Windows NT 3.1 build 196

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Build of Windows NT 3.1
Desktop with Program Manager
OS family
Works in86Box
1.196.1 Winver.png

Windows NT 3.1 build 196 is the earliest publicly released build of Windows NT 3.1, which was compiled and sent out to a limited number of developers in mid-September 1991 as a trial before the Fall COMDEX 1991 build.[1] Compared to the COMDEX build, this build is noticeably less stable and has the tendency to hang even during common tasks such as opening new windows. Many of the hangs are caused by the system breaking to the debugger following an unsatisfied assertion condition. It is also sensitive to fragmentation of its boot files, with the system freezing on boot if the boot loader is not stored contiguously.

This build has several differences compared to later builds, such as an older bootloader with a primitive dual boot menu which supports either a MS-DOS or OS/2 install on the same disk as NT, an early version of the Portable Executable format, or the lack of a self-hosted installer. According to the documentation included with the build, this is also one of the first builds to implement security. The system already has a concept of privileged and non-privileged users, with privileged users being able to do tasks such as running CHKDSK or FORMAT, which require direct disk access. Curiously enough, the login screen includes a "Privileged" checkbox, however, it does not seem to do anything.

The build predates the introduction of the four-colored Windows flag logo and uses the large circular window graphic also used by Windows 3.1 build 026 and 034f in its place. However, the disc print contains the same logo that is used by the About dialog in Windows 3.1 build 043d from August 1991, which suggests that the NT shell last integrated upstream changes in early summer. This build is also rather inconsistent with the rest of branding, as it identifies as NT 1.0 in configuration files, "NT 32-bit Windows" on the desktop watermark, "NT-386" (with "NT-MIPS" likely being the MIPS equivalent) while booting, "NT Windows" in the Print Manager, and "Windows NT Version 3.2" in the Command Prompt.

A picture of a disc containing this build was first provided by BetaArchive member ReflectiaX in 2018.[2] On 18 December 2020, he obtained the disc and proceeded to share its contents.[3]

Setup[edit | edit source]

This build does not include any setup utility, but instead relies on a batch file to copy system files to the hard disk and write the boot loader. The process requires a pre-installed copy of MS-DOS (version 3.1 or later) or OS/2 1.21 or 1.3. The boot partition on which DOS or OS/2 is installed must be a FAT partition on an ATA/IDE hard disk, while any additional partitions can also be HPFS and on SCSI disks. For both DOS and OS/2, CHKDSK.EXE should be in a directory that's listed in the %PATH% variable. For DOS, DEBUG.EXE must also be accessible through %PATH%, as it is used to install the boot loader.

The disc contains SETUP.BAT file designed for installing next to MS-DOS 3.1 or later, and SETUP.CMD designed for installing next to OS/2 1.2 and 1.3. The installation is initiated by changing to the CD drive and typing setup i386 in a command prompt. Adding mstools to the command will also install the developer tools. Under OS/2, the setup also accepts the newdbg parameter to install a new OS/2 based debugger and the corresponding kernel, however, it has no effect in this build.

Upon installing this build, the setup also runs CHKDSK to check if the boot files have been stored in contiguous blocks. If they are not, it is required to defragment the boot drive in order to boot to NT.

Super VGA support[edit | edit source]

On compatible video cards[note 1] it is possible to achieve 800x600 resolution with 16 colors by replacing the default VGA.DLL driver in C:\NT\DLL with VGA800.dll found in the same directory and rebooting. Based on references from newer builds, the 800x600 driver is primarily intended to work with Video 7 video cards, however, it has been found to work with other cards from the same era as well. On the other side, VirtualBox (and presumably other hypervisors as well) is not compatible with the driver and the mentioned file replacement will result in corrupted screen output after reboot.

Sound[edit | edit source]

This build includes a Sound Blaster driver (SOUND.SYS), together with sample wave files to play. It expects a Sound Blaster 1.0 or 1.5 (with DSP version equal to 2.0) on I/O port 0x260 (hardcoded in kernel) and IRQ 7 (hardcoded in the driver). Card parameters would not be configurable until build 297.1.

Network[edit | edit source]

The kernel attempts to load a variety of network card drivers, although only one is actually included: ELNKII.SYS for the 3Com EtherLink II.

Applications[edit | edit source]

Compared to the October 1991 build, this build lacks several of the standard utilities and accessories typically included with classic Windows at the time. Program Manager, File Manager, Control Panel, Clipboard Viewer, Notepad, Calendar, Clock, Reversi, Solitaire and Minesweeper are included. These applications appear functionally close to their Windows 3.0, Windows 3.1 build 026, Windows 3.1 build 034f or Windows 3.1 build 043e versions. This suggests they were not kept up-to-date with the Windows 3.1 source tree consistently. Additionally, a Windows NT-specific Command Prompt (CMD.EXE) is also included, likely based on its OS/2 counterpart.

The developer tools of this build include several demo applications, many of which have been taken from the Windows 3.0 SDK. Unlike later builds, they are no binaries provided, and therefore it is required to build them first by launching the Win32Dev shortcut, changing to C:\NT\MSTOOLS\SAMPLES and running MAKEALL.CMD. After the build process, a compiled executable should be present in each of the subdirectories.

Noteworthy applications include:

  • Print Manager, which has been rebuilt from scratch for NT, intended to replace both the original Print Manager and the Printers control panel from Windows 3.x. This version calls itself "NT Print Manager" in the title bar and uses the Print Manager icon from Windows 3.0.
  • WINBez, which demonstrates the graphic abilities of NT. Compared to the version found in the October build, it is more primitive and calls itself "Kent's Window Test Application" in the about box.
  • Performance Meter. Has no visible differences from the October build, although strangely enough, the version in this build reports itself as 1.1, whereas the one found in the October build reports as 0.5.
  • PlaySnd, which tests the sound capabilities of the operating system. This application is similar to PlayIt found in the October 1991 build.
  • Mltithrd shows off the ability to execute multiple threads within the same process at the same time. This is more or less the same as the version found in the October 1991 build.
  • Simple, which merely prints out "Win32, it's happenin'!" to the console when executed.

Architectural differences[edit | edit source]

This build has several interesting architectural differences from most later builds of Windows NT.

Bootloader[edit | edit source]

This build uses an older bootloader from the NT OS/2 project, which is noticeably more primitive than NTLDR introduced in later builds. Notably, it requires all of its stages to be stored contiguously, otherwise the system will hang at boot. The boot sector appears to be taken from OS/2 and loads OS2LDR, which by default contains a rudimentary dual boot menu. This build supports dual boot with either OS/2 1.2-1.3 or MS-DOS, the latter of which appears to be introduced shortly before the release of this build. The loader makes no attempt to detect the other operating system, instead relying on the Setup to install the correct loader variant: the DOS-based setup copies OS2LDR.DOS, while the OS/2-based setup copies OS2LDR.DUL instead. When dual booting, the OS/2 variant merely chainloads the original OS2LDR (now renamed to OS2LDR.OS2), while the DOS variant replicates the behavior of the DOS boot sector.

The actual NT loader is stored in OS2LDR.NT, which brings up a 80x50 text mode screen with black text on a gray background, prints out version information and displays a progress bar made out of dots as it is loading the kernel. The bootloader identifies itself during this stage as "PDK Bootloader v1.9" with a 1990 copyright date, with strange spacing around the "PDK" part that suggests this string might have been hastily edited before release. Upon loading the kernel, it carries out basic checks to ensure that the kernel is for the correct architecture, and also attempts to load a kernel debugger and symbols. Afterwards, it blanks the screen and prints a row of equals signs in the bottom of the screen before jumping to the kernel entry point.

It is possible to remove the dual boot menu by renaming OS2LDR.NT to OS2LDR, which will make the system boot straight to NT at all times.

Directory layout[edit | edit source]

Unlike later builds, which have adopted the Windows 3.0 directory layout with minor adjustments, this build uses a layout more similar to Unix or OS/2 with separated binary, library and data folders. The setup is hardcoded to copy the build files to C:\NT\, and assumably the boot loader is also hardcoded to load the system from there.

  • C:\NT - contains configuration files and the README.
    • BIN - contains the kernel, native mode and Win32 console executables
    • DRIVERS - contains NT drivers
    • DLL - contains all system libraries
    • MSTOOLS (present only if the system was installed with the respective option) - contains the development kit
    • TMP - temporary directory, gets created at runtime
    • WAV - contains wave sound effects
    • WINDOWS - contains Windows user application executables and data
      • FONTS - contains fonts
      • SYSTEM - is empty, exists presumably for compatibility purposes
      • WINSPOOL - contains Win32 printer drivers

PE Format[edit | edit source]

This build uses an even earlier version of the Portable Executable format than the October 1991 build, resulting in executables built for this build of Windows NT completely failing to start on newer builds of the OS; this also results in disassembly tools such as IDA Pro failing to disassemble the file without a custom loader, making analysis significantly more difficult.

Kernel and drivers are pure COFF executables similar to the October 1991 build.

Registry[edit | edit source]

The registry does not appear to exist yet at this point. The system is configured using the NT.CFG, NTUSER.CFG and MSV1_0.CFG configuration files stored in C:\NT, and WIN.INI in C:\NT\WINDOWS. A directory tree reminiscent of the registry structure is also created in C:\REGISTRY upon first launch, however, no files are stored in there, therefore its purpose is currently unclear. It seems this may be used to store security-related data when a domain is set up.

Static linking[edit | edit source]

Many components that would later be individual kernel-mode (or even user-mode) components are statically linked into NTOSKRNL.EXE in this build. This includes the HAL, several boot-critical drivers, including the ATA/IDE hard disk driver ATDISK.SYS and the FAT16 filesystem support code, and a rudimentary version of NTVDM that only supports real-mode DOS apps.

The Service Control Manager is statically linked into each service executable rather than being a standalone executable file as it is in most later builds.

Kernel[edit | edit source]

This build lacks the blue screen of death; KeBugCheckEx is nonexistant in this build while KeBugCheck has a simplistic implementation that prints a string to an attached kernel debugger and then, in an infinite loop, causes a breakpoint. Without a debugger attached, this would be perceived as a hang, and nothing is shown on-screen to indicate that anything happened. NtCurrentTeb is an exported function rather than a macro.

Security[edit | edit source]

The README implies that this was one of the earliest builds to have any semblance of user security implemented, and this is evident by the extremely rudimentary nature of the user account system. While privileged and nonprivileged users are implemented, they only affect usage of a few commands, and you can simply check a checkbox in order to get administrative privileges. The README also advises you to log in as the SYSTEM account - which has no password. Indeed, there are only four security-related exports in the kernel, compared to NT 3.1's eighteen.

User accounts and groups are stored in C:\NT\MSV1_0.CFG. An "Admin" account is predefined there, and logging in as "Workstation Manager" (hardcoded in MSV1_0.DLL) also works.

Subsystems[edit | edit source]

Session Manager command line

The only functional subsystem is the Windows subsystem, Win32Gui, which is defined in NT.CFG and is configured to launch on startup in NTUSER.CFG. Although Win32Char is also defined, the two subsystems have already been combined into one as of this build, thus this is a leftover from older builds. The build also includes the OS/2 subsystem (OS2SS.EXE) seemingly based on an early version of OS/2 2.0, however, it is incomplete and trying to launch any OS/2 applications using the OS2.EXE launcher breaks into the debugger, resulting in a system hang. NT.CFG also includes a subsystem entry for the POSIX subsystem, although its executables are not included.

A fully text-mode subsystem exists in CCONSRV.DLL, which includes a text-mode login prompt and task manager; there also exists a corresponding CCONSOLE.DLL, however it is exactly the same as CONSOLE.DLL (only change is TimeDateStamp in the EarlyPE header). It is assumed that this could be used by editing NT.CFG and NTUSER.CFG.

If the Session Manager (SMSS.EXE) fails to load any subsystems automatically, it will drop to a rudimentary command-line interface accessible via a debugger, which supports process management, debugging user mode NT processes, managing environment variables, and probing system parameters. Without an attached debugger, this appears as a system hang as the only thing displayed is a blank gray screen with a blinking text mode cursor and a row of equal sign characters at the bottom. From this point it is possible to continue system startup manually by initializing a subsystem server via a debugger.

Bugs and quirks[edit | edit source]

This build is generally unstable and can easily hang on certain tasks. It can be as simple as launching an application, pressing certain keys on the keyboard such as function keys, or even leaving the system alone for a couple of seconds. The triggers for these hangs can vary significantly from one installation to the next, and at least some of them may be hardware-related. Using the debugger reveals a lot of the hangs are related to GDI and USER problems. In possible relation to this, fonts appear to be broken in this build, with many places using the System font in place of the expected Helv (Microsoft Sans Serif) font, such as the About dialogs and the File Manager.

Mouse and keyboard input are unreliable in this build, with reports of serial mice not working with some configurations and keyboard input having the tendency to randomly stop working until a reboot. It is recommended to use a PS/2 or bus mouse to prevent any issues.

CD-ROM drives do not appear in File Manager, however, they can be accessed from a command prompt. Additionally, there is a bug where directories may incorrectly show up as empty or incomplete. In Notepad, the Select All keyboard shortcut (Ctrl+A) does not work and creating a new file may result in garbage being placed inside the new text file.

Documentation[edit | edit source]

A README.TXT document is included inside the installation contents, which contains information about certain things, such as how to install this build and new features compared to the previous build.

The README's contents:

Installation notes for ePDK (1.196)

This is an experimental build that can be used to see Windows NT as it
exists today. The system and development tools can be used to port your
existing Win 3.x applications to Win32. It is possible to edit, compile and
debug Win32 apps using self-hosted tools on Windows NT itself.

New Features Compared to Previous Builds

Security is enabled.  Logon as "SYSTEM", there is no password, for admin
level access to your computer.

Information for setting up NT as a workstation or server is discussed later
in this README file.

Program Manager is started and default groups are provided.

DOS and OS/2 dualboot installation support for NT

CTRL-ALT-DEL now supported (flushes disk cashes and notifies device
drivers before reboot).

Performance has improved especially when starting larger applications
such as the File Manager.

Wave form files are provided for systems equipped with a SoundBlaster
card.  Use the playsnd.exe applet to play wave forms on this

Online help is provided for the command utilities such as xcopy,
attrib, mkdir, etc.  There is general help and help for specific

General Limitations

The system is beta quality. NT employs disk caching which has been used
internally by the NT development group for many months.  However, since
this is a beta release, it is recommended that NT be installed on a test
machine (not a primary work machine).

The system only supports running Win32 apps (no DOS or Win 3.x apps). Later
releases will add DOS and Win 3.x support.  Additional limitations
listed below are temporary with full Windows NT being included in
subsequent releases.

There is not a final doc set available on all of the utilities, but sample
make files should be useful for getting started developing Win32 apps.

No support exists in the current system for floating point.  This support
will be added in the next several builds.

The debugger is NTSD and supports assembly and rudimentary C source code

A separate debugging system is REQUIRED to communicate with the NT kernel
debugger to continue past exceptions, RIPs as well as to reboot the system.

Only the netbuei transport and the EtherLinkII network card is currently
supported.  The XNS support is present but has not been fully tested.

Unique Build Limitations

Internal support for UB network controllers exists, but is not
being distributed until functionality is tested.

Logoff/Logon: Logging off and relogging on without rebooting is not
currently supported.  In the future, currently executing programs will
be automatically closed (with appropriate user input) when logoff
occurs.  Logging on with another account will provide user-specific
Program Manager groups, file permissions and other user-defined settings
(colors, network reconnections, etc.).

System Requirements

NT does not currently support installation from floppy.  It is necessary
to pre-install MS-DOS (3.1 or later) or OS/2 1.21 or 1.3 before running
the NT setup program.

The boot partition (C:) must be FAT, but other partitions may be HPFS
and will be accessible from NT.

When installing on MS-DOS using SETUP.BAT, a DOS/NT dualboot system will be
created. Once installed, you will be prompted at boot time which system to
execute. The default time-out selects DOS.

When installing on OS/2 using SETUP.CMD, an OS2/NT dualboot system will be
created. Once installed, you will be prompted at boot time which system to
execute. The default time-out selects OS/2. This dualboot is not compatible
with the OS/2 1.21 dualboot implementation. Multiboot of OS/2, DOS and NT will
be supported later.

Do not run the setup procedures if you boot from a floppy. The setup procedures
(SETUP.BAT or SETUP.CMD) are run depending on the system booted (DOS or OS/2)
and always modify the boot info and loaders on C:, not the boot device.

Hardware Requirements

Currently, Compaq hardware is primarily used to test NT.  Only Compaq
386 and 486 systems are supported.  386SX should work.	MCA (e.g. PS/2)
are not currently supported.  When MIPS systems become available, NT
versions for MIPS will be provided.  There is no support in the current
release for MIPS.

10M RAM minimum is needed to boot and run Win32 programs.  This will be
reduced to 6-8M RAM in later releases.

The NT system requries 12M for system files and 10M for a paging file.

If doing Win32 development, an additional 10M is needed for development

Setting up Windows NT on a Network

Windows NT's network support is currently limited to the Netbeui protocol
running over a 3Com EtherLink II card.	The following information is
temporary and will not apply in later Windows NT releases.

If your NT machine will not be on a network, log on using username SYSTEM
with no password.  You can make SYSTEM the default logon username by changing
the DefaultLogonUsername entry in the [Console] section of NTUSER.CFG.

For network use, you will need to edit the three configuration files in C:\NT
to specify your machine name, username, domain, and optionally a server to
confirm logons. Use your favorite editor's search and replace.

Edit C:\NT\MSV1_0.CFG to add your username to the local security system.
Replace MYUSERNAME with your username.

Edit C:\NT\NT.CFG to specify your domain name.	Replace MYDOMAIN with the
name of your domain.

Edit C:\NT\NTUSER.CFG to specify your machine name, your username, and your
optionally password server.  Replace each occurance of MYUSERNAME with your
username, and each occurance of MYMACHINENAME with the network name of your
machine.  If you want a network server to confirm the  username and password
at logon time, replace MYPASSWORDSERVER with the network name of the server
that will confirm logons.  Also uncomment the PasswordServer line near the
end of NTUSER.CFG.

Reboot your machine and logon with your network username and password.	You
should be able to connect to any network resource on servers running the
Netbeui protocol. NET USE and NET VIEW are both working.

Windows NT can run as a share-level server.  To enable the server, set up the
sharepoints in NTUSER.CFG.  The default NTUSER.CFG shares C:\PUBLIC as
PUBLIC.  To start the server, type NET START SERVER.  BEWARE:  There is
no security implemented for the server.  Every client has full access to each

Currently you must be logged on as SYSTEM in order to change the system time
or run file system utilities FORMAT, CHKDSK, and RECOVER.
system utilities FORMAT, CHKDSK, and RECOVER.

Gallery[edit | edit source]

Applications[edit | edit source]

System applications[edit | edit source]

Accessories and games[edit | edit source]

SDK tools and samples[edit | edit source]

Media[edit | edit source]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Confirmed to work on 86Box with the following emulated video cards so far:
    • Video 7 1024i
    • Trident TVGA8900D
    • Tseng ET4000AX
    • Cirrus Logic CL-5420
    Also confirmed to work on QEMU with the -vga cirrus option.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Zachary, G. Pascal. Show-stopper!: Breakneck Race to Create Windows NT and the Next Generation at Microsoft