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Yes, you can finally run Windows 3.1 on your iPad - here's how

Windows 3.1 running on a 2021 iPad Pro in keyboard mode
(Image credit: TechRadar)

While Xbox Game Pass was changed from being an application to a link in Safari on iOS due to the rules of the App Store, Apple seemingly has no issue with a past version of Windows being used on their products.

Thanks to an app called iDOS, you can easily install Windows 3.1 and use your iPad like it’s 1993. There’s no restrictions on this: it’s the fully-formed operating system some will remember, which means games are also available here too.

Apple’s rules on the App Store allow for more apps with different uses every year, but running games and certain applications within an application has always been a sore topic, while media apps such as Netflix and Disney Plus have had no problem.

How to install Windows 3.1

As iDOS 2 comes with file-sharing support, this means that the installation files for Windows 3.1 can be easily dropped from the Files app, as long as you have your own copy.

Make sure all the extracted files are in a folder, and name it something that’s easy for you to type in for later.

Make sure that you have a bluetooth keyboard or keyboard case connected to the iPad, alongside a mouse, otherwise the next steps are going to be very frustrating.

Drop in this folder into the iDOS 2 directory, and go back into the app. Type in the folder name then ‘setup’, and you should be brought to a familiar screen.

Windows 3.1 setup screen on iPad Pro

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Make sure to follow the steps, choosing ‘full install’, and it will try to restart the computer. However, the setup will be unsure of what to do, so close iDOS from the multitasking menu, and relaunch. Type in ‘win’, and Windows 3.1 will launch into the desktop screen. 

Windows 3.1 running on iPad Pro, on the desktop screen

(Image credit: TechRadar)

What can you do in 1993 on your iPad?

A lot, it turns out. From the built-in game of Minesweeper to the titles of its time, you can treat this as your retro gaming PC, and try out the following: 

  • Duke Nukem
  • SimEarth
  • Civilisation
  • DOOM
  • SimCity 2000
  • The Simpsons Cartoon Studio

While DOOM is already on iOS, Nintendo Switch, and anything else with a screen, there’s something satisfying about playing the game within the confines of how it would have been played when it was originally released.

Thanks to mouse support on the iPad, being able to install applications and even use PaintBrush is a breeze. With the refined multitasking that’s available in iPadOS 15, there’s something about multiple windows on a desktop that seems so much easier to manage on the tablet in 3.1.

Windows 3.1 running on iPad Pro, using PaintBrush

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Why Windows 3.1 but not Game Pass?

The obvious answer may be that Apple doesn’t see Windows 3.1 as a threat, and understandably so, unless it’s worried about the Minesweeper market. However, it does show that there’s an unwillingness from the company to simply make it easier for certain categories to get their apps in the App Store. Microsoft’s Game Pass was rejected on the grounds that every game should be its own app, and when you factor in the amount that’s available on the service, this makes no sense.

Take other categories, such as streaming movies or music, and it’s essentially the same function, just a different user interface. Imagine another timeline where you want to re-watch Loki, but Apple insisted to Disney that every show must be its own app. Granted, you could argue the case that this was once a thing 15 years ago when you would wait to buy a new episode of Lost from the iTunes Store. But you would be able to download that and own it, and you can download Loki for offline viewing. It only disappears when your membership ends.

Which makes it all the more baffling that a fully-fledged operating system from 1993 is able to be installed on an app with no issues, and has been able to for more than eight months with full mouse and keyboard support.

Notepad running on Windows 3.1, within an iPad Pro

(Image credit: TechRadar)

While keyboard and mouse support for games has been enabled for almost a year now in iPadOS, we’ve yet to see many games take advantage of this on the App Store. When you  find yourself playing games such as SimCity 2000 and Indiana Jones, it makes you wonder what other games could come to the iPad.

Depending on whether Apple does give the boot to iDOS soon, it’s a geeky little time capsule of 1993, and also shows what Apple could actually do with applications on the iPad. In Apple’s case, is it finally time to concede and allow apps like Game Pass onto the store, to give the user even more choice for their tablet?

Windows 3.1 running in the multitasking pane of iPadOS 15

(Image credit: TechRadar)
Daryl Baxter

Daryl is the Software and Downloads Writer at TechRadar, where you will see his posts covering Apple, Google, Microsoft and the software that they all inhabit.