Famous tech myths that just won't die

Here's the scoop on widespread fables about Bill Gates, the iPhone kill switch, Internet2, Al Gore and more

Have you heard this story?

One day, Bill Gates was standing on a street corner, watching the clouds roll by. Absentmindedly, he dropped a US$1,000 bill out of his pocket. A bystander noticed and said, "Are you going to pick that up?"

"No, why would I do that?" Gates responded gruffly, and walked away.

OK, fact or fiction?

While my version adds a little color, it's still just a fable.

You can mix and match the details, but the essence of the myth -- which I'll define as anything grossly inaccurate yet widely regarded as true -- is still there.

It's part fantasy, part fabrication, but wholly inaccurate.

Tech myths come in all shapes and sizes: Some contain a morsel of truth, but many of them are so wildly preposterous that it's hard to imagine anyone taking them seriously.

"A myth generally exists to explain the worldview of a group of people," says Rob Enderle, a consumer analyst. "This means its intent is to convey an idea but not necessarily the whole truth, and given it's conveyed largely from person to person, the initial story can change a great deal."

At the risk of perpetuating Internet-sized myths even more, here are some of the most famous examples of myths, along with some debunking and comments from those in the know.

Bill Gates dropped a $1,000 bill and didn't bother to pick it up

There's really no factual evidence for this one. If it happened, there's no way to prove it. Given the fact that the US Treasury stopped producing $1,000 bills during World War II and stopped distributing them in 1969, it seems very unlikely Gates would carry one around. Yet, this and many other myths about Bill Gates -- many of them related to e-mail scams -- seem to become memes faster than other mean-spirited tech gossip.

Apparently, Gates is just an easy target who represents how an average guy (albeit one who is obviously very intelligent) can attain fame and fortune in the tech industry. Those who perpetuate the rumors are probably a little jealous. For its part, Microsoft told me that, officially, it doesn't comment on Bill Gates' personal life.

Another Gates myth is that he said "640k ought to be enough for anybody" when talking about an IBM PC's memory in 1981.

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John Brandon

Computerworld
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