back to article Ballmer PERSONALLY wrote Windows 3.1's blue screen text

Microsoft has revealed that Steve Ballmer himself penned the white-on-blue text that appears when users gave old Windows the “three-fingered salute” – pressing CTRL-ALT-DEL, in other words. Redmond's Old new thing blog offers the revelation that when Microsoft was hard at work on Windows 3.1 Ballmer was shown the CTRL-ALT-DEL …

  1. Graham O'Brien

    Give rhe devil his due .,,

    As error messages go, that text is far more informative and helpful than most we get now. And we can't blame him for the BSOD itself.

    1. dan1980

      Re: Give rhe devil his due .,,


      Here's what's happened (generally), here's what you can do, here are the consequences.

      1. GregC

        Re: Give rhe devil his due .,,

        Yep, have to agree. Reasonably informative, and gives options. Compare that to a web application I've had to use until recently, where I would log in and start doing stuff, then for no apparent reason get a plain white page, with just the following text:


        There has been an error!"

        Great. Thanks for that. Might as well just say "Oh Noes!!!1111!one!".

        1. James 139

          Re: Give rhe devil his due .,,

          The best one I ever saw was

          "Error : No Error"

          Although personally, I'm fairly sure most errors should read "Error: Something you can do nothing to fix has happened, just go google the following '0x80001234' and then do something else".

          1. Champ

            Re: Give rhe devil his due .,,

            I once worked on a system that, in the code, had a switch statement[1] with an else clause that output the message "This error cannot happen". It was a joke from the original coder, because if you looked at all the other conditions, it was indeed true that the else clause should never be executed.

            Every few months or so, we saw "This error cannot happen" in the logs...

            [1] Of course, we didn't call them switch statements in those days. They were CASE statements.

          2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

            Re: Give rhe devil his due .,,

            Just yesterday I was trying to debug:

            "An unexpected error ocurred while uploading the file".

            Oh no, an unexpected error! Well, I wasn't expecting that.

            I'm still wondering what the error actually was.

            1. Roj Blake

              Re: Give rhe devil his due .,,

              "Oh no, an unexpected error! Well, I wasn't expecting that."

              NOBODY expects the unexpected error.

              Its chief weapon is surprise...surprise and fear...fear and surprise.... Its two weapons are fear and surprise...and ruthless efficiency.... Its *three* weapons are fear, and surprise, and ruthless efficiency...and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.... Its *four* *Amongst* its weapons.... Amongst its weaponry...are such elements as fear, surprise....

          3. Annihilator Silver badge

            Re: Give rhe devil his due .,,

            "Although personally, I'm fairly sure most errors should read "Error: Something you can do nothing to fix has happened, just go google the following '0x80001234' and then do something else"."

            Pretty sure my parents' version of Windows has been customised to say "Error: 0x80001234. Go and phone your son. But switch the computer off first and don't worry about that code - just tell him it's 'some number' and that'll be fine"

            1. JeffyPoooh

              Re: Give rhe devil his due .,,

              The other day I had an error, and I noticed that the window displaying the error code did not allow copy and paste. I had to open google and then TRANSCRIBE the error number. As opposed to highlight, copy, paste.

              Someone at MS should hang.

              1. Richy Freeway

                Re: Give rhe devil his due .,,

                CTRL + C works for copying error messages from MOST dialogue boxes in Windows. Just make sure the window has focus, hit CTRL + C then paste into Notepad so you can extract the bit you want.

                I emphasise most, because sometimes it doesn't work, which is frustrating.

          4. TMe

            Re: Give rhe devil his due .,,

            or as I came across in XP: "Windows cannot find Windows"

        2. Stevie Silver badge

          Re: Give rhe devil his due .,,

          I can beat that. Angered by all the talk-but-no-action at work over Linux (then the new kid on the block) I bought a copy of "Linux Unleashed" - I'd had a very positive experience with "Unix Unleased" and was hoping that experience would carry into the New World O' Linux - which came with Red Hat 4.2 on a CD-ROM.

          I built the two floppy "boot discs", then popped the first one into the machine-to-be and was shown the message: "Error".

          That was the entire text of the message.

          1. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

            Re: Give rhe devil his due .,,

            For terse Linux error messages, only one beats:


          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Give rhe devil his due .,,

            "The zombie walks, the sequel"


    2. Evil Auditor Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Give rhe devil his due .,,

      Couldn't agree more.

      Had to make use of this bloody BSOD while developing NT device drivers. Still have nightmares of useless dumps popping at my head.

    3. JeffyPoooh

      “went into the product pretty much word for word.”

      They would have had to change it from Ballmer's shouty, jumping around and knocking over chairs ALL UPPER CASE 72-PT FONT, to what we see here.

    4. Peter Simpson 1

      Re: Give rhe devil his due .,,


    5. zen1

      Re: Give rhe devil his due .,,

      God, we'll never be rid of that chair throwing booger eatin moron!

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A senior bod who spends time in engineering!?

    A lot less common than it should be - many a CEO gives the impression that they don't ever use, let alone understand, what their company makes.

    Now if only Balmer had kept in close contact with Win8...

    1. dan1980

      Re: A senior bod who spends time in engineering!?

      He does love 'developers' . . .

      1. FartingHippo

        He does love 'developers'

        Really? Have you, by any chance, got any evidence of that fact...

        1. James O'Shea

          Re: He does love 'developers'

          "Really? Have you, by any chance, got any evidence of that fact..."

          Bend over near him. I'm sure that you'll get some evidence of exactly how much 'love' he has very soon.

        2. dan1980

          Re: He does love 'developers'

          Why yes, yes I do.

    2. Bitbeisser

      Re: A senior bod who spends time in engineering!?

      He did, that's the problem!

  3. big_D Silver badge

    Hung so much?

    I've been developing on Windows since version 2.0 and I must say that the blue screens on Windows 3.1 were pretty rare. Maybe I was just lucky.

    The only versions that really gave me a lot of bluescreens were Windows ME and Windows XP - although the latter could usually be traced back to a dodgy memory module or ATi drivers.

    1. Chris Miller

      Re: Hung so much?

      I agree. We implemented a couple of thousand Win3.1 desktops running Word/Excel with a Novell 4.1 backend (that should tell you how long ago this was). Most users left their PCs running 24x7, logging in at the beginning of the day and logging out when they went home. We started getting occasional unpredictable errors - can't open file, that sort of thing - which were fixed by powering off and then on again (yes, I know) but returned after a few weeks.

      We traced it to a bug in the Novell front end that was failing to release a couple of handles at logout. After a cycle of 20 or so, there would be insufficient handles (I seem to remember there were only 64 available to users, but memory is fading) for normal operation. When we reported it, we were told that no-one had ever seen a Windows system that had been operating so long without a reboot.

      Try telling that to t'youth of today ...

      1. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: Hung so much?

        Ah! Novell. Home of fsckwit sloppy coders. I worked at a large university, with a couple thousand users per server. Syscon would take forever pulling up the list of users.

        We had "superset" - the senior Novell dev group - one day because we were so large, and one of them hit the user list "Please Wait" and exclaimed "Oh no, that user sort is a linear sort!"

        Never has the icon been so appropriate.

        1. Chris Miller


          Sounds like you're talking about Netware 3. Netware 4 had Netware/Novell Directory Services (which MS eventually 'ripped off' to create Active Directory) and it worked very well at the thousand user level.

        2. James Gosling

          Re: Hung so much?

          Spoken like a true MS home-boy! Oh the irony of pointing the finger at Novell as what was it "home of fsckwit sloppy coders". They were light years ahead!

          And just to concur with some other commenters the screen you get by pressing CTRL+ALT+DEL is NOT the BSOD!

          That is all! :-)

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Maybe I was just lucky

      Yup, that sounds about right.

      1. Chris Miller

        Re: Maybe I was just lucky

        And the more I learn about systems, the luckier I get.

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It was runing OK until I hit save

    Then suddenly it Balmered on me!

  5. Ralph B

    Year Zero

    Commentards might like to read Year Zero - particularly the epilogue - for an out-of-this-world explanation of what has been going on with Microsoft Windows.

    1. Ralph B

      Re: Year Zero

      I guess I'm getting downvotes because, on first impression, my post might look a bit spammy. It wasn't meant to be. I have no commercial connection with Rob Reid or his publisher. I just finished reading the book and rather enjoyed it. The "out-of-this-world" bit was not exagerated praise, it was just a reference to the non-terrestial influence on the development of MS Windows which is suggested in the epilogue of the book.

  6. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Steve Ballmer

    Is he a General Protection Fault of humanity?

  7. Graham Marsden

    Yeah but...

    ... who was responsible for the "You didn't shut down your computer properly" message, which generally had users screaming at the screen "That's because your f*****g operating system crashed!"

  8. Tim 11

    not the BDOD

    I don't wish to appear pedantic, but "BSOD" is usually used to refer to the stop screen in windows NT4 or it's successors, which is terminal and requires a reboot.

    The screen in the screenshot allows the user to press escape to return to Windows and, as far as I can remember, a similar screen can be invoked in Windows 3.1 at any time using control-alt-del, so it's more like a system-modal dialog.

    1. GBE

      Re: not the BSOD

      I was thinking the same thing: _that's_ not the BSOD. The BSOD is the one you see when Windows stops completely and does a memory dump. IIRC it dumps some address and status stuff to the screen in hex, dumps core to a file somewhere and then just halts. There's no pressing a key to kill an app or anything like that. You're done: you take a picture of the screen with a camera (or write down all the numbers you see) and then pull the power plug.

      The article is about the BSOSALU (Blue Screen of Some App Locked Up). A bit annoying, but nothing like the actual BSOD.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: not the BDOD

      Yes. And the article's not too accurate about Ctrl-Alt-Del, either.

      In Windows NT and its descendants, Ctrl-Alt-Del is the Secure Attention Key sequence, which is rather a different thing than the warm-boot trigger it was in the original IBM PC BIOS (and thus under OSes that didn't intercept it), or the interrupt-the-application functionality (a bit like the SysReq function for IBM 3270s and the like) it had in Windows 3.x / 9x / ME.

      The Windows SAK handler did offer an option to reboot, but its primary purpose was to present the logon UI. Using a SAK for that purpose had been considered a good security practice for years, since it prevents unprivileged applications from spoofing the logon (aka login, etc) prompt. Some UNIX variants (e.g. AIX, at least from 3.1) supported it as an option on the tty stack, but IME it was rarely used there.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Steve Ballmer

    The gift that keeps on giving.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    To make the BSOD really terrifying and memorable...

    Put an ASCII render of Ballmer's face on it.

    That's right Microsoft. That would be much better than that silly smiley-winky found on the BSOD of Windows 8.

  11. Mister_C

    And every time a MS coder does a bug fix...

    And says "One less BSOD now" they get asked "You _do_ know who wrote the original text, don't you?"

    And the fix gets binned

  12. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

    BSOD > Bomb Icon

    Always hated the Bomb kernel panic on old Mac OS's (Normally because it would mean having to rekey in stuff into the Filemaker pro DB the company I worked for then used), I think it should have been a troll icon.

    1. James O'Shea

      Re: BSOD > Bomb Icon

      Personally, I liked the bomb icon. and had since the day I read a review of then Aldus, not yet Adobe, Pagemaker wherein the reviewer stated that Pagemaker contained 'more bombs than a fully loaded B-52'. He was right, too.

  13. xyz


    ....having used windows from win 3.1 'til win 7 inc all the server versions, I think I've only had about 8 BSODs in all that time. 1 on a NT4 server, 2 on my win 7 laptop after that update screw up a couple of weeks ago and at least 5 or more on a day from hell when I had to use Lotus Notes on a win 2000 workstation... Not saying anything but thank god IBM didn't control 90% of the planet's computers.

    1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

      Re: mmmmmm.....

      --Nerd Alert--

      It depends what plugins are crowbarring their way into Lotus Notes, every AV with Lotus Notes monitor I ever saw managed to make it far more unstable and a nightmare when changing AV products (As Notes.ini can't be amended externally when its open).

      Without the only issue I ever saw was users not using Ctrl - Break to stop whichever agent had got itself into a mess on the .nsf program (If you can call it that) being used.

      --End Nerd--

      Also if you want BSOD's run Windows ME with 128MB of ram

  14. Ali on the Reg

    Not as good as Guru Meditation

    1. Stevie Silver badge

      re: Not as good as Guru Meditation

      Metal Guru!

      Is it you?

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Or Tandy TRS-80 level 1 BASIC of which "The only error messages were: "WHAT?" for syntax errors, "HOW?" for arithmetic errors such as division by zero, and "SORRY" for out of memory errors."

      Quoted from wikipedia since I really prefer to forget those days.

      I still have my Amiga 1200 and 500 ;-)

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Or Tandy TRS-80 level 1 BASIC of which "The only error messages were: "WHAT?" for syntax errors, "HOW?" for arithmetic errors such as division by zero, and "SORRY" for out of memory errors."

        They really needed to add a "WHY?". It could be displayed whenever the machine was feeling recalcitrant. More languages should take their cues from INTERCAL.

  15. Chris Evans

    Error on prototype Acorn Business Computer.

    Acorn demonstrated their ABC systems in Olympia (late 1980's?), I had a chance to have a play (IIRC it booted to a text prompt) I quickly managed to get it to report "Can't" and then it came up with "Won't" I half expected the next error to be "Shan't" and hear the sound of a child stamping their feet.

  16. Hud Dunlap

    My favorite error message is from a Japanese industrial system.

    "Can't configure shit"

    Yes it is a true story.

    1. PeterM42

      Re: My favorite error message is from a Japanese industrial system.

      I was thumbing through some Honeywell comms code and noticed a comment following an operating system call: "Error at this point too horrible to contemplate". It then had no error handling code whatsoever, but just carried on!!

  17. PeterM42

    Ballmer then went on....... do a very good job of destroying Microsoft, by allowing them to release TIFKAM,, seriously reduced quality of testing on just about everything, etc., etc.

  18. charlesy

    Er..., not actually the BSoD! The BSoD is an error report screen that Windows provides for fatal system errors such as CPU double-faults. The inclusion of the first bullet point in the list of options shows that this is not a BSoD.

  19. Bitbeisser

    What does Alt-Ctrl-Del have to do with the BSOD?

  20. Colin Ritchie


    Ballmer's instructions are very concise, unfortunately the fame of its familiarity to practically every Windows user in creation is more than a little Pyrrhic.

  21. DuncanL

    Raymond Chen responds..

    to kick the Reg's arse over sloppy reporting...

  22. This post has been deleted by its author

  23. Jedipadawan

    Other classics

    Well, it's an improvement on:

    "BDOS error on Drive B:" from CP/M

    Other all time great errors messages on different OS's:

    Code 0 = Power not on.

    Atari 400/800 manual of error codes.

    Universe does not exist


    Guru Meditation

    Amiga OS 1.2-1.3

    Bombs - literally picture of bombs with no documentation whatsoever!



    Actually comes from COBOL but passed into legend

    Keyboard not found. Hit F1 to continue.


POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021