Reading floppy disk images on real hardware (Windows 3.11)

Apologies if this is common knowledge and/or answered here already. I have a retro 386 I've been building. It has Windows 3.11 on it with the TCP/IP stack and a bunch of software I've installed painstakingly by writing image files to floppy disk.

Is there a better way? Is there some software that can read an image file and present it as a virtual disk drive? A bit like VirtualCloneDrive can do for modern versions of Windows?


  • I'm not aware of anything like that off hand.

    There would be a few hurdles to a program like that:
    - dos programs sometimes prevent TSRs from running
    - you would need some way to switch disks, interrupting the running program, and many programs, including Windows don't allow that.
    - You would still need some way to get the program over there in the first place, and setting up networking can be a headache.
    - It won't handle copy protected disks.
    - Some setup programs do dumb, non emulateable, hardware tricks like poll the floppy disk controller ready state to detect disk insertion.

    Most people who really need that kind of functionality use something like a Gotek or HxC floppy emulator. Of course, spinning disks are cool, so I don't know why anyone would want those. :p

    Some DOS and Windows installers can either be extracted in to one folder, or a set of folders named disk1, disk2, disk3, etc. That makes the software easier to install from a network drive, internal/external CD-ROM, zip drive, CF card, copying between hard drives, etc. But each installer is different, and some look at things like volume labels that restrict installation to a floppy drive.

    So if you are looking to install Office 4.3, just grab a CD version and plop the setup folder on to a network share. Back in the day that is the sort of thing we would use a Backpack parallel port CD-ROM drive for.
  • Thanks for the response. Yeah, I figured as much, having been on the lookout for some such solution for a while new. I have a GoTek for my Amiga and Atari ST. I have to keep re-flashing it. I should probably invest in a couple more and just leave them dedicated to a particular platform.

    To date I've been shuffling 3.5 inch floppy disks and the occasional CD. It's nostalgic and satisfying...for the first few things. Thereafter it's just a PITA.

    We just asking to save some pain, but if brute force is the right answer then so be it!

    Thanks for your help.
  • I should add: I've had great success in transferring files over FTP or SCP. I set up a simple FTP Server (FileZilla) on my Windows 10 PC, and hook up my retro gear via the LAN. There's no route to the public internet...usually, unless I want to just for a laugh.

    (In fact, recently I browsed my institution's website using Netscape Navigator on Windows 3.11 just to see how it would look in the analytics logs. Hilarious, it was. To me, anyway.)

    I didn't know about the disk1, disk2 trick. I'll bear that in mind for the software that support it. Thanks.
  • If you look at the Winimage website, there are two tools that can help with the transfer of files packed in disk images without the need for writing to a floppy disk. There are other similar tools including for other operating systems; I just point to these because it was easy to remember.

    Filedisk: Windows 2000 and later tool that gives a drive letter to a disk image. If one has a connection between computers, accessing the virtual drive on the other computer might be faster than swapping floppies. It is also a way to use images in formats that USB floppy drives can't write to disks.

    Extract: A DOS and Win 9x tool to pull files out of a disk image. Might allow for quick creation of an install directory from a group of disk images.

    I don't know of a DOS based software package that uses the redirector interface to create a drive letter for a disk image the way SUBST treats a directory. Certainly should be possible but won't handle any install program that uses INT 25h/26h to access specific sectors on a floppy disk.
  • Thanks, I'll check both of these out. I'm actually building a Windows 2000 server at the moment. I don't have any problems transporting the files around. Only have grief once I get them to their destination. These tools may be of great benefit.
  • extract vers 2.0 comes in two exe files, one for DOS and one for NT. If you want to play around with an early prewin95 stuff, go for that one. extract -x diskimage.

    Another file worth the look is one called os2hdd. It's a dos program that will unpack the disks into subdirectories of \label\disk content. The name refers to that the most common use is to unpack OS2 diskettes into a hard disk install (that's the name of it).

    I'm sure that there are proggies that load floppy images to ramdisk, even if you have to mount it yourself. But it's not a fast trick for multiple diskettes in one install.

    Back in the 90's, I converted my installs to cdrom. There are lots of different tricks to note. Look in the setup.inf file, for the diskette arrangement (eg a:\, ..\disk1, means that each floppy has to be copied into separate directories. You can change setup.inf so that it uses names like ..\forehlp1 ..\forehlp2, and then put other windows programs in the same directory, eg \praxim1.

    Windows expects to be installed out of one directory, but you can split the install at disk 5 to make things go faster.

    DOS upgrades install quite nicely from the CDROM, but the base installs require a fixed disk. This is why i use upgrade versions on the cd. You can have a variety of different DOS upgrades, just make sure the base install is at the lowest level (eg DOS 5).

    Some proggies have to be tricked with a subst a: to install, but will install. Programs like Winword and QEMM write back to the install directory if the owner has changed, so make a copy of the install disks, install that, and then use those floppies on your hard disk.

    The most exotic proggie i had to deal with is a StarDock proggie, that will install from the root directory of any drive, as long as the label of the drive was the same as the serial number.
Sign In or Register to comment.