6 failed tech predictions by Bill Gates

The founder of the world’s largest software company Microsoft Bill Gates is often looked upon for his vision. But then they also say, there’s really nothing like perfection. So, all our venerable tech czar’s forecasts too have not been flawless.

Many of the technology prophecies of the man who is often credited for ushering in the third wave of computing — mainframe era, minicomputer era to personal computing era — did miss the mark.

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Here’s looking into where all Gates went ‘wrong’.

‘640K (of memory) ought to be enough for anybody’

Seems Bill Gates couldn’t comprehend the pace at which the size of data will grow in the computing space. In 1981, Gates reportedly said that nobody would ever need more than 640 kilobytes of memory on their personal computer. Contrary to what Gates thought, most PCs today come with at least 2GB of memory.

However, in an interview to Bloomberg Business News in 1996, Gates refuted the quote. Here’s an excerpt of what he said when asked about the (in)famous quote, “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.
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“The need for memory increases as computers get more potent and software gets more powerful. In fact, every couple of years the amount of memory address space needed to run whatever software is mainstream at the time just about doubles. This is well-known.”

‘OS/2 programme of all time’

In a foreword to the OS/2 Programmer’s Guide in 1987 Bill Gates wrote, “I believe OS/2 is destined to be the most important operating system, and possibly programme, of all times.”

OS/2 was a computer operating system initially jointly developed by both Microsoft and IBM, and later developed by exclusively by IBM.

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The OS though gained some ground in large industries like banking, insurance and telecommunications it, however, failed to make an impact among the home and SOHO users. The launch of Windows 95 completely stole the OSes thunder.

Contrary to what Gates wrote, Microsoft’s own Windows operating systems today continue to power world’s over 90 per cent desktops. OS/2 is no longer marketed by IBM, and IBM standard support for OS/2 was discontinued on 31 December 2006.

‘Spam will be solved’

The problem of spam e-mail messages will be gone within two years, Bill Gates promised in January 2004.

Speaking at a session of the World Economic Forum, Gates said that the company was working on three ways to enable email users to keep spam out of their computers.
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The first two, he said, would involve having computers reply automatically to any email messages from senders not known to that computer — that is, not in the mail list of the email programme installed on the computer — with a request to solve a problem that could be handled by a person but not by a computer.

The third way, which Gates said was likely to arrive later but be the long-term solution, would require that email messages sent by strangers come with postage attached, the equivalent of a postage stamp. It’s been four-and-a-half years since then, and the spam menace only seems to be growing.

‘Microsoft will never make a 32-bit OS’

In 1983, Bill Gates said that the company “will never make a 32-bit operating system.”

However, nine years later (in 1992), Microsoft released beta of its first 32 bit Windows NT. NT was the first full 32-bit version of Windows. The OSes consumer-oriented counterparts, Windows 3.1x and Windows 9x were 16-bit/32-bit hybrids.
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In 1995, Microsoft released Windows 95, which featured new user interface, supported long file names and could automatically detect and configure installed hardware (plug and play). The OS could natively run 32-bit applications, and featured several technological improvements that increased its stability over Windows 3.1.

In 2005, Microsoft released 64-bit versions of Windows XP Professional and Windows Server 2003, now dubbed Windows XP Professional x64 and Windows Server 2003 x64. Currently, Microsoft’s most popular XP packs both 32 and 64-bit versions. Less-popular Vista also comes in both versions.

‘Blu-ray Disc is the last physical format’

In the year 2005, the tech czar amused the world with one another forecast that failed miserably. In an interview to a newspaper, Gates said “Blu-ray Disc is the last physical format there will ever be.”

Here’s quoting him, “Well, the key issue here is that the protection scheme under Blu-ray is very anti-consumer and there’s not much visibility of that. The inconvenience is that the [movie] studios got too much protection at the expense consumers and it won’t work well on PCs. You won’t be able to play movies and do software in a flexible way. It’s not the physical format that we have the issue with, it’s that the protection scheme on Blu is very anti-consumer. If [the Blu-ray group] would fix that one thing, you know, that’d be fine. For us it’s not the physical format. Understand that this is the last physical format there will ever be. Everything’s going to be streamed directly or on a hard disk. So, in this way, it’s even unclear how much this one counts.”
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While Blu-Ray has beaten HD-DVD to death, its successor are on way including multi-layer discs (LS-R), 3D discs that may hold up to a terabyte of data and discs read by short wavelengths such as UV.

‘Tablet PCs to be most popular’

In the year 2001, Bill Gates had said that tablet PC would be the most popular form of PC sold in America.
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At an event in Las Vegas, Gates showed a prototype Tablet PC and following year launched it. He said, “It’s a PC that is virtually without limits and within five years I predict it will be the most popular form of PC sold in America.”

However, Tablet PCs failed to make an impact. Only a few handful vendors market Tablet PCs. Also, they are still to take off as business devices.

Some time back, Gates again reiterated his faith in the Tablet PC form factor. He said that with better hardware and software, Tablet PCs have the potential to dominate over traditional laptop PCs.

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One thought on “6 failed tech predictions by Bill Gates

  1. I’m hardly someone who would defend Bill Gates, but I’d like to take issue with several of these as being at best cheap shots, and at worst simply untrue. It’s possible Gates will prove to be right about tablet PCs, just not the time frame or the OS. (The iPod Touch is already pretty popular.)

    When Gates said OS/2 was going to be important, it was probably either (a) before he had decided to stick a knife in its back or (b) a deliberate misdirection because he knew he was planning to stick a knife in its back. Had Microsoft not pulled out of and then sabotaged OS/2, it might well be where Windows is today and thus have made him seem prescient. So, I’d give Bill a pass on this one, it’s not much different than Jobs saying no-one reads and then putting a bookreading app on the iPad.

    I don’t think Gates was saying Bluray would literally be the last, merely the last that anyone much cared about — he may be right (my reaction was that DVD is going to turn out to have been the last). Bluray hasn’t gotten much traction (e.g. no-one I know has a Bluray player other than a PS3, and they’re all gadget freaks), although it might possibly scrape in — 1920×1080 probably has a year or two as the “good enough” screen resolution… But I am guessing that 1080 is going to seem pretty lame in five years. Meanwhile, DVDs still look good more than ten years after they became popular. if Bluray isn’t ubiquitous by 2012 it’s probably dead.

    Bluray is already irrelevant as a backup medium — it’s more expensive than hard disks and quite likely less reliable, and solid state has nearly caught up. DVD-R had a brief span where it was cost-effective for long-term backup, but it was much shorter than CD-R’s reign.

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