOS. Was there a shutdown to DOS option?</p>

    • mattbg

      Premium Member
      07 May, 2022 - 10:51 am

      <p>It was something like File &gt; Exit Windows from Program Manager.</p>

  • erichk

    Premium Member
    07 May, 2022 - 11:47 am

    <p>In my Windows 3.1 days, I had a 486 at the time. If I recall correctly, I never had Windows boot automatically via the AUTOEXEC.BAT file. I was adept at DOS and typing, so I felt that was the most efficient way to run DOS applications. And whenever I needed Windows for multitasking or to run Word or whatever, I just fired it up myself by typing "win" at the command line. Usually before I shut down the machine though, I would exit Windows and go back to the DOS prompt. It probably didn’t matter in those days, but better safe than sorry I guess.</p><p><br></p><p>It’s funny, around that time was when I hired in to my current job, an A/V technician at a local community college. A coworker of mine, who is still my coworker today, would get quite annoyed at my tendency to use the DOS prompt to accomplish tasks when there was a perfectly good mouse sitting on the desk. I kept explaining to him, when you grow up without a GUI on machines like the Apple II or C64 or whatever, it’s hard to break those habits.</p>

    • kenneth_burns

      20 May, 2022 - 12:04 pm

      <p>Haha, at every job where I’ve had a Windows machine I’ve used a command prompt instead of Windows Explorer for basic file and folder tasks. And every time a coworker saw the DOS prompt they were like "What the eff are you doing????" I prefer keyboarding to mousing 1000% percent of the time.</p>

  • ruivo

    07 May, 2022 - 7:03 pm

    <p>Funny thing that I just recreated my first PC in 86Box – a 486 DX-100 with 4mb of RAM. It brought back so many memories, like how I used to boot to DOS and manage everything from there. I specifically remembered how I would add special characters to my personal directories, so my little brother couldn’t mess up my documents or savegames – for instance, UFO – Enemy Unknown directory was UƒO – I did that by typing ALT + 159, if Wikipedia can be trusted. The poor kid couldn’t type the special character in DOS, but I’ll be damned if I remember how I prevented him from accessing it from Windows ;-)</p><p>So, no, I didn’t boot directly into Windows. In fact, I remember I was so used to the command line interface that in the Windows ME days I was able to find out how to boot into "true" DOS when I needed more punch for my games.</p><p>It is rather curious that nowadays I hate all kinds of command line interfaces (save for Python, but that is a different circumstance). I guess that my divorce from DOS on the NT days was rather traumatic… </p>

  • hrlngrv

    Premium Member
    07 May, 2022 - 9:17 pm

    <p>I began with a Compaq DeskPro in 1984 with Compaq MS-DOS 2.11, the Compaq-specific version which supported Compaq’s 2-mode monitors. No Windows then. I got used to booting to the command line. I installed Windows 2/286 on the work PC I had at the time (back in the wild old days when there was no IT, only MIS/DP, which didn’t give a damn about PCs) to use Excel in the late 1980s. Bought a 386-based Dell at the end of the 1980s and installed Windows 3.0, 3.1, 95, and 98 on my own. The first PC I bought with Windows preinstalled was another Dell in the late 1990s with NT4.</p>

  • beckoningeagle

    Premium Member
    08 May, 2022 - 9:14 am

    <p>My first Windows install was on the Amiga 386 Bridgeboard, by the time that product came out the writing was on the wall for the demise of Amiga. I remember playing with QEMM and other extended memory managers to squeeze every last drop of low ram so that Windows would not have any issues. I would run most DOS programs in a small window (being 20 something years old at the time helped to actually see what was inside those windows) except games. Once Windows versions of office suites came out I stopped using DOS mode for anything but sysadmin scripts.</p><p><br></p><p>If this was 1993 I would probably boot to Windows by default.</p><p> </p><p>One small detail, if you typed win.exe and didn’t get an error, check you PC for viruses, as the correct command was ;-)</p><p><br></p><p><br></p>

  • christianwilson

    Premium Member
    08 May, 2022 - 10:27 am

    <p>Until Windows 95, I always booted to DOS and started Windows when I needed something from it. </p><p><br></p><p>The main reason for doing that was that I learned how to use a computer with DOS only and had some familiarity with it. The second reason is that I mostly played games on my computer back then and Windows was no bueno for that. </p>

  • navarac

    08 May, 2022 - 3:05 pm

    <p>Always DOS. Windows was a new-fangled thing that took memory sitting on top of DOS. Most programs run under DOS anyway, so why bother with Windows? A lot of the time I ran CP/M anyway. </p>

    • jimchamplin

      Premium Member
      08 May, 2022 - 5:57 pm

      <p>You were still running CP/M in 1993? Dedication right there.</p>

      • erichk

        Premium Member
        09 May, 2022 - 5:00 pm

        <p>The way the market shifted to IBM and Microsoft and kicked CP/M to the curb throughout the ’80s must have been amazing to witness. I didn’t see that happen because I got my first IBM compatible computer in 1988.</p>

  • leoaw

    Premium Member
    09 May, 2022 - 8:34 am

    <p>Even though I had WP51 at the time, most of my computer work in 1993 was using PageMaker and FreeHand. I forget if I automatically loaded Windows at boot or just typed "Win" once the prompt came up. I suspect I had it autoloaded to save time and then exit out if I needed to use a memory intensive DOS program. I only had a handful of games I played and they were all DOS based. At that point I didn’t have a sound card, so the 640K section of RAM usually had plenty of room to load what I needed, even through Windows.</p>

  • Brazbit

    09 May, 2022 - 1:08 pm

    <p>I still have my Digital HiNote Ultra 486/50 laptop from 1994. I kept it as it is an interesting time capsule for this era. It’s Autoexec.bat and config.sys files were a thing of nerdy beauty.</p><p><br></p><p>I booted to a menu that presented me with a list of configurations to boot to. The default went to Windows, Seconds was Dos will full hardware support. Then I had a configuration with maximum conventional memory. Another gave me maximum Extended Memory. I had a choice for maximum memory with multimedia support. My last general purpose selection created a maximum RAM drive, moved the command interpreter to the RAM Drive and presented me with a list of games to copy to the RAM drive and run directly from there for maximum performance. And finally I had two dedicated configurations for playing Dragon’s Lair or Space Ace that would only enable what was required to support the selected game and launch it directly.</p><p><br></p><p>Most of the time I would run as you described above going directly to Windows and using Windows to easily launch both DOS and Windows programs. But when I had particularly demanding programs to run I made just about every option I could think of available to me at boot. There wasn’t a single piece of software I couldn’t run at the time.</p>

  • kenneth_burns

    13 May, 2022 - 1:52 pm

    <p>I loved the Windows 3.1 screen saver with the trippy swirling line like in the old Qix videogame. If I ran WordPerfect for DOS full screen in Windows, would the Windows screen saver still kick in? That would have been a reason to launch DOS apps from Windows.</p>

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