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Did Bill Gates say the 640k line ? February 20, 2007

Posted by Imran Ghory in etymology.
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“640K ought to be enough for anybody.” -Bill Gates (1981)

One of the most quoted lines of the computer era. Certainly the most quoted line attributed to the Microsoft founder.

However it is only “attributed” as in 1996 Bill decided to publically deny it in an interview:

INTERVIEWER I read in a newspaper that in 1981 you said, “640K of memory should be enough for anybody.” What did you mean when you said this?

BILL GATES: I’ve said some stupid things and some wrong things, but not that. No one involved in computers would ever say that a certain amount of memory is enough for all time.
(…)
We at Microsoft disagreed. We knew that even 16-bit computers, which had 640K of available address space, would be adequate for only four or five years.

[source]

But I’m not convinced by this denial.

Normally when someone denies saying something they do so fairly soon after the event. This as far as I can find is his first denial of this quote, and is at least four years after the quote was originally popular (usenet posts from 1992 refer to it) and fifteen years after it was allegedely made.

Somehow I find it hard to believe that someone can remember everything that they said 15 years ago. Of course Mr Gates goes on to back up how he never said it by talking about how Microsoft knew back in 1981 (the year the IBM PC launched) that 640k would be too small in 4-5 years.

It’s a pity Mr Gates seems to have forgotten an interview with the Smithsonian just three years prior, in which he talked about how they were surprised when they ran up against the 640k limit in 1986/1987.

BILL GATES: It [640K] was ten times what we had before. But to my surprise, we ran out of that address base for applications within — oh five or six years people were complaining.

[source]

So either Mr Gates has trouble remembering these things or he’s trying to rewrite history to make Microsoft seems more prescient. Which of course he’s never done before.

For a long while this quote was taken as “true”, after the denial it became false. But given the unreliability of Mr Gates claims I think that until someone comes up with some more evidence we should label this quote as having what snopes terms “undetermined or ambiguous veracity.”

Update: from the 1989 interview linked to by Dan Oblak:

BILL GATES:
I have to say in 1981 making those decisions I felt like I was providing enough freedom for ten years, that is the move from 64k to 640k felt like something that would last a great deal of time

[source] – quote is at 22:28

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Comments»

1. Radio Matthew - February 20, 2007

Kinda like when Bill Gates said that the Macintosh computer was superior to any other?

2. drmike - February 20, 2007

I could have sworn that was something up on snopes about this but I can’t find it right off.

3. abu ameerah - February 20, 2007

lol….not Bill’s finest moment…

denials, denials…

4. Jonathan Allen - February 20, 2007

Show me a witness that actually heard him say that and I’ll belive that he did. Otherwise, I have to belive that it is just hearsay.

And either way, who the (bleep) cares!

5. Paul Prescod - February 21, 2007

Let’s presume for a second that he did say the line. It doesn’t say: “640K should be enough for everybody for all time.” It says that at the time that DOS was launched it was expedient and not market-limiting to put a 640K limit on it. Given that DOS was the most successful software product in the world for some time, this assertion would have been totally correct.

But to the more direct question of whether he said it or not. Surely the burden is on those attributing the quote to say where and when he said it.

6. csallen - February 21, 2007

As Paul pointed out, the quote does not say anything about “for all time” in it. I don’t know what point you’re trying to make, exactly.

7. Eric TF Bat - February 28, 2007

I’m old enough to remember when that quote was “known” to have come from the boss of IBM, not the boss of Microsoft. The story remains the same (ie boss of $BIGGEST_EVIL_COMPUTER_CORP says something stupid), only the variable bindings change…

8. Dan Oblak - MacBigot.com - March 9, 2007

The point is that in more recent interviews, Uncle Bill protests that he ‘never would have said anything like that'; and then in this interview (hear it in MP3 at http://csclub.uwaterloo.ca/media/1989%20Bill%20Gates%20Talk%20on%20Microsoft.html), he notes that he did indeed believe that 640K was more than anyone would need for a long time, and then he found out differently by the time he spoke at this event.

This doesn’t answer whether Uncle Bill said the exact words, “640K ought to be enough for anybody.” — but instead that when he protests the quote, he says that at the time of its supposed utterance, he wasn’t thinking like that… but in this earlier speech he contradicts that.

9. Jack - May 18, 2007

No big deal. Lots of people shoot their mouths off.

10. toxik - August 15, 2007

This post isn’t about the quote. It’s about the denial of said quote.

It’s childish to deny such a thing, hence it becomes interesting, if only a bit.

It’ll never be proven or not proven though, since nobody cares enough :-)

11. toxik - August 15, 2007

(Where’s the edit button?)

I of course mean “proven right or wrong.”

12. ManiacalMike - August 16, 2007

Even if someone, Gates, IBM guy, or whoever, said something like
“640kB ought to be enough for anybody” it would have been in the
context of the time. The original IBM PC only had address lines in
hardware to work with 1024kB of addressable space. Some part
of that space had to be reserved for system use, and the rest would
be available for user space. A decision to take 3/8ths of the space
for system use and leave 5/8ths of the space for users seems to be
“reasonable” enough. It’s easy to visualize the statement being made
in a discussion of whether to allow 512k, 640k, or 768k of the total
available space for user programs. Who cares, really?

13. meneame.net - August 28, 2007

¿Dijo o no dijo Bill Gates la frase de los 640k?

Durante un tiempo se hicieron bromas sobre Bill Gates y la frase que supuestamente dijo: "640K deberían ser suficientes para cualquiera". Años más tarde, el propio Gates desmintió haber dicho eso, y desde entonces la frase se considera fa…

14. rubbedcode.com » “haystack” “slicer and dicer” needed - September 11, 2007

[…] you’re right!!! Search engines (at this moment in time ;)!) cannot help me take care of the “higher-level” questions that must be asked in the […]

15. Euskarazko Wikipediaren Sari banaketa. - Baretutako otso bat - November 8, 2007

[…] over 8-bit systems that were typically limited to 64kB, but he has denied making this remark.[4] Also see the 1989 and 1993 remarks above.”I’ve said some stupid things and some wrong things, but […]

16. Oracle PL/SQL's maximum identifier length - dave^2=-1 - February 1, 2008

[…] guess 30 characters ought to be enough for anyone, right?<p class=”migrationNotice”>This was originally posted to my previous blog. You can […]

17. Daze - April 11, 2008

I like your blog, this post is really good, but please vary your topics, it will broad your readership.

18. johnbiehler.com » How much do you carry? - July 24, 2008

[…] So much for Bill’s infamous/may not be true/denies ever saying it statement. […]

19. dhop - November 10, 2008

it doesnt matter

20. Glenn Barres - December 5, 2008

I saw it on the internet…it must be true!

21. James - January 29, 2009

I agree with ManiacalMike. At the TIME that Bill would have said that there was really no need for an abundance of memory. So, a few years later someone finds it ridiculous that Bill said something like this, and then starts making a big deal cause that statement became untrue??? Seems to me that it happens quite often unfortunately ….

Earth being flat
Didn’t someone say that there would never be “a man on the moon” …???

I think people should just not worry about it. It’s been taken out of context for too long, and really what is it hurting now???

22. Murfreesboro Homes For Sale - April 23, 2009

I though for sure it was 64k this whole time thank you for setting me straight on this me and a buddy were talking about this just the other day.

23. garfield - June 3, 2009

thanks for the source mate :)
looked up in google and got it

24. Amgaguy - September 1, 2009

Actually the real original quote was “Nobody will ever need anymore than 64k of memory”. This was back in the days when Amiga, Atari and Apple all had at least 256k RAM and PC’s still only had 64k.

25. vigneshwaran - September 9, 2009

thanks for ur matters

26. Steal This Webcomic - This Is The Matrix On Windows - April 5, 2010

[…] Gates once said about computer memory that “640K ought to be enough for anybody.” What a […]

27. k mean one thousand btw - April 12, 2010

LOL!!!!

LOOK HOW MUCH MONEY HE HAS!!!

28. Top 25 Tech Quotes « Cenetric, Inc. - May 27, 2010

[…] up with evidence—any evidence at all–that Gates said it, I consider him innocent. Although, as this excellent blog post points out, Gates has twice said that he was surprised by how quickly 640K proved to be an inadequate amount […]

29. Earl Babbie - October 19, 2010

If it can be proven that Gates really said this, then I will . . . I will . . . what the difference would it make? Now if he were running for the Senate, that would be a different matter.

30. Earl Babbie - October 19, 2010

ERRATA: My earlier message said what the (bleep) difference would it make, but I used angle-brackets which suppressed the content I guess.

31. FGarcia - October 29, 2010

He meant 64k Million Dollars ought to be enough for anybody forever.

32. Brother John - January 9, 2011

I’ve often wondered if he said it or not, too.
The flip side of it all is that human beings have limited intelligence and knowledge and we’re limited by space and time. I am quite sure he didn’t know the PC development would have grown to the level they are today otherwise, no company would be close to Microsoft today.
Well, either Bill Gates did or not, he has used the limitations of his knowledge to amass a stupendous amount of wealth.

Mike Stroven - January 25, 2011

Which is really ironic! His “knowledge” was not what made him his great wealth. If that were the case most chimps would be millionaires. No. Mr. Gates used the stupidity of the common consumer to make his wealth. And as the great Albert Einstein once said, “There are two things infinite: The Universe, and Human Stupidity. And I’m not sure about the first…”

Jack - March 7, 2012

@Mike: I don’t see how your statement is related to the article.

33. Les Roediger - April 1, 2011

Actually it was in a magazine print ad with him holding a pc. I remember it well.

34. Calvin Mathiew - August 27, 2011

Thank you a lot for sharing this with all of us you really realize what you’re speaking about! Bookmarked. Kindly additionally seek advice from my site =). We could have a hyperlink change agreement among us!

35. Peter - November 7, 2011

140 characters ought to be enough for anyone.

–Twitter

36. Past progressive | The Fine Print - March 26, 2012

[…] $80. Granted, our appetite for data has grown exponentially since the time 640 KB would be “enough“, nonetheless…to quote an old Virginia Slims […]

37. dennis - September 7, 2012

Don’t u have better things to do then spend time on analyzing a 20 year old quote? Geez…

38. My Own Private Audit Trail… | shapejam.com - December 23, 2012

[…] was too invasive anyway… As I grew older I realised that rather like someone suggesting that 640 KB would be enough memory for anyone my younger self had failed to comprehend the sheer amount of data that would pass through my grey […]

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I took some computer science classes in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The instructor told us this story. I don’t remember it all exactly but it was Gates and CPU manufactures (Intel) in discussion about how much a CPU can address. If they had it address more then they would have to change the CPU and it wouldn’t be compatible with existing software and hardware at the time. In other words they would have to rewrite all the software ever written. Rebuild all the hardware to accept the changes. So you can see why Billy would say 640k is enough.

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