del C:\WIN – A Goodbye to Windows 3.1

The end of an era has arrived for a legend in computing. Windows 3.1, the first widely accepted foray into graphical user interface operating systems from Microsoft, has reached its End of Life.

The BBC covered the story noting, “[It] helped Microsoft establish itself and set the trend for how it makes its revenues, and what drives the company until the present day.”

While Microsoft stopped releasing the OS as a desktop operating system years ago, licenses were still being issued as it was apparently wildly popular as an embedded Operating System. The BBC points out, to my surprise, that it is even being used on Virgin Atlantic and Qantas airlines to power the in-seat entertainment systems for their long-haul flights. Note that this does not appear to be the case with Virgin America that appears to be using a Linux variant, as we covered over a year ago.

To me, it seems that Windows 3.1, while it was certainly lightweight by todays standards, is a bit overkill for an embedded operating system. Certainly, mobile phones tend to benefit from Java ME (Blackberry smartphones, for instance, are run on Java), Symbian which is wildly popular among Nokia phones or event the .NET Compact Framework usable in Windows apps on mobile devices.

Of course, mobile phones are not the only mobile devices. Every electronic device that does anything has some sort of embedded operating system that might be a embedded linux variant, or the like.

The trick for embedded operating systems is that they must live in a very small memory space and typically are feature limited to essential functionality usable in a miniature device. Windows 3.1 ability to live in the reserved 640k memory space of a DOS environment made it sexy for this kind of application (keep in mind that Windows Vista requires a minimum of 1GB of memory, so do the math on technology differences).


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@ECHO OFF
LH /L:2 C:\WINDOWS\COMMAND\MSCDEX /D:MSCD000 /M:15 /E /S /L:D /V
LH /L:0;2 /S C:\WINDOWS\COMMAND\SMARTDRV 2048 16 /V
C:\WINDOWS\COMMAND\MODE CON RATE=32 DELAY=2
C:\WINDOWS\COMMAND\MODE CON CP PREP=((865) C:\WINDOWS\COMMAND\EGA.CPI)
C:\WINDOWS\COMMAND\MODE CON CP SEL=865
LH /L:2 C:\WINDOWS\COMMAND\KEYB DK,865,C:\WINDOWS\COMMAND\KEYBOARD.SYS
LH /L:2 C:\MOUSE\MOUSE
LH /L:2 C:\WINDOWS\COMMAND\DOSKEY /INSERT
PROMPT $p$g
PATH C:\WINDOWS;C:\WINDOWS\COMMAND;C:\CTSND
SET DIRCMD=/P /A
SET TEMP=C:\WINDOWS\TEMP
SET TMP=C:\WINDOWS\TEMP
SET SOUND=C:\CTSND
SET BLASTER=A220 I5 D1 H5 P330 T6
SET MIDI=SYNTH:1 MAP:G
C:\CTSND\DIAGNOSE /S
C:\CTSND\SB16SET /P

It’s been a good 18 years, not that I miss Windows 3.1 all that much. I got my start on Apple IIc and moved quickly to an 8088 before beginning real learning on an i286 running Windows 3.1. This was back in 1990, so there’s a bit of nostalgia here. Congrats, Microsoft, for making a game changer.

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Blackberry Provides a Mobile Device Too!

Since the iPhone came out a year and a half ago, mobile app development has gone into an iPhone-only mode of development. Mostly. The web interface has made it much more conducive to providing a real rich environment for web applications and now that the iPhone 3G has arrived, apps are being produced left and right.

It’s all great, except Apple still has a minority market share in mobile devices. By mobile device, I am referring to smart phones: iPhone, Treo, Blackberry, etc.

In DC, we have a running joke about the iPhone. In DC the preference for a smartphone is a Blackberry. When I get on the Metro, I look around and everyone is fiddling on their Blackberries.

It’s a matter of utility and practicality.

In San Francisco, no one goes without an iPhone, but in DC iPhones are far more scarce.

Yet, mobile application development seems to trend toward iPhones. While iPhone rich applications are great for the “bling” factor, they represent a small minority of customers in the global market that actually can utilize these interfaces.

In my opinion, developers can work within the limitations imposed by RIM to provide rich Blackberry equivalents to their apps. The Facebook App for Blackberry is a shining example of great Blackberry app that has been developed within the context of the RIM framework.

It can be done. It should be done.

I was pitched an iPhone app by a PR guy yesterday and when I scolded him for having an iPhone app and not a Blackberry app as well, he corrected me and gave me access to their prior-released Blackberry version. After fiddling around with it for 30 mins, I realized it just doesn’t work. Why are companies putting out half-assed products?

The Blackberry Storm is coming out, by all accounts, in the next 2-3 weeks and I’ll be one getting it as soon as it comes out. Why? Because Blackberry users know our product sucks. But, we need it. It’s utility. It’s functional. It’s the hub of our digital lives. The Storm will theoretically change that and that is great.

In the meantime, mobile app developers have to recognize the market share and not take an elitist perspective that they can somehow push users to the sexier platform. Because in DC, purchasers don’t care about sexiness. They care about utility. I imagine this city is not alone in that regard.

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