Why was Windows for Workgroups pejoratively nicknamed Windows for Warehouses?

Raymond Chen

Raymond

The first version of Windows with networking support built in was Windows for Workgroups 3.10. The intended audience for this was small businesses who wanted to network their computers together into units known as workgroups. (The term persists in Windows NT as well, referring to an unmanaged collection of computers operating in a peer-to-peer manner.)

Windows for Workgroups came with a network card, instructions for installing it, and even a screwdriver to assist with the installation. Now, there were two network cable standards at the time: BNC and 10Base-T. The network card that came with Windows for Workgroups 3.10 used BNC, which turned out to be the loser in the standards battle.

As a result, there was not a lot of interest in a network card that used an unpopular cable standard. Sales for Windows for Workgroups 3.10 were weak, which led many in the Windows division to bestow upon it the pejorative nickname of Windows for Warehouses, referring to the presumption that most copies of Windows for Workgroups 3.10 existed in the form of unsold inventory in warehouses.

Windows for Workgroups 3.11 solved this problem by omitting the network card entirely. People could choose their own network card, presumably one that used a popular cable standard. It also added significant performance improvements, including an early version of the 32-bit file system that also shipped in Windows 95. This version of Windows for Workgroups was a smashing success.

But the nickname stuck. Once you get a nickname, it’s hard to shake it off.

Raymond Chen
Raymond Chen

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16 comments

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  • Avatar
    Jonathan Kroupa

    In the mid 90s, my friends and I would get together for LAN parties. Half of them had BNC nics, and the other half had 10Base-T. Fortunately one of my friends had a hub which supported both connectors, but as a person who initially only had BNC, I envied those 10Base-T friends, who could just easily plug into the hub and didn’t have to worry about disrupting everyone else plugging in nor about bad cables and terminators. 

    • Avatar
      Neil Rashbrook

      Strictly speaking, just plugging in didn’t disrupt everyone else, but you obviously had to have access to a spare T piece on the cable. If you didn’t, it was still better than there being no free port on a hub, as you could just add more (assuming overall cable length didn’t exceed 185m), although that did then of course disrupt everyone.

  • Harold H
    Harold H

    The BNC connector was patented in 1951.  It may not have caught on for networking, but 68 years later it is still widely used for video.

    • Avatar
      Chris Crowther

      I’d argue it did catch on; 10Base2 was pretty ubuitious for a while. It’s just 10BaseT massively overtook it.

  • Avatar
    Erik Fjeldstrom

    At least the card used Ethernet. My dad’s office had invested heavily in ARCNET, which meant that when they wanted to transition over to Ethernet they couldn’t even reuse the cables. My first summer job was replacing all the RG-62 coax with RG-58, which was replaced with Cat5 a few years later.

  • Avatar
    Fleet Command

    BNC was not part of my Network+ education. So, for a long time, I thought the BNC infrastructure was some sort of fluid delivery system.

    • Avatar
      cheong00

      And the name BNC was not part of my education. In my secondary school Computer Studies class, they are just called “coaxial cable connector” (and BNC is just one type of them).

  • Avatar
    Neil Rashbrook

    I remember a number of Ethernet cards worked around the problem by either having both BNC and 10Base-T or alternatively having an AUI port so you could switch cable standard without replacing the NIC.

  • Avatar
    Ian Boyd

    Talking with friends about this Windows 3.10 (that only one of us saw a beta for) got us reminiscing. 

    I didn’t know it at the time, or understood what it meant, but it’s amazing to me today that Windows 3.1 was a full 32-bit, protected mode, pre-emptively multi-tasking operating system. 

    The down-side of course is that one of those processes was the container for desktop, shell, and all your applications. 

    • Avatar
      Keith Patrick

      My recollection is that Win3.1 was still 16 bit cooperative multitasking.  WFW3.11 added 32 bit device drivers (lightning-fast file IO since it lacked animations), and WinNT/Win95 both did pre-emptive multitasking with fuller 32-bit (NT being full 32 bit while I want to say that Win95 still had some 16 bit pieces here and there)

      • Avatar
        David Hutchinson

        It’s both, sort of. Windows 3.x is itself a cooperatively multitasked 16-bit operating system, but on 386’s and higher, that 16-bit operating system ran in 32-bit pre-emptively multitasked hypervisor, in it’s own chunk of address space, and protected from DOS apps that also ran in their own address space (utilizing VMM86 to do so). The Hypervisor also handled some other tasks, such as making sure different instances don’t stomp on each other when accessing the disk. The various VxD drivers lived in the hypervisor, allowing multiple DOS VMs to access hardware alongside Windows.All Windows apps ran in the same VM as Windows, so they were still cooperatively multitasked with eachother, but DOS programs were preempteively multitasked with each other and with the Windows desktop as a whole.

  • Avatar
    Boris Zakharin

    I remember buying a new Gateway 2000 PC around 1994 which came with WFW 3.11 (without a NIC). Was it standard on all new PCs? I seem to recall there was a regular Windows 3.11 too, though I don’t know if it came with the cool new toolbar in File Manager (that’s the only difference between that and Windows 3.1 I recall seeing, as a home non-network user).

    • Avatar
      Keith Patrick

      I feel like I have to preface everything here with “IIRC”, but I *believe* vendors were shipping new PCs with WFW3.11 because they had been planning for Chicago (whatever Win95 was going to be called), so they had all this 32-bit hardware, so WFW gave them *some* performance boosts (the file IO boost was otherworldly) while waiting on Win95.  Personally, I got WFW via my stepdad’s MSDN account and then moved over to Win95 the day the beta was available (and the night before I demo…I caught a bit of flack for doing it on a new beta OS)

  • Avatar
    David Walker

    I remember BNC!  I used some computers which were networked using BNC.  It was a pain to use, and I think the protocol was token-ring…. meaning that if the cable broke anywhere, all computers would lose the network.  Ah, the good old days.

    • Alexandre Grigoriev
      Alexandre Grigoriev

      TokenRing was a different animal, in which each station was retransmitting in a ring.
      BNC Ethernet used CSMA/CD – Carrier Sense Multiple Access/Collision Detection.