Quote: 640K ought to be enough for anyone (attrib Bill Gates 1990 January 1)

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Tue Dec 14 12:05:45 UTC 2010

Garson continues his brilliant string of discoveries on quotation origins by pushing back this extremely important quote.  His posting below inspired me to go back into Nexis to do a broader search than I have done in the past on the Gates 640K quote.  Here is the still earlier evidence I found:

Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates once said 640K of memory was more than anyone needed.  He was wrong.
InfoWorld, Nov. 14, 1988, article by George Morrow beginning on page 59

InfoWorld, which seems to have been the key vector of the quote, also has a very interesting earlier version:

When we set the upper limit of PC-DOS at 640K, we thought nobody would ever need that much memory.  -- William Gates, chairman of Microsoft
InfoWorld, Apr. 29, 1985, editorial by James E. Fawcette beginning on page 5

The 1985 version seems to be more of a matter-of-fact statement of the early thinking about memory, rather than the more dogmatic-sounding assertion ("ought to be enough for anyone") that became famous.

Fred Shapiro
YALE BOOK OF QUOTATIONS (Yale University Press)

From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Garson O'Toole [adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM]
Sent: Tuesday, December 14, 2010 1:31 AM
Subject: Quote: 640K ought to be enough for anyone (attrib Bill Gates 1990              January 1)

640K ought to be enough for anyone.

This is a notorious quote attributed to Bill Gates. It refers to a
restriction on the amount of usable computer memory in early
generation IBM personal computers running Microsoft operating system
software. Although this is a famous quote I suspect it is becoming
increasingly unintelligible since 640K is a technical term, and few
speak of kilobits or kilobytes today.

Often the year 1981 is given for the quote. Gates has vociferously and
repeatedly denied saying the phrase.

The Yale Book of Quotations notes the appearance of the attribution in
a Usenet posting dated 1992 April 4 and in a publication called
Computer Language in 1993. Here is an InfoWorld cite in 1990 in an
article that presents a timeline of development for the personal
computer industry in the 1980s.

Cite: 1990 January 1, InfoWorld, "The Wonder Years: How the PC
Industry Grew Up in the '80s", Page 4, InfoWorld Publications, Inc.,
Menlo Park, California. (Google Books full view)

IBM introduces the PC and, with Microsoft, releases DOS ("640K ought
to be enough for anyone" — Bill Gates)


GB also has a amusing variant dated 1990 "Von Neumann thought 4K bytes
was enough for anyone." I haven't checked it.


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The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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