eBay Purchase #6 – Microsoft Windows/386 2.11




eBay Purchase Price: $100+ AUD

Country of Origin: United States

Condition: Very Good

Witnessing the very few copies of Windows 1.0 on eBay usually for sale overseas and in excess of $1,000 US at the end of auction, I never had success obtaining a copy. Due to that, Windows 2.11 marketed as Windows/286 and Windows/386 are the earliest copies I have in a box.


“New” copies of Windows/286 and Windows/386 side by side.

For physical comparison as these would have been sold next to each other on the store shelf, I’ve placed a couple of copies I have still in shrink wrap. The styling of the boxes was rather typical of late 1980s software by Microsoft.


The back side.

Although very similar in appearance, the back side of the boxes shows that Windows/386 has a higher emphasis with multitasking, especially concerning DOS applications utilising 8086 virtual mode, a new feature with 80386 processors.

win386-3Shown to their sides, the Windows/386 box is both fatter and heavier coming with both 5¼” and 3½” floppy disks for installation. The copy of Windows/286 only came supplied with 5¼” floppy disks.

Both versions were released in May 1988 only about 5 months after Windows 2.0, and sold until 1989 in preparation for Windows 3.0. Nevertheless at the time there were relatively significant improvements over their predecessors taking advantage of Intel’s 80286 and 80386 processor memory management, and for the first time required a hard disk. MS-DOS 3.1 was required allowing hard disks up to 32 MB in size, though Windows only needed approximately 2 MB.

From here on I’ll focus on Windows/386 using another copy I had already opened. Below is a closer look at the box to improve readability.



Inside the box several items are included. We have only four 5¼” floppy disks and seven 3½” floppy disks for installation each in their own envelope. This is due to the 3½” disks only being the low density 720 KB variety compared to the 5¼” high density capacity of 1.2 MB. From this copy the 5¼” disks appeared unused as the glue on the envelope was so old that the envelope could just open up.


Also included are the usual user and quick reference guides, though there’s some interesting additions. A brochure was provided aimed at trainers to purchase an Administrator’s Guide ($100 US each) and Student Workbook ($20 US each) for course planning, and for students to reference and practice with using examples.


A 55-page Windows Shopping catalogue as shown below promoted applications that had been developed for Windows by various software vendors. “Photo-realistic” computer graphics had high sex appeal in the 1980s apparently.


Windows Shopping catalogue.

Microsoft Excel had already been available for the Apple Macintosh for a couple of years already, and Lotus 1-2-3 was still the king of spreadsheets on DOS systems, so Microsoft was keen to promote Excel for Windows. The interesting point was that this wasn’t just a presentation showing a few slides on the benefits of using Excel, but a fully functional version albeit with only one major limitation. According to the Demonstration Guide booklet, the worksheets were limited to 16 rows and 64 columns, whereas the full version at the time had 256 rows and 16,384 columns. Apart from that you could still generate graphs, use the other functions, and print to a HP LaserJet or an Epson dot-matrix printer.


Excel Working Model.

Microsoft was promoting that if you traded in your copy of Lotus 1-2-3, Microsoft would offer $75 US in cash or offer the choice of Windows/286 or Windows/386 absolutely free. But then you wouldn’t have a spreadsheet program for DOS or Windows?


Windows/386 User Guide book.



One thought on “eBay Purchase #6 – Microsoft Windows/386 2.11

  1. Malcolm says:

    Did you get it to run?

    It’s an interesting piece of software but AFAICT it’s the first version of a lot of code that would wind up in Windows 3.0 and EMM386 in DOS later. Since it’s the first it’s a bit…fragile. I have it running on DOS 6.0, with a setver lie on WIN200.BIN to 3.40, and loading DOS low. If DOS is loaded high, Win386 will refuse to start. I don’t think I ever got it to run on DosBox or similar; it really wants MS-DOS. Also, Windows 386 includes a win86.com to launch in Windows 286 mode, which is nice, but for some reason it complains about an altered memory configuration.

    It looks to me though that Windows 386 launches all Windows processes in a single 640Kb session and the real enhancement is that it can run many 640Kb DOS sessions concurrently. Contrast this with OS/2 1.x, which existed at the same time but was designed for 286s, which runs many OS/2 processes in protected mode but only a single 640Kb DOS session.


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