The longest card game in the world: Microsoft Solitaire is 30

It's a double anniversary today as we take a moment to ponder 30 years since Windows 3.0 set Microsoft on the road to desktop GUI dominance and celebrate three decades of Microsoft Solitaire.

This correspondant was working in a computing store when Windows 3.0 landed, having been announced on 22 May 1990. The Amstrad PC1640 was still doing tolerable business, with MS-DOS 3.2 and Digital's GEM desktop for GUI aficionados, while its replacement, the 2000 series, shipped with an odd thing called Windows 2.1.

The PC2386 had an impossibly glamorous Intel 80386DX (and a decidedly iffy hard disk setup) which, as it turned out, would be just the ticket for Microsoft's next crack at a GUI.

After the curiosity that was Windows 2.1, Windows 3.0 featured a significantly improved user interface with a slick 3D-like appearance (certainly when compared to the flatness of previous versions and, er, more recent incarnations).

Perched atop MS-DOS, Windows 3.0 could also take advantage of the improvements in memory management afforded by Intel's new chippery. Additionally, it introduced the Program Manager (beloved by those that most likely today complain about the loss of the Start Menu they whinged about in Windows 95).

Also in the Windows 3.0 box were executables including improved Paintbrush and Calculator apps, File Manager, a Recorder to create macros, and, of course, Solitaire.

After a glitzy launch (for Microsoft at the time), Windows 3.0 shifted a million copies worldwide in the first three months alone. In a harbinger of things to come, it also turned up pre-installed on many machines, including those from Zenith.

Naturally, Apple (already setting the legal dogs on Microsoft after Bill's gang added features like overlapping windows in Windows 2.0) was unhappy with the development, but the wannabe OS also damaged Microsoft's relationship with IBM, with whom the soon-to-be Windows giant was developing OS/2.

While Microsoft has long since dropped support for Windows 3.0, the experience can be relived via virtualization or thanks to the various emulation sites out there. Compared to what it would become, version 3.0 seems remarkably clean, crisp and simple to use. Even if it is a little prone to falling over.

Happy 30th, Microsoft Solitaire

Ranking as one of the most played video games of all time, Solitaire started life in 1989 as a project for intern Wes Cherry. Initially planned to familiarise users with how a mouse worked and introduce concepts such as drag and drop, the simple card game also ranks as one of the greatest productivity sponges of all time.

It is deviously easy to get into. The back of decks can be selected from a predefined range, with one or three cards being drawn from the deck at a time. Winning the game resulted in a delightfully rewarding cascade of cards.

Despite its immense popularity (and inclusion in subsequent versions of Windows) Cherry did not net the big bucks for his efforts. In an interview with British web site b3ta.com, he was asked if he was a little bitter about this. He responded: "Yeah, especially since you are all probably paid to play it!"

Cherry also went on to reveal a feature that could have saved many an employee's career, but was stripped from the app: "There was a 'boss-key' which when pressed would display some random C code," he said. "Microsoft made me remove that."

The game suffered minor tweaks for Windows XP, and was tinkered with during the dark days of Vista and the brighter horizons of Windows 7, before an ill-advised redesign was inflicted from Windows 8, sullying the purity of the original incarnation.

We understand that Cherry has since left the world of computing behind in favour of the crisp delights of cider making.

The Register plans an experiment to compare the productivity impairment arising from cider consumption versus a tantalising Solitaire window. We think the card game might have it in the bag.

In the meantime, please join us in a Friday toast to Solitaire and whatever floats your boat with regard to that first "proper" version of Windows. ®

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