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rise of the 16-bit

Every so often I post a retro video for work to put in a little flavor because, well, tech can sometimes be boring and people young and old always like to see stuff we used to compute with.

Recently I finally found a way to have a somewhat-usable Windows 3.1 environment. Yeah, that Windows 3.1, as in the one before Windows 95. People in my generation do remember that Windows. Either they used it in college, at home if they were an early bird to internet in the late 1990s and/or at work.

I put together a virtual Windows 3.1 setup and, of course, it was a buggy mess and not suitable for a work video. However since I had the whole thing already finished, I decided to screencast it specifically for the Reddit audience and post there. This is what I came up with:

Because I know some of you will ask, the wallpaper is a Sunday comic of Bloom County; my favorite comic strip of all time. Berkeley Breathed was obviously a computer geek way back in the day, poked fun at Apple left and right and made up a computer company called Banana. Of course, Banana wasn't good enough, so he gave the machine the barely-hidden sexual title of the Banana Jr. 6000 ("BJ Sex"). The reason the BJ 6000 has feet is because it walked, 'talked' and was actually 'alive' as a short-lived character in the strip. The BJ has the apps Bananawrite, Bananadraw, Bananafile and of course Bananamanager. The more you read into this, the funnier it gets. The strip is such a staple in geek lore that some people have built for-real BJ 6000's, like this one made in 2010. Berke would be proud.

Redditors particularly liked my little video (and for a very brief stint actually made front page of the site), because after all there's a whole swath of computer geeks that browse that site daily.. or even hourly. Nostalgia waves were put in motion and that whole "Wow, cool, I remember that!" feeling was abound.

Windows 3.1 is a 16-bit environment, and while Windows for Workgroups does technically have 32-bit connectivity in it, it's still 16-bit at its core.

When it comes to geekdom, there is 8-bit both as a computer hobbyist thing and as a style. However when it comes to 16-bit, that architecture is completely ignored big time.

In 8-bit land, if you want to build a box that can connect to the internet and actually do stuff, believe it or not there's quite a bit available. Sure, it'll be slow as molasses, but there's enough of a community out there to actually make it possible.

In 16-bit land, nope, or should I say not yet. It is totally possible for enthusiasts to program for older environments like MS-DOS and Windows 3.1; they just haven't gotten around to doing it yet. Gauging from the reaction of the video I posted, I'm pretty sure 16-bit enthusiasts will slowly start to creep out of the woodwork soon enough. I mean, who knows, maybe someone out there will actually start programming some new Windows 3.1 apps.

Hey, it could happen. 🙂


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