The quotable Bill Gates

Yes, he said it.

Some of the most oft-repeated comments attributed to Bill Gates through the years were not uttered by Bill Gates. Take for instance "640K ought to be enough for anybody," which he supposedly said in 1981 to note that the 640K bytes 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 US$25 cars that got 1,000 miles per gallon."

The latter is listed at the snopes.com Web site as an urban legend, and Gates has addressed the 640K quote in interviews. "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 ... 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," he told Bloomberg Business News in 1996. "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 poured through the extensive speech archive at the Microsoft Web site, as well as the IDG News Service story archives and other interview sources 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.

-- "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 ten. Don't let yourself be lulled into inaction." From his book, "The Road Ahead," published in 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.

-- "I have to say, it's kind of fun to be the underdog (when it comes to search) ... We've done more on this to build a great team then on any effort I can remember," he said. -- at advance08, the Future of Media, May 21, 2008, Redmond, Washington.

-- "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, Massachusetts.

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Nancy Weil

IDG News Service
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