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The quotable Bill Gates: In his own words

He never really said that about 640KB of memory being enough, by the way

By Nancy Weil
June 23, 2008 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - Some of the most oft-repeated comments attributed to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates through the years were not uttered by Gates. Take for instance, "640K ought to be enough for anybody," which he supposedly said in 1981 to note that the 640KB of memory in IBM's PC was a significant breakthrough. Or his alleged comment that if General Motors "had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that got 1,000 miles per gallon."

The latter is listed at snopes.com as an urban legend, and Gates has addressed the 640K quote in interviews (see more coverage on our "Bill Gates Moves On" page).

"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," he told Bloomberg Business News in 1996. "I keep bumping into that silly quotation attributed to me that says 640K of memory is enough. There's never a citation; the quotation just floats like a rumor, repeated again and again. Do you realize the pain the industry went through while the IBM PC was limited to 640K? The machine was going to be 512K at one point, and we kept pushing it up. I never said that statement, I said the opposite of that."

To assemble comments Gates actually did make over the years, we pored through the extensive speech archive at the Microsoft Web site, as well as the IDG News Service story archives and other Gates interviews available on the Internet. Reading over speeches and old interviews provided a reminder that Gates is a visionary, a smart man, with a range of knowledge about a lot of subjects.

Here are some examples of his wit and wisdom:

  • "If I were a guy who just wanted to win, I would have already moved on to another arena. If I'd had some set idea of a finish line, don't you think I would have crossed it years ago?" Playboy magazine interview, 1994.
  • "We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10. Don't let yourself be lulled into inaction." From his book, The Road Ahead (Penguin Books, 1996).
  • "I wish I got a chance to write more code. I do mess around. They don't let my code go in shipping products. They haven't done that for about eight years now. And when I say I'm going to come in and write this over the weekend, they don't really believe me quite as much as they used to." Sept. 26, 1997, speaking in San Diego.
  • "Well, remember, I don't own dollars. I own Microsoft stock. So it's only through multiplication that you convert what I own into some scary number." Playboy interview, 1994.
  • "I wish I wasn't [the world's richest man]. There is nothing good that comes out of that." 2006, speaking in Seattle.
  • "And so it's fair to say what's going on today is like the arrival of the printing press, or the telephone or the radio. And these communications tools did have pervasive effects. They made the world a smaller place. They allowed science to be done more efficiently. They allowed politics to be done a new way. They had a modest impact on how people were educated, but people were optimistic that they would make a very big change. Now, the personal computer connected to the Internet is far more powerful in many ways than any of these other communications devices." Harvard Conference on Internet Society, May 29, 1996, Cambridge, Mass.
  • "The PC and the Internet are going to be fundamental. They're not there yet, but we're certainly on a course to do that, and it will be just like the automobile." Windows 98 launch, June 25, 1998, San Francisco.
  • "You know, in many people's cases, they decide they want to pass most of their wealth on to their children, and that's a perfectly legitimate choice. In my case, I think it's better for society and better for my children if the vast bulk of the wealth that I'm lucky enough to be shepherding at this point, if that goes back to causes that are important, things like access to technology, education, medical research, social services and a variety of things." Interview with Charlie Rose, March 4, 1998.
  • "Well, one of the privileges of success in this country is government scrutiny, and that's OK. I mean, we have a very sexy industry. If you worked at the Department of Justice, which would you rather investigate -- bread or software? ... Our, I guess you could call it, 'dispute' with the Department of Justice is about over whether we need to cripple our products or not. That is, can we take a feature that was once available separate from the operating system, like a browser or a graphical interface or any of the other things we've done, and then integrate that into the operating system so that users don't have to go out and buy those separate pieces and they have one unified product that creates a simple user interface.... So with Windows 98, we're not changing anything we do there. Worst case, they'll ask us to create a crippled product as well as the normal product, and that would be too bad. That would really hold us back, so we're quite confident that won't happen. Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, Jan. 27, 1998.
  • "I'm a great believer that any tool that enhances communication has profound effects in terms of how people can learn from each other, and how they can achieve the kind of freedoms that they're interested in. E-mail in Russia was very key in allowing people to get together and think about, did they want to revert back to the previous mode of government? In country after country, you can see that having these tools, there has really made a pretty incredible difference.... "When I first started thinking about philanthropy, I looked back and studied what some of the foundations had done over history, and looked at what kind of things could really make a difference, what kind of things could have a very dramatic impact. And one of the first causes I got attracted to was the issue of population growth, making sure that families had the information to decide exactly how many children they want to have, and with the goal there that if population growth is lower than it would be otherwise, the follow-on effect of that in terms of being able to have resources for education, for the environment, for every element of quality of life that you can imagine, that that would be a fundamentally advantageous thing." Digital Dividends Conference, Seattle, Oct. 18, 2000.
  • "So partly the reason the U.S. has the leadership we have today is that about 20 years ago, we had a high degree of humility. That is, we looked at Japan and sort of said, 'Wow, is their model superior, is there something about our model that could be strong?' And all these great things benefited from that approach. If during this period we don't retain at least some of that humility and look at what other countries are doing and learn from them, then our relative dominance will shrink faster than it should." Digital Dividends Conference, Seattle, Oct. 18, 2000.
  • "Until we're educating every kid in a fantastic way, until every inner city is cleaned up, there is no shortage of things to do." 1994 Playboy interview.
  • "Yesterday, one of my fine competitors, Scott McNealy, was here talking about the ring market, digital rings. And everybody always says Microsoft is trying to do everything. So I think it's important to state that this is one market that Microsoft will not be involved in." Consumer Electronics Show, Las Vegas, Jan. 10, 1998.
  • "The whole PC industry has come together around this launch. Windows XP is the most powerful, fastest, most reliable operating system we have ever done. We've poured literally billions of dollars of development into this new product. That was based on the feedback we had from our users, based on a vision of new activities that the PC could enable. The new security is very important. The privacy control is important. The messaging for real-time connections is a foundation. The new personal digital experiences; really we'll look back and say it's common sense, these are the ways that people deal with information. Together with Office XP, Windows XP will set a new standard for business." Windows XP Launch, Oct. 25, 2001, New York.
  • "We are living in a phenomenal age. If we can spend the early decades of the 21st century finding approaches that meet the needs of the poor in ways that generate profits and recognition for business, we will have found a sustainable way to reduce poverty in the world. The task is open-ended. It will never be finished. But a passionate effort to answer this challenge will help change the world. I'm excited to be part of it." World Economic Forum, Jan. 24, 2008, Davos, Switzerland.
  • "Whenever new technologies come along, parents have a legitimate concern about how it's being used. And the Internet had to be high on the list there. You know, my oldest is 11, so we haven't quite gotten into the toughest years in terms of, you know, having Facebook accounts and spending a massive amount of time instant messaging. But I'm sure that's ahead. And we tended to keep our computers at home out in the open, so that as the kids are doing things on the computer, they know we're going to be walking by at any point. And by doing it that way, we've avoided having to have much in the way of hard limits, either in terms of time or specific things. We're just all involved in seeing what's going on and talking about what those things are." Remarks to the Committee on Science and Technology, U.S. House of Representatives, March 12, 2008.
  • "Certainly, when I was in high school the computer was a very daunting thing, people talked about taking those punch cards you get in the mail and putting staples in them so you could defeat that evil machine that was always sending you bills that didn't seem to be correct. And nobody thought of it as a tool of empowerment." University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Feb. 24, 2004.
  • "If I had to say what is the thing that I feel best about, it's being involved in this whole software revolution and what comes out of that, because you can go all over the world and go into schools and see these computers being used and go into hospitals and see them being used, and see how they're tools for sharing information that hopefully leads to more peaceful conditions, and just the great research advances that come out of that." Stanford University, April 25, 2002, Palo Alto, Calif.
  • "When Paul Allen and I started Microsoft over 30 years ago, we had big dreams about software. We had dreams about the impact it could have. We talked about a computer on every desk and in every home. It's been amazing to see so much of that dream become a reality and touch so many lives. I never imagined what an incredible and important company would spring from those original ideas." News conference announcing plans for full-time philanthropy work and part-time Microsoft work, June 15, 2006, Redmond, Wash.

See more coverage: Bill Gates Moves On.

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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