Running Windows 3.x - DOSBox Part 4


Table of Contents

Continuing on from the previous tutorial, we have a working DOS installation running with DOSBox that we can install Windows 3.11 on for running old 16-bit Windows software. Since a DOS installation is up and running correctly (unless, of course, it’s broken somehow), let’s begin by installing Windows 3.11 on to the disk image.

You shouldn’t have much trouble installing Windows 3.x onto the DOS image because it is, at the end of the day, a graphical user interface (GUI) for DOS. You can also run older versions of Windows (1.x and 2.x) using DOSBox, but you will need to use disk images (floppy or hard disk) to run an older version of DOS on DOSBox (version 2.x or 3.x for Windows 1.x, and version 3.30 or 4.x for Windows 2.x).  

Preparing the Installer

You can specify each installation floppy in the configuration file (all 8 of them), and change them using Ctrl-F4 when prompted. The other option is to extract the contents of each image into a single directory to place in the hard drive image. Choosing the latter makes it easier to manage the floppy images that are not for Windows 3.x so that you don’t have to cycle through all of them just to get to what you want.  

Installing Windows

Once you have everything required to set up Windows on DOSBox, run DOSBox so that it will boot from the C: image and allow you to run the installer. Once booted, invoke the Windows Setup program.

If using floppy images, run the executable on disk 1: A:\setup If installing from a directory with all of the files included: C:\wininst\setup Then go through the installation like you would on a DOS system, following the prompts, and choosing options.

dosbox installing windows
dosbox windows setup

If all went correctly, Windows 3.11 will have been successfully installed.  


Running On Startup

​Having Windows run on startup is entirely possible by simply inserting the “WIN” command on the last line of the autoexec script.

dosbox running at startup script

256-Colour Graphics

You should definitely take advantage of a higher resolution graphics displaying at least 256 colors compared to the horrid 16-color VGA graphics with a resolution of 640×480 pixels.
You will need to do the following:

  • Download the SVGA drivers:
  • Place them in your hard disk image or on a separate floppy image.
  • Ensure that your graphics device is set to the correct “svga_*” model in the machine variable under the “dosbox” section of the config file.


On the web page provided, it will provide links to different drivers for different SVGA adapters. I chose the SVGA S3 graphics (svga_s3).

Once the drivers have been obtained and placed on a floppy image or the hard disk image, you will then need to run the setup executable that will allow you to configure the display settings in a DOS environment outside of Windows (C:\WINDOWS\SETUP.EXE). Navigate your way to the display settings using the up arrow key. Press enter to select it and bring up a list of possible drivers.

windows workgroup setup dosbox

Find the option to select a driver from a different manufacturer and select it. Give it the location of the chosen SVGA driver (A:\ or otherwise) and it will show a list of possible display modes. I’ve settled with a resolution of 800×600 pixels with support for 16.7 million colors.

windows program manager on dosbox

Sound Blaster

Windows must be configured to use the Sound Blaster interface emulated by DOSBox before it will produce sound through it. It requires IRQ and port numbers. Navigate to the Control Panel via the Main program group in the Program Manager, open up “Drivers”, click “Add”. Find version 1.0 of the sound blaster driver, and select it. After choosing it, you will be directed to find the port (sbbase in the config) and IRQ of the device.

These are specified in the DOSBox configuration file under the “sblaster” section. sbbase=220

After choosing the correct values, you will be prompted to restart Windows. Once restarted, Windows will be able to interact with the emulated sound blaster device to play sounds through it.  


In these guides, you have learned how to take great advantage of DOSBox and its features by creating and manipulating floppy images using tools provided by Linux, creating and accessing a hard drive image for DOSBox, installed a real DOS version on said image, and now installing Windows 3.11 to run the ancient Windows software from the early 1990s. I would also imagine that you would have taken the liberty of running several old DOS games from the 80s and 90s using DOSBox (doesn’t have to be on a hard disk image, of course). Have fun!