Thanks to a MS-DOS emulator called iDOS 2 on the App Store, you can install Microsoft Windows 3.1 on your iPad—then play classic Windows games or simply shock your friends. Here’s how to set it up.
Introducing iDOS 2
Recently, we noticed FastCompany editor (and friend of How-To Geek) Harry McCracken on Twitter experimenting with running Windows 3.1 on an iPad. With his blessing, we’re about to explain how he pulled off this amazing feat.
To run Windows 3.1 on your iPad, you’ll need to buy an app called iDOS 2 that’s available in the App Store. Currently, it costs $4.99, which seems like a bargain considering what it can do.
iDOS has a spotty history on the App Store. Way back in 2010, Apple pulled an earlier version of the app because it allowed people to run unapproved code loaded through iTunes. Last year, its author updated the app to pull DOS files from iCloud or the Files app, and Apple approved it. So far, it’s still listed, so let’s hope that it sticks.
After purchasing and installing iDOS 2 on your iPad, run it once to make sure that it creates whatever folders it needs to work in your Files app. It will create an “iDOS” folder in your “On My iPad” area in Files. That’s important.
Before diving into the Windows setup process below, you might want to familiarize yourself with how iDOS works. In a vertical orientation, you’ll see a window near the top of the screen that includes the video output of the emulated MS-DOS machine. Below that, you’ll see a toolbar that lets you load disk images (if you tap the floppy drive), check the DOSBox emulation speed (a black box with green numbers), and take a screenshot or change Settings (by tapping the power button).
At the bottom of the screen, you’ll find an onscreen keyboard that lets you type whatever you want into the MS-DOS machine. If you flip your iPad horizontally, the MS-DOS display area will take over the screen, and you can pull up a toolbar that lets you access the keyboard, mouse, and gamepad options at any time by tapping the top center of the screen.
Set Up Your Bluetooth Keyboard and Mouse
Once you have iDOS 2 installed, you might want to use it with a hardware mouse and keyboard. Luckily, as long as you’re running iPadOS 13 or higher, it’s easy: Just visit Settings > Bluetooth and pair your favorite Bluetooth keyboard and mouse.
If you have trouble getting your Bluetooth keyboard to work with iDOS 2, open Settings and navigate to Accessibility > Keyboards and disable “Full Keyboard Access.” If that doesn’t help, you can still use iDOS 2 with a virtual onscreen keyboard.
Get and Prepare the Windows 3.1 Setup Files
Here’s the tricky part: To install Windows 3.1 in iDOS 2, you’ll need to somehow copy the Windows 3.1 installation files over to your iPad. The good news is that there’s a completely legal way to do this if you own original Windows 3.1 installation floppies—by literally copying all the files off of the floppies and putting them into a folder. If you do own the disks (and thus, a license to use Windows 3.1), you might also be able to find disk images of the floppies somewhere on the web, but we’re leaving the legal and ethical implications of doing that up to you.
However you acquire the Windows 3.1 installation disks, you’re going to want to copy the contents of every disk (or disk image) into a single directory, likely using another machine like a PC or Mac. On a PC, WinImage or 7-Zip can extract files from disk images. In our example, we placed all of the installation files copied from seven different Windows 3.1 installation disks into a folder called
Copy the Windows 3.1 Setup Files to Your iPad
Once you have all of the Windows 3.1 setup files in one folder, you’ll need to copy the w3setup folder into the iDOS 2 folder located in the Files app. There are many ways to do this.
One way is to plug your iPad into a Mac, and then locate your iPad in the Finder sidebar and click “Files.” Drag the w3setup folder from Finder or your Desktop onto “iDOS” in the Files list.
You can also use iCloud Drive, Dropbox, or another cloud storage service as an intermediary. Once it’s transferred to your iPad, use the Files app to copy the w3setup folder to the iDOS folder in Files.
Install Windows in iDOS 2
As long as you’re sure that you have the contents of every single Windows 3.1 installation disk in your w3setup directory, installing Windows 3.1 in iDOS 2 is easy. Everything that you put into the iDOS folder in Files becomes the contents of your MS-DOS C: drive automatically.
To start the Windows installation, launch iDOS 2, and using your keyboard (real or virtual), type
w3setup\setup at the
C:\> prompt and hit Enter. You’ll see a blue setup screen that says “Welcome to Setup.”
Hit Enter, and then select “Express Setup” on the next screen by pressing Enter again. Windows Setup will begin copying files from the w3setup folder into a new directory called C:\WINDOWS.
After a moment, the Setup will transition from MS-DOS character mode with the blue background into a Windows 3.x-style graphical installation. At this point, your mouse should be working, and you can move the mouse pointer around the screen. When it asks for your name, type whatever you’d like, and then click “Continue” or hit Enter twice. Installation will continue.
After copying all of the files, Windows Setup might ask to set up a printer. Select “No Printer Attached” and click “Install.” If it asks if you want to see a tutorial, select “Skip Tutorial.”
And finally, you’ll see an “Exit Windows Setup” window pop up. Restarting within MS-DOS doesn’t work in iDOS 2 at the moment, so you’ll need to force-quit iDOS 2 by bringing up the App Switcher and swiping iDOS 2 upward off the screen.
Finally, Run Windows 3.1 on your iPad!
As soon as you quit iDOS 2, launch it again. Now that Windows 3.1 is installed, it’s time to run it for the first time. At the
C:\> prompt, type
win and press Enter. After a moment, you’ll see the Windows 3.1 splash screen.
After that, you’ll be at the Windows 3.1 desktop. Congratulations, you’ve done it! You’re running Windows 3.1 on an Apple iPad. Time to cackle like a mad genius.
If you’re like us, the first thing that you’ll do is open the “Games” program group and run Solitaire to play a quick game that’s still as fun as it was in 1992.
Or, you might try Minesweeper, which comes with Windows 3.1 as well. If you’re feeling artistic, mosey on over to the “Accessories” program group and run Paintbrush, a timeless classic.
And of course, you don’t always have to see the iDOS border around the emulated screen. Just flip your iPad into horizontal orientation, and the border will disappear. You’ll have a really nice, full-screen Windows 3.1 experience on the go.
Next Steps: Sound Support and More Games
By default, Windows 3.1 won’t play sounds on your iPad unless you install a special sound driver. To do that, you’ll need to download the Soundblaster 16 Creative Audio Driver found on the RGB Classic Games website. Extract the ZIP file to a folder called
sb and copy it over to your iDOS directory in Files.
To install it, run iDOS 2 and type
sb\install at the C:\> prompt, and then follow the onscreen instructions. Most importantly, you’ll need to change the Interrupt from 5 to 7 during the setup process.
If you’d like to get more Windows games, a good place to find them is the Internet Archive. With screenshots and the ability to run them in your browser, you can try them out before you even copy them to your iPad.
If you find a game that you like on the Internet Archive, you can usually find the ZIP file for the game listed in the sidebar on the right side of the screen. Download the ZIP file on a Mac or PC, extract it to its own folder (under eight characters long so it’s DOS friendly), and then copy it over to your iDOS folder on the iPad.
You can install it in Windows 3.1 by selecting File > New > Program Item in Program Manager. Then, “Browse” to the game’s directory and select the main EXE or COM file that runs it. If that sounds tedious, that’s because it is! That’s just the way that Windows was back then.
And here’s the secret Sixth Sense twist for the very end: You can do all of this on your iPhone as well. Just remember that whenever Windows or another program asks you to restart your PC, you’ll have to force-close iDOS and run it again. Have fun!