Windows 3.x with VMWare Workstation Player

An earlier post, Install & Configure MS-DOS 6.22 & Windows 3.1 using Oracle VirtualBox has proven to be relatively popular since it was published. The intention was to create a similar guide using VMWare’s free Workstation Player 12.5.6 but alas usability wasn’t satisfactory enough that I felt creating one was warranted. Nevertheless here’s how the installation experience went. Cue the 1978 Split Enz song ‘I See Red’.

Firstly, VMWare is rather decent for Windows and Linux operating systems that have been released since the turn of the century, and their products are a popular choice in the corporate space competing with the likes of Microsoft’s Hyper-V. Once you head back further into the DOS era, it’s not so seamless and optimal.

As to be expected not much is mentioned on VMWare’s website. A reference to Workstation 3.2 suggests limited support for DOS and Windows 3.1. It recommended the use of a CPU idling program but apart from that states using EMM386 is flaky for memory managment, and only VGA mode is supported.

When creating the VM (virtual machine) in Player via the wizard, MS-DOS and Windows 3.1 are available as separate OS choices. Oddly when confirming the size of the virtual hard disk, 8 GB is chosen by default for Windows 3.1 when it’s only 2 GB for DOS. Normally you’d be running Windows 3.1 with DOS on a maximum 2 GB partition given the limitation of the FAT16 file system at the time. Oracle’s VirtualBox configures the RAM to 32 MB as default, though Player has it set to 16 MB instead.

Additionally the floppy disk drive needs to be added manually in order to install DOS and Windows. Mounting the floppy disk images Player filters for FLP and IMG as compatible image files, however IMA files still work without issues.

The drivers that would be used are much the same as with VirtualBox, such as SoundBlaster 16 and AMD PCNET for sound and networking respectively. The main issue was with the video driver. The ET4000 drivers used with VirtualBox are not compatible, however using the same disk the other generic SVGA driver works somewhat but only if using 1,024 x 768 resolution.

When it did work, there were frequent glitches and stability issues. One such glitch was running the MS-DOS Prompt in windowed mode causing much of the screen to go red. Changing to full-screen mode and it would be fine. Pressing Ctrl+Alt+Del in Windows once to force a blue screen warning message then pressing the Escape key would revert the colours back to normal after closing the MS-DOS prompt window.

Much of the time though it would be problematic for Windows just to launch correctly. After showing the splash screen and during the process of loading up the Windows shell, the splash screen would appear again albeit with red horizontal lines when actually it was prompting for the network user and password.

vmware-win31-1

One such example of display issues.

With that in mind, my advice is to stick with PCem for gaming and time accurate virtualisation but if network connectivity is needed to go with VirtualBox instead.

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One thought on “Windows 3.x with VMWare Workstation Player

  1. calvin says:

    Don’t use the ET4000 drivers for this. What you want is the SVGA drivers with the VESA patch. It’ll work in both VMware and VirtualBox, with the caveat that you need to disable file sharing if you’re on Windows for Workgroups, otherwise the display will corrupt. (You can fix it though, by hitting CAD and leaving the CAD prompt.)

    Like

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