While installing Windows for Workgroups 3.11 on a 386 PC with 2 MB of RAM, I was a bit surprised that the installation diskettes are not bootable and MS-DOS needs to be installed beforehand. Was this really the case or does it have to do with my (probably a bad copy) diskettes?

Anyway, after installing it, I have found out that it does not have the capabilities to open either jpeg nor mp3 formats without any third-party programs. They existed pretty much at the same time, so was it because Microsoft didn't believe these formats would take off or another reason related to DOS?

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    I don't know if this qualifies as an answer, but yes, it really was the case, and your diskettes are fine. Windows 3.11 is just a graphical shell on top of DOS. The second part is not a question, but is it really the job of an OS, or rather a graphical shell on top of DOS, to support any multimedia format, or would it be the job of the applications.
    – Justme
    Feb 6, 2023 at 21:47
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    @Justme It''s a little more than a graphical shell. Among other things, it's one of the only DPMI extenders that implemented DPMI 1.0 rather than just DPMI 0.9 and it also implements its own protected-mode disk I/O (That's what 32-bit disk access means in the control panel options.)
    – ssokolow
    Feb 6, 2023 at 22:44
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    WFW 3.11 also had a full blown pre-emptive multitasking kernel (called the "Virtual Machine Manager") that sat beneath the WIndows layer which ran the 32 bit NDIS 3 network stack. It was a very odd beast. It's hinted at here: betaarchive.com/wiki/index.php/Microsoft_KB_Archive/90496.
    – throx
    Feb 7, 2023 at 0:51
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    ‘Why are installation disks not bootable’ and ‘How can I open MP3 files’ are unrelated questions. Please don’t post different questions in one post. Feb 7, 2023 at 13:31
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    (Also how am I the only person to notice this 17 hours after the question is asked, with 2 answers already posted?) Feb 7, 2023 at 14:35

2 Answers 2


Your diskettes are fine, Windows 3.11 for Workgroups needed DOS and wasn’t bootable on its own. The first version of Windows to ship with its own bootable disks was Windows NT 3.1.

As far as support for JPEG and MP3 files is concerned, that’s up to individual applications. WfWG shipped with Paint, which could display a couple of bitmap formats, but not JPEG; and its media player could play Wave and MIDI files, but not MP3 files. Historical context matters here: when Windows for Workgroups was released, JPEG was still nascent, and MP3 hadn’t been published!

Even though the JPEG standard was only published in late 1992, programs were available to display JPEG files earlier (e.g. the shareware ColorView or WinJPEG, both released in April 1992; development packages were available from C-Cube and Kodak in 1990, and libjpeg in late 1991).

The MPEG-2 Audio Layer III standard was only published in 1995, and MP3 playback software started appearing in 1995. The first real-time MP3 playback software for Windows was WinPlay3, released in late 1995, and most computers still struggled to play MP3s without prior decoding.

JPEG files were still rare in 1993 anyway, so the lack of support in default Windows installations wasn’t a problem (unlike the lack of support for GIF).


Windows 3.11 was basically a graphical shell but also offered some DOS extender features. Windows was not a standalone OS, and even Windows 95 and 98 started from a DOS environment, although it is not obvious to the user.

Windows 3.11 was released in 1993 only a minor bugfix upgrade to 3.1 with no new features, and 3.1 was released in 1992.

JPEG specification was released in 1992 after Windows 3.1 release.

MP3 specification, or rather, MPEG-1 Audio standard which included the Layer 3 algorithms, was first published in 1993.

Therefore, neither JPEG or MP3 did not exist when Windows 3.1 was released, and thus they cannot be supported as part of the Windows 3.1 OS and thus Windowd 3.11 OS also does not have support for them.

For reference, playing an MP3 in real time required approximately at least a 486 DX4 80MHz or 100 MHz, and such CPUs did not exist until 1994. Some sources claim a DX2 66 MHz can be used, which was released in 1992.

First real-time MP3 player for Windows was released in 1995.

  • You’re mixing up Windows 3.11 and Windows for Workgroups 3.11. The latter was far more than “a minor bugfix upgrade to 3.1 with no new features”. JPEG support did exist when Windows 3.1 was released — libjpeg predates the official publication of the standard. Feb 7, 2023 at 9:44
  • @StephenKitt OK, thanks, did not see the "workgroups" part, so yes I will update when I have time. Anyway, still, why would Microsoft ship an OS with libjpeg they did not write themselves, especially when Windows itself had no real need for JPEG support, and the programs can support any formats they want without OS support.
    – Justme
    Feb 7, 2023 at 9:51
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    @Justme Microsoft shipped lots of software that they didn't write themselves. The TCP/IP stack was pretty much a straight port of Berkeley sockets.
    – JeremyP
    Feb 7, 2023 at 10:20
  • @Justme I’m not saying Microsoft should have included JPEG support in Windows; I’m saying that your date-based justification doesn’t work. Feb 7, 2023 at 10:23
  • re: MP3s, it was possible to play MP3s on my Toshiba Libretto 30CT with 100MHz CPU - but only using the Fraunhofer decoder, the various open source ones weren't quite optimized enough to work in real time.
    – pjc50
    Feb 7, 2023 at 11:08

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