Windows 3.1 lies athwart my future

I have two CD roms on my desk right now which retailed for about £500 each in the early Nineties. Each one holds a year’s run of the Independent; so far as I know they are my only way of getting at very early cuttings, since the Essex Libraries database only goes back to 1996. Each disk contains a dos batch file to install the reader software (FT Profile, by Personal Library Software) onto a hard disk, whence it would interrogate the CR-rom drive (£250). The batch file won’t run under anything later than MS Dos 5.

Can anyone suggest how I might get this running under some kind of emulator? It might be possible to fake the action of the installation file and then run the search software, I suppose, if I had set up the environment variables it is looking for. hmmm. I actually need this because I have to write a speech about the future of the Anglican Communion, a subject on which I know nothing. So I thought I would go back and look at its past, and what we thought the future would turn out to be.

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11 Responses to Windows 3.1 lies athwart my future

  1. Nick says:

    I assume you’ve tried DOSbox?

  2. Rupert says:

    I’d be thinking about Virtualbox and Windows 3.1. Not that I’ve tried that, but it may be the least painful way (it may also be the most).

  3. sth says:

    Are the data files themselves in a proprietary format? Crucially, are they binary? If not, the data could be parsed by a reasonably simple shell script without a huge amount of difficulty. Taking a completely different tack, is there any chance the Independent will replace your old CD-ROMs with newer media, considering you can prove that you own them.

  4. acb says:

    Nick: I tried disbox; it balked on the command to Xcopy, and I can’t see how to pass it environment variables. Xcopy I can fake by reading the batch file which installs the program. But I need also to set up the environment for the query program. It can’t be impossible, but it may take more time than it is worth.

    Rupert. I have no copy of Win 3.1, and have never heard of virtualbox.

    sth: yes — they are very proprietary and cleverly compressed. There is no chance in hell the Indie would replace the disks, since they came from the original company, three changes of ownership ago. On the other hand,. I hope to see Andreas at my book launch on Thursday, so I might ask if he has them too.

  5. Tim Anderson says:

    Second recommendation for VirtualBox. Blogged about it recently:

    Actual software is here:

    You still need Windows 3.1. It’s still downloadable from Microsoft, but you need an MSDN subscription. But there must be lots of them kicking around.


  6. Pingback: Tim Anderson’s ITWriting - Tech writing blog » Windows 3.1 in a Virtual Machine – Virtual PC wins this one

  7. jim says:

    Do you have a copy of DOS (5 or earlier)? If so, then VMware might be your friend.

  8. Rafe says:

    Virtualbox is a free alternative to VMware. You can also get DOS boot disks at:

    I would think that some combination of the two may get you close to where you want to be.

  9. davemack says:

    A long-shot, but the JPC Project might be worth a look:

  10. acb says:

    davemack: I’m getting a 404 on that.

    I have managed to get the splash screen running; I think I may be able to circumvent the requirement for Windows 3, though not for Dos.

    These disks contain a mixture of .exe files, indexes and data, and batch files, some of which call a program that neither I nor Google have ever spoken to called “profed”. Examination of the batch source suggests that profed copies files while substituting stuff — a sort of poor man’s sed. (That’s absolute poverty.) In other words, the batch files on theCD are templates, and the installation scripts use profed to copy them to the hard disk while changing the values to the real ones. Somehow in this process one of them generates the “Indp” batch script which actually runs the program.

    So my current plan, time willing, is to rewrite the installation scripts in python, which I understand, and lets me rewrite all the calls to profed. Then try to run the dos version of the program under dosbox.

  11. Duncan Lock says:

    That sounds like a lot of work – VirtualBox would be a lot easier and quicker, I would think. Just create a Virtual Machine, install DOS on it (and Windows 3.1, if you can ‘obtain’ a copy) then just install your software.
    The software running on the virtual machine can’t tell the difference – it’s just like running on a real PC, but in a window. As installing stuff on VM’s if often quite a bit quicker than doing it on real hardware due to the way virtual disks work – and modern PC’s are ridiculously quick – this solution would probably occupy no more than 1/2 hour, even if you’ve never done one before.

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