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New Features in Windows 3.1

This article was previously published under Q83245
Retired KB Content Disclaimer
This article was written about products for which Microsoft no longer offers support. Therefore, this article is offered "as is" and will no longer be updated.
For Windows version 3.1, Microsoft significantly enhanced theusability of the Windows operating system based on extensive feedbackfrom users of Windows version 3.0. Dozens of improvements will benoticeable immediately, while hundreds of others work behind thescenes to support new features. Microsoft made more than 1000 changesin Windows 3.1, changes that contribute to a smoother, more responsiveinteraction between the user and Windows.


The Windows version 3.1 Setup program can detect even more hardwareand software configurations than its version 3.0 predecessor.Therefore, Windows 3.1 configures itself optimally for the computer onwhich it is installed. The Setup program also detects a wide varietyof terminate-and-stay-resident (TSR) programs and hardware devicesknown to cause problems; it then notifies you of a problem, orcorrects the problem without your involvement.

Windows 3.1 will be easier for novice users to install because of theExpress Install feature. This is the default setup method for Windows3.1 and requires minimal user input. For more advanced users, there isa Custom Installation option that gives you a high degree of controlover the setup process, so you can customize the installation to fityour needs. For PC coordinators, Windows 3.1 installation provides theBatch Install option and better network setup features for networkinstallations.


The Windows 3.1 File Manager has been completely redesigned forimproved usability and performance. You can now display the directorytree and directory contents side by side in a window. The File Managernow supports multiple "panes" for easy browsing of different drives.The File Manager also allows the display of more file attributes thanbefore and can even display filenames and folder names in a choice offonts.

Another significant improvement is the quick format capability, whichallows you to format floppy disks in much less time than before.

The File Manager also supports an easier, more intuitive "drag-and-drop" model for manipulating files. For example, to print a file, youdrag the file's icon with the mouse and "drop" the icon onto the PrintManager icon. You can also drop an icon on a running application orthe application's title bar; the application will then automaticallyopen that file. This drag-and-drop functionality is controlled by thenew Registration Database, which stores information on howapplications open and print files and how file types are associatedwith specific applications.


Improvements to the Program Manager include "wrappable" icon titlesthat sit neatly under each icon in multiple lines, instead of a singlelong line that may overlap with other icon titles. The Program Manageralso provides the new Startup group, which allows you to launch anygroup of applications automatically when the Windows operating systemis started. Adding programs to the Startup group is done by simplydragging and dropping an icon.


The Windows 3.1 help system has also been enhanced; it now providescontext-sensitive help information. By highlighting a command orprocedure and pressing the F1 key, you will be greeted with helpscreens containing specific information about the command, as well asany associated information.


The Windows 3.1 Print Manager can now resume stalled print jobswithout user intervention. For example, if a printer runs out ofpaper, the print job will be automatically resumed after the papertray is restocked.

Another printing improvement introduced with Windows 3.1 is theuniversal printer driver (UNIDRV). This software offers a single,printer-independent driver for which specific printer drivers can bebuilt rapidly. The universal printer driver makes it easier forprinter manufacturers to write or update printer drivers, because thedriver encapsulates all the major features of a printer driver in asingle piece of software. Vendors simply provide a table of printer-specific parameters for each printer. Instead of using dozens ofmonolithic printer drivers, the Windows operating system needs only asingle driver and a small support table for each printer. Nearly 250printers are supported in Windows 3.1, with the majority supportedthrough UNIDRV.


Microsoft has made Windows 3.1 easier to use on a computer that isattached to a network. Network administrators will find setup iseasier with Windows 3.1, especially for complex system configurations.Network problems are also easier to trace and correct because networkerror messages contain more information regarding the type and sourceof the problem.

Windows also maintains persistent network connections, meaning thatinformation about a remote disk drive or printer is maintained by theWindows operating system after a network session is terminated. WhenWindows is restarted, it will reconnect automatically to the samenetwork connections present when it was closed. Windows will evenprompt the user for passwords if needed.


Windows 3.1 provides the most sophisticated platform yet forapplication integration, making it easier for users to exchange databetween documents and for programmers to build data-exchangecapabilities into applications for Windows. Application integration issupported by several features of version 3.1, as discussed below indetail.

Object Linking and Embedding

An important technology for the 1990s, object linking and embedding(OLE) creates an environment in which applications can shareinformation seamlessly. With OLE, all data can be thought of asobjects. A spreadsheet chart, an illustration, a table, and even aparagraph of text are all examples of objects. OLE provides theinformation necessary for applications to share these objects easily.

Windows 3.1 supports OLE by providing standard libraries, interfaces,and protocols that applications use to exchange data objects. Asdevelopers implement OLE capabilities within programs, you will see anew generation of applications that work together.

Microsoft has added OLE capabilities to new versions of the WindowsWrite, Paint, and Cardfile accessories, all of which are provided withWindows 3.1. You can, for example, create an illustration using thePaint program and embed the graphic in a Write document. If theillustration must be updated, you can double-click its icon within theWrite document, which launches Paint automatically so you can edit thedrawing. Since the original graphics file is embedded in the Writedocument, there is no need to store or update multiple copies of theimage, and the file can be updated on any PC with Paintbrush.

Better Support for Dynamic Data Exchange

In the Windows operating system, the standard way of sharing databetween applications is through a mechanism known as dynamic dataexchange (DDE). OLE and other forms of data exchange use DDE as theirprimary means of sharing data.

Windows 3.1 provides developers with a new Dynamic Data ExchangeManager Library (DDEML), which offers a higher-level programming modeland makes it easier for developers to implement DDE capabilities in anapplication designed for Windows.

Better Support for MS-DOS Applications

Windows 3.1 provides improved support for existing MS-DOS applicationswithin the Windows operating system. In particular, performance of MS-DOS-based applications is enhanced when Windows 3.1 is used inconjunction with MS-DOS version 5.0, because MS-DOS 5.0 cansignificantly increase the amount of conventional memory available. Inaddition, Windows 3.1:

  • Supports MS-DOS applications running in VGA graphics mode in a window or running in the background.
  • Allows mouse support for MS-DOS-based applications when running in a full screen or in a window.
  • Includes more prewritten program information files (PIFs), which tell Windows how to run a specific MS-DOS-based application; this results in even greater MS-DOS-based application support.
  • Offers disk-paging, which will allow you to concurrently run more applications for MS-DOS than you can under Windows 3.0.


Windows 3.1 includes the new TrueType scalable-font technology.TrueType provides outline fonts, giving you instant access to fonts inany point size, and allowing high-quality output on any monitor orprinter supported by Windows. TrueType was designed and developed tomeet the requirements of type professionals and graphic designers andoffers the following benefits.

Complete Integration with the Operating System

TrueType is an integrated component of Windows 3.1. For the Windowscustomer, this means there is nothing to buy or install. All thebenefits of scalable-font technology are built into the operatingsystem, so existing applications can take advantage of the benefitsimmediately. TrueType fonts can be used in Windows applications and inthe system itself. For example, you can now choose your own fonts forFile Manager. Four TrueType scalable-font families will ship with allcopies of Windows 3.1: Arial (alternative to Helvetica), Times NewRoman, Courier, and Symbol.

Cross-Platform Compatibility

TrueType is also offered on the Apple Macintosh, and TrueType fontscan be ported between Windows and the Macintosh without conversion.Therefore, documents using TrueType fonts can be exchanged between aPC running Windows and a Macintosh without changes in character set,font metrics, or line endings. TrueType is also available in Macintosh-compatible laser printers and in TrueImage printers, and has beenlicensed to numerous printer vendors for use in future products.

Dynamic Font Downloading

TrueType fonts are automatically converted to bitmap images oroutlines, depending on the printer being used, and then downloaded tothe printer. For PostScript printers, both bitmaps and outlines areused. For printers using Printer-Control Language (PCL), bitmap imagesare used. TrueType uses dynamic downloading, sending only thecharacters requested rather than the entire character set, resultingin faster, more efficient printing.

Open Technology

To make it easy for vendors to support TrueType, Microsoft haspublished the complete specification for the TrueType font format.This specification details every aspect of the font format, includingthe outlines, metrics, font names, and all technical informationassociated with the font. Public availability of the TrueType fontspecification will make it easier and less expensive for vendors tosupport TrueType fonts with their products.


Since its shipment in May 1990, Windows version 3.0 has proven to be aremarkably stable product. In fact, Microsoft implemented only oneupdate release (version 3.0a) to accommodate minor corrections. Likeany mature operating system, Windows works in cooperation with a vastnumber of hardware platforms, applications, and peripherals. With thecountless permutations of software and hardware, occasional conflictsare inevitable, and approximately 1 to 2 percent of the calls toMicrosoft Product Support Services about Windows 3.0 are regardingunrecoverable application errors (UAEs).

Through Microsoft's communication with Windows users and developers,Microsoft has gained a detailed understanding of how applicationsgenerate and handle errors. Most UAE questions pertaining to Windows3.0 have been resolved by helping users remove misbehaving TSRprograms, by answering questions on drivers or software, by removingunnecessary lines in CONFIG.SYS files, or by installing later versionsof the applications that are causing problems.

Reducing UAEs and enhancing system robustness were primary goals forthe designers of Windows 3.1. Microsoft's accumulated knowledge servesas the basis for the following design focal points:

  • Developing better diagnostics to pinpoint the cause of application errors
  • Providing tools and information to help developers write error-free applications
  • Protecting the system from application errors
  • Graceful handling of application errors if they do occur (so the application causing the error doesn't stop the system)
The following are several examples of how these design goals areimplemented in the Windows operating system version 3.1.

Error Diagnostics and Reporting

If an application generates an error running with Windows 3.1, youwill receive an error dialog box with specific information about thetype of error that occurred and which application generated the error.(The Windows 3.0 dialog box simply says
Unrecoverable ApplicationError
This allows problems to be traced and corrected much morequickly than before.)

Additionally, Windows 3.1 ships with a diagnostic tool called Dr.Watson that logs information about an application error, should oneoccur. This logged data provides feedback on the error that can beused by a support technician to determine the solution to the errorand help developers solve the application error.

Error Recovery

Windows 3.1 includes a number of improvements designed to handleapplication errors more effectively.

One of these improvements is the use of parameter validation--the sametype of parameter validation that developers use also works in theretail version of Windows 3.1. This validation monitors applicationcalls to ensure that applications do not violate system integrity.

An errant application may still cause problems, such as stopping sothat your computer no longer responds to input. Under version 3.1, ifan application stops, you can press the CTRL+ALT+DEL restart keysequence, and Windows will ask whether the application should becontinued or closed. If you choose to close the application, Windowswill reset the environment to a stable state that will allow you tocontinue working within the Windows operating system. You no longerhave to exit and restart Windows. This gives you better control overyour system.

The sum of all these efforts is a system with significantly enhancedreliability, in which application errors are far less likely to causeyou to stop working and shut down the application or restart thesystem.


Many performance improvements have been achieved throughout Windows3.1. These include:

  • Faster, more responsive user shell components (notably, File Manager and Program Manager).
  • Faster disk caching. The Windows SMARTDrive disk-caching utility has been completely redesigned for Windows 3.1. It installs automatically during setup and significantly boosts performance by caching read and write disk operations.
  • Faster paging in 386 enhanced mode. Version 3.1 includes a 32-Bit- Disk-Access driver that allows Windows to bypass MS-DOS and the BIOS to access the Windows virtual memory paging file.
  • Increased display driver performance (for example, the VGA and 8514 drivers).
  • Better printing performance. The overall printing speed is improved; but, more significantly, Windows also gives control back to the application more quickly after the Print command is invoked.


Audio services and Media Control Interface (MCI) support have alsobeen added to Windows 3.1. The audio application programminginterfaces (APIs), which are identical to those found in MultimediaExtensions 1.0, specifically support waveform or PCM audio and MusicalInstrument Digital Interface (MIDI) synthesized audio. Additionally,any application for Windows that supports OLE can take advantage ofthe audio capabilities in Windows 3.1 with no additional developmentrequired by the independent software vendor (ISV). From anapplication's perspective, audio becomes just another object type.

The MCI architecture supports control of media devices such as videodiscs and videotape. Using drivers provided by third-party peripheralvendors, this support provides greater flexibility to the standardcomputing environment and meets another growing market need,especially in the areas of corporate presentations, training, andeducation.

For those who require full multimedia support, Microsoft offers a CD-ROM version of Windows 3.1 with the multimedia extensions and drivers.This product includes Music Box, an accessory for playing CD audiodisks, and HyperGuide, an online Help program. The addition of audioservices and media control support to Windows 3.1 is yet anotherevolutionary step toward bringing multimedia functionality into themainstream of desktop computing.

Windows 3.1 works seamlessly with Multimedia Extensions 1.0. Theseextensions allow you to embed new objects such as audio, animation,and full-motion video in existing applications. The objects also allowyou to create a whole new class of multimedia documents, such asencyclopedias enhanced with video and audio clips, or catalogs thatdisplay animated illustrations. The extensible architecture of Windowsmakes it possible for multimedia computing to span low-cost systemsfor home and education to sophisticated multimedia authoring platformsfor the higher end of the market.

An important enabling technology for multimedia computing is the OLEprotocol described above. With OLE and Windows 3.1 or MultimediaExtensions 1.0, you can embed a multimedia object, such as an audioclip, in an existing application for Windows, just as you can embed achart or text file.


Many vendors of today's popular 286- and 386-based laptop computersship Windows version 3.0. Laptop users will appreciate a feature inWindows 3.1 called mouse trail, which makes it easier to find thecursor on a laptop display. In addition, Windows 3.1 supports theAdvanced Power Management (APM) specification, which allows Windows tosupport the native power management of a laptop PC for longer batterylife.


The Windows operating system version 3.1 is an important next step inMicrosoft's core systems strategy--an evolutionary strategy that spans286-based laptops to high-end workstations or servers. Today, Windowsruns with MS-DOS, the operating system that spawned the PC industryand is currently in use by tens of millions of people. Windows alsoruns the thousands of existing MS-DOS and Windows-based applications.Extended versions of Windows--multimedia or pens, for example--allowyou to run all these applications as well, plus unique newapplications developed with pens or multimedia in mind.

Microsoft's vision of computing in the 1990s and beyond is thatcomputers will empower individuals and organizations. With itsscalable implementations, the investments of Microsoft, and thecommitment of third parties, the Windows operating system will be thefoundation for realizing this vision.
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Article ID: 83245 - Last Review: 11/16/2006 13:39:20 - Revision: 1.1

  • Microsoft Windows 3.1 Standard Edition
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