A German railway firm posted a vacancy for a Windows 3.11 Administrator just before the weekend. In addition to skills in wrangling Windows for Workgroups on the 30-year-old operating system, the recruiter would look upon a candidate more fondly for possessing MS-DOS experience. The admin would purportedly oversee systems with 166MHz processors and a whopping 8MB of RAM. It might seem slightly worrying that modern railways are still running on such ancient systems, but mission-critical systems often adhere to the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" philosophy.
Silicon lover Konkretor highlighted the above vacancy on Twitter / X and explained that the hiring company was responsible for "railway display boards for almost all of Germany." These systems obviously rely in some part on old MS-DOS and Windows 3.11 applications.
The job listing, which we saw yesterday, seems to have been taken down today. It mentions that the appointee will maintain and update the old systems that are still pivotal to railway operations. In further detail, we learn that this software is responsible for "the driver's cab display system on high-speed and regional trains [which] shows the driver the most important technical data in real-time."
Seeing such old legacy OSes being relied upon for delivering important real-time data is somewhat worrying, but it isn't uncommon to find old mission-critical systems run by old software. Additionally, the display might only provide data for information, not critical safety systems.
Windows 3.1X was notable for being the first version of Microsoft’s GUI-based operating system with integrated networking and introduced a 386-protected mode networking stack. Microsoft launched this network-friendly OS back in 1992 and ended support for it on December 31, 2001. Did the German rail company miss the memo?
According to some chit-chat on the Hacker News forum, the above-mentioned legacy system is currently in use on Germany’s ICE 1 and ICE 2 trains. If true, the software that's reliant on MS-DOS and Win 3.11 might be required until 2030 or later. Another interesting titbit was the assertion that one of the railway systems running Win 3.11 has a BIOS dating from 1996 and features a 166MHz processor plus 8MB of RAM.
Ancient hardware and software keep turning up in the most unexpected places. Only yesterday, we reported on Japan’s mandarins finally being weaned off their addiction to floppy disks. Meanwhile, enthusiasts still purchase computers based around Intel’s ancient 8088 CPU and dabble in overclocking ISA bus graphics cards.
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Mark Tyson is a Freelance News Writer at Tom's Hardware US. He enjoys covering the full breadth of PC tech; from business and semiconductor design to products approaching the edge of reason.
I used to like MS-DOS and WIndows 3.11. This is quick OS on a 166 to 200Mhz CPU. It's probably a simple program designed to display data from some serial or RS232 connected sensors on the train. Quick efficient and simple. As cheap as all that is it would be simple to make is super redundant and shock and weather proof. Nothing wrong with any of that. You don't need a super CPU with tons of memory to do any of that unless you are redesigning the whole train with new displays and camera monitoring.Reply
Oh interesting.. So having a stable system means ... stable. And now they push update every 5 min and other update to fix what is broken.. Moving forward is not always the best.Reply
I would imagine this is a very closed, tightly controlled environment, with minimal external risk. Assuming that is true, I don't see an issue here for the purpose being met.Reply
Definitely a novel thing to read about.
I live in Germany and could admin Windows 3.11 and DOS. But I'm happily retired. :cool:Reply
I do have Windows 3.11 and Dos 6.22 installed in a virtual machine though...just to tinker with.
Simple and reliable. The more complexity introduced, the more unreliable things seem to become.Reply
Oooo, with 32bit extensions! That was a weird modification.Admin said:A German railway firm posted a vacancy for a Windows 3.11 Administrator just ahead of the weekend. In addition to possessing skills in wrangling Windows for Workgroups, the recruiter wants a candidate with MS-DOS experience.
MS-DOS and Windows 3.11 still run train dashboards at German railway — company listed admin job for 30-year-old operating system : Read more
Simple, understood, and reliable -- why wouldn't you use an old OS or custom OS to manage a train system? As long as the control interface isn't on the internet there shouldn't be a problem. Modern OS implementations have a penchant for interrupting, suggesting distractions, or buried bugs.Reply
Legacy hardware means legacy software - often custom. It probably costs more than their budget to replace it with modern railyard software.Reply
Maybe 10 years ago, I fired up a 3.11 PC and the damn thing was FAST. Booted much quicker than my XP and later stuff. Worked well, but my NEC CPM Z80A PC worked like a sewing machine.Reply