For those who used it back in the day, what was it like to use Windows NT 3.1 (or 3.5/3.51)? What did you view its pros and cons to be vs., say, the consumer version of Windows 3.1, or heck, against OS/2 for multitasking/stability?

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    I let the NT 3.1 machine on my desk at work run for more than half a year without re-booting one time. When I did finally re-boot, it wasn't because anything stopped working; It was only because I needed to move my stuff to a different desk. Apr 26 '20 at 16:38

The user experience on NT 3.1 was very much the same as Windows 3.1. In fact you might not even notice during a casual use of it. Here is a web site that shows a number of screen images of NT 3.1 to give you a taste of it:

NT 3.1 Screen Images

OS/2, especially the earliest versions clearly showed the similar roots with NT. That same site has OS/2 v1.1 images here:

OS/2 1.1 Images

Both NT 3.1 and OS/2 were significantly more stable than the standard consumer versions of Windows until the introduction of Windows 2000 which eliminated the MS-DOS foundation and merged the NT and non-NT Windows product lines.

  • NT 3.1, 3.5 and 3.51 all had Windows 3.1-style GUIs, and were much more stable than DOS-based Windows. This wasn't just a question of not crashing near so much, their response times were much more consistent. They did require significantly more RAM. NT 4 introduced a Windows 95-like GUI, which continued in Windows 2000 and Windows XP. Windows XP, in mid-2001, replaced both Windows 2000 and the DOS-based versions of Windows (3.1, 3.11, 95, 98, and Millennium Edition). Apr 26 '20 at 13:01
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    @jwh20 - Not sure what you mean by Windows 2000 eliminating the MS-DOS foundation. 2000 is NT V5.0, which was never DOS-based. An ever-declining number of utility programs ran in the NTVDM, sure, but NTVDM was itself just an NT program. Apr 26 '20 at 13:27
  • What I mean is that all the consumer versions of Windows from the first V1.0 though Windows ME were built on top of MS-DOS. So the foundation was the weak link. All Windows NT versions were built on the NT Kernel which was engineered from the start to be a preemptive multitasking operating system. Something that MS-DOS was unable to do. When Windows 2000 was released, for both business and consumer use, Windows ME notwithstanding, there was a single underlying kernel, NT, for all Windows platforms.
    – jwh20
    Apr 26 '20 at 14:54
  • If I recall correctly the Win95 experience was so much desired that NT4 pretty much sold itself just on that. Apr 27 '20 at 0:38
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    @jwh20 You're mistaken; NT4 used the Win95-style GUI. screenshot Apr 27 '20 at 13:30

NT 3.1 was the first version of Windows I ever used. As far as I recall, I was using it on some 60 MHz Pentium and on a DECpc AXP 150 ("Jensen"). I worked for DEC at the time, and was working on an NT-based project. My experience is from the viewpoint of a programmer who was new to both Windows and to PCs (in fact, it was only the emergence of NT that persuaded me to move off VMS).

I subsequently and briefly used Windows for Workgroups 3.11 at home (approximately speaking, Windows 3.1 with networking and 32-bit disk drivers/file system). I upgraded the home system to NT as soon as I could scrounge some spare SCSI disks from work :-)

The UI was similar on both -- this of course is why the first version of NT was called "version 3.1". However, NT was streets ahead for not-locking-up, for having a usable not-DOS command line, for having a flat memory model, and so on; all virtues a programmer could appreciate.

NT 3.1 was a little slow and needed a lot of memory (16MB was the sensible minimum). NT 3.5 made things a little better, and natural technical evolution soon made 16MB seem not large.

One trouble with NT 3.1 was the usual problem with new systems: application availability. Many programs were still 16-bit Windows apps, running under WoW (Windows on Windows, the 16-bit Windows subsystem). I think MS Office might have been in that category at first.

NT provided useful tools for getting out of trouble - the control set indirection, coupled with last-known-good. The registry was a good thing, providing a simple hierarchical configuration tree (though I'd agree it has not scaled well by the 21st century). The service controller was essential for the programming I wanted to do -- one thing that always annoyed me about Windows was its apparent belief that there was always someone sitting in front of its screen.

NT on the Jensen was no faster than the Pentium, despite the faster Alpha processor (150MHz). Some of that was the design of the Jensen itself, some was down to having to run x86 apps under emulation. I preferred to use the Pentium. 32-bit NT on the Alpha sadly proved to be a dead end.

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