back to article Death Becomes It: Who put the Blue in the Blue Screen of Death?

Even after a year of readers sending in photos taken of error screens they've seen out and about for The Reg's Bork column, the infamous Windows "Blue Screen of Death" has remained a mainstay. However, have you wondered why blue is the colour? Retired Microsoft engineer Dave Plummer took to his YouTube channel over the weekend …

  1. chivo243 Silver badge
    Windows

    CTRL-ALT-DELETE x2

    Loved watching the chillens in the lab, using Win98, telling another kid to hit CTRL-ALT-DELETE x2 They all got a kick out of it...

    1. Blackjack Silver badge

      Re: CTRL-ALT-DELETE x2

      Windows 98 borked so much it needed a reinstall every few months, Windows 98 SE was better.

      Oh and let's not forget the infamous bug that made Windows 98 never finish the shut down to the point that until Windows 98 SE came out some people just went to Dos mode before shutting down the computer.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Only too true. I resintalled that bastard over 300 times - I know, I counted.

        When XP came along, what a relief ! Finally a system that could last a week without borking itself !

        1. Blackjack Silver badge

          Hilariously Windows 95 was actually quite stable, it was Direct X and the optional WIN32 libraries that borked things a whole lot I should know I used the thing for a whole 16 years with like ten reinstall max while Win 98 had like six reinstalls a year minimum. A bit less with Win 98 SE.

        2. aks

          Straight to Windows 2000 as soon as possible, for me.

  2. J. Cook Silver badge
    Alert

    Ah, the memories....

    ... or all the crash screens:

    Guru Meditation (Amiga)

    one or more bomb icons (Atari ST, IIRC)

    a sad computer icon/ a dead computer icon (Classic MacOS (pre- X))

    Purple screen of death (esxi)

    ABEND (Netware and others)

    At least that's all I remember seeing.

    1. davidp231

      Re: Ah, the memories....

      From the Mac II onwards the Sad Macs had different chimes depending on the ROM/machine. Also you forgot the System/MacOS bomb boxes: "Sorry, a system error has occured" - and the restart button didn't always work lol

      1. deadlockvictim Silver badge

        Re: Ah, the memories....

        This reminds of the backronym invented for Macintosh:

        Machine

        Always

        Crashs

        If

        Not

        The

        Operating

        System

        Hangs.

        More than once did I have to restart the SE or LC in System 7.1 after it had hung. I learnt quickly about saving often.

    2. Tom 38 Silver badge

      Re: Ah, the memories....

      On the Atari ST, the number of bombs indicated how serious the error was*. Sometimes you'd just get one or two, a whole screen of bombs, better turn it off for a while and read a book.

      * Actually, no - there's a specific meaning for each number of bombs (eg 5 bombs = division by zero), it's just how it seemed to me as a user...

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Ah, the memories....

      "... or all the crash screens:"

      It's probably still around, but I remember an X screen saver that randomly displayed many and varied forms for "crash" screens, including Guru Meditation and BSOD etc.

      1. Aremmes

        Re: Ah, the memories....

        Jamie Zawinski's classic XScreenSaver is still around, updated to work on MacOS (and still works on Linux/Unix). The BSOD mode is still there, updated to include more dead computer screens: the man page on my computer lists Windows, NT, Win2K, Win10, Ransomware, Amiga, Mac, Mac1 (another sad Mac, MacsBug (debugger screen), MacOS X, SCO, Atari, BSD, Linux, SparcLinux, HPPALinux, BlitDamage, Solaris, HPUX, Apple2, OS390, Tru64, VMS, MS-DOS, OS2, HVX, VMware, and Android. The last one is interesting as it's not really an Android screen but an HBOOT screen pretending that the boot volume has gone for a walk.

  3. Dave K Silver badge

    I remember the early fail messages well, along with the rather daft options of "Abort", "Retry" or "Fail".

    When computer literate people often fail to understand the difference between "Abort" and "Fail", it's no wonder it was confusing to general users!

    1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

      I have to use an online booking system for some equipment at work. Once I have made a booking I can cancel it. Clicking on the "Cancel" button brings up two choices: "Continue", which cancels, and "Cancel", which continues.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. William Towle
        Boffin

        > Clicking on the "Cancel" button brings up two choices: "Continue", which cancels, and "Cancel", which continues

        Heh! :)

        Having previously done maintenance work on EchoStar set top boxes I encountered the mandate that no dialog box should have only two buttons, apparently so it stopped being confusing which the select* button on the remote corresponded to.

        This led to some interesting "Yes"/"No"/"Cancel" (and similar) situations where "...er, aren't two of those the same?" applied.

        * I don't recall the label on it ... *examines VM's TiVo remote* "OK" could have been *very* confusing.

        1. dajames

          Having previously done maintenance work on EchoStar set top boxes I encountered the mandate that no dialog box should have only two buttons, apparently so it stopped being confusing which the select* button on the remote corresponded to.

          There should ALWAYS be a "Help" button ... except possibly sometimes when the only other button is "OK" (which may mean "It's not OK, but carry on anyway").

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Grammatically, that makes perfect sense. The second Cancel is to cancel the first Cancel, a double negative. :-)

    2. Grease Monkey Silver badge

      My personal favourite for confusing all and sundry has always been the classic "an unexpected error has occurred". Which of course implies that there are all sorts of expected errors just waiting to happen.

      Although I do remember the old MDIS operating system which had an error message "PUNT!" Which I always took to mean "It's crashed, quick blame somebody else".

      However the peak of user confusion was a system which had the error message "Would you like a lightly grilled stoat in a bun with fries?" inserted for when somebody selected a menu option that hadn't yet been coded. Somehow this snuck through the net before the system was passed for UAT. A few days into testing, one of the end users who had never used a computer in his life called the helpdesk and told them his computer had just asked him if he wanted a stoat. The poor sap on the helpdesk spent ages with the end user before he finally accepted that the message which had flashed up on the green screen terminal was genuinely asking the user if they required a small mammal of the genus Mustela and species Erminea.

      1. DJO Silver badge

        "an unexpected error has occurred"

        Actually logical if used correctly.

        It just means execution has fallen through the error handling for all possible errors the benighted programmer was able to think of at the time or the testers were able to generate to annoy said programmer.

        Admittedly it's not too helpful but followed by a clean(ish) shut down is preferable to a crash.

      2. HorseflySteve

        even better..

        My favourite Windows error message is "An undetectable error has occurred" How does it know?

  4. Caver_Dave
    Coat

    Programmer's arch-nemesis!

    From the article: "That one was down to the programmer's arch-nemesis: the memory leak."

    Fixed that for you!

    "That one was down to the hacker's arch-nemesis: the memory leak."

    I've not caused a memory leak this century (probably longer) and I program in C, many assemblers and occasionally Python and C++.

    But, then I am exam, experience and certification body qualified. And I undertake regular CPD (continuous professional development) training. You know like other professionals do: Doctors, Pharmacists, Lawyers, Accountants, etc.

    Icon - I hope it's flameproof! I can feel the heat from the hackers before I even submit!

    1. vincent himpe

      Re: Programmer's arch-nemesis!

      it's all fun and games till you find out the cpu and hardware actually leak ...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Caver_Dave - Re: Programmer's arch-nemesis!

      Yeah, but everybody and his dog want to be a programmer and they don'y want to be bothered with learning, certification and stuff like that.

      Right now I'm looking at kids learning computer programming by pushing princesses on screen and I'm trying to figure out what's in the future for us when they will grow up to program medical equipment or self-driving vehicles. Or, God save us all, autonomous weapon platforms.

      1. Dave559 Silver badge

        Re: @Caver_Dave - Programmer's arch-nemesis!

        Pushing princesses around the screen is not too dissimilar to pushing robot plotters around using Logo programs that some of us (in unusually well-resourced schools, bah) might have done.

        Everyone has to start somewhere, and introducing programming concepts in a child-friendly way is probably a rather better way to gain their interest and start off initially than throwing a C, Java, etc, manual at them!

    3. erst

      Re: Programmer's arch-nemesis!

      Are you D. J. Trump?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Vert? Really?

    The original programmer was called John Vert, and he went for blue instead of green? Talk about a missed chance for immortality...

    1. MiguelC Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Vert? Really?

      "l'écran Vert de la mort"

    2. Def Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Vert? Really?

      The John Screen of Death?

      The Green Screen of John?

      The Green John of Death?

      The Death John of Screen?

      ok, ok... I'm going...

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Vert? Really?

        Greenscreens were all my ioy,

        Greenscreens were my delight:

        Greenscreens were my pot of gold,

        And who but Microsoft Greenscreens.

        —potential dirge from a suddenly wealthy WinDOS conslutant, 1991

  6. Matthew 3

    With a name like John Vert

    ...it really should've been green.

  7. Grease Monkey Silver badge

    Can't remember where or when I first heard it called the Blue Screen Of Death, but the action of windows displaying the screen has always just been Blue Screening.

    As in the well worn phrase "windows just fucking blue screened again, the bastard"

    1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

      Re: As in the well worn phrase "windows just fucking blue screened again, the bastard"

      There is the even more well-worn phrase "Turning the air blue."

  8. AMBxx Silver badge
    Windows

    WordPerfect for DOS

    Also the preferred colour scheme for WordPerfect 5.1 & 6 for DOS (the only versions I've used).

    1. vincent himpe

      Re: WordPerfect for DOS

      and norton commander, and all the Borland 'Turbo' languages ide's and so many other programs.. even windows 2.0 was all white and blue.( ok white background and blue text / buttons this time )

  9. R Valentine

    MS support

    I was on a lengthy (10.5 hours) conference call with Microsoft support for a Windows NT 4 server and told the tech what he had just asked us to do with the server resulted in a 'blue screen of death' to which he, quite huffily, replied: 'We don't call it that!'. My response to him: 'Fine; you know what I'm talking about.'

  10. Charlie van Becelaere

    BSOD

    Back in the XP days I crafted a jpg replica of an actual BSOD I had received and used it as a screen saver and desktop background.

    Helpdeskers tended to do double takes when stopping by my machine.

    Good times.

    1. Matthew 3

      Re: BSOD

      Before they were assimilated into Microsoft the SysInternals website used to have a BSOD screensaver.

      1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese

        Re: BSOD

        That was a fun thing. I found a copy from years back in the depths of my hard drive but, thanks to the gods of irony, it didn't seem to play nicely with a newer version of Windows

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: BSOD

      "Helpdeskers tended to do double takes when stopping by my machine."

      The bright ones, those not destined to remain in level 1 frontline support for long, would be the ones rushing past trying not to make eye contact in case they got roped into sorting out what looks like a problem :-)

    3. JakeMS
      Thumb Up

      Re: BSOD

      I knew someone who did that.. I also knew they were the type of person who doesn't click "save" on their documents.

      So I hit the hardware reset button and cheerfully said "Oh hey, I noticed your computer had a BSOD, so I've reset it for you so it'll be ready when you go back."

      He suddenly rushed off saying "My Work!"

      Always click save folks..

  11. S4qFBxkFFg

    "It is also possible to alarm onlookers with a custom tint."

    That's been possible for a long time; when I was on win95 or 98 (can't remember which) I was seeing it enough to want to customise it, and ended up with a rather tasteful lilac (at least on that particular monitor) instead.

    I think this was how it worked, too long ago to remember: http://smallvoid.com/article/bsod-change-color.html

  12. MattPi

    ~Windows 2000, I stumbled onto a registry (?) change where you could change the colors of the BSOD, which of course I switched to white or red and promptly forgot about. Some time later the inevitable happened; what new devilry is this?

  13. LenG

    Blue screen?

    In the early days of DOS, when TSR programs were a big thing (terminate-and-stay-resident), there was briefly available a blue-screen-of-death recolourizer. I have to say I never used it but a informal local poll of our computer users voted it the most useless software utility ever, edging out the TSR which detected cat-like typing. Over the years I have continued to agree with the winner of the poll but, now having owned cats, I am more sympathetic to the cat-like-typing detector.

    1. dajames

      Re: Blue screen?

      In the early days of DOS, when TSR programs were a big thing (terminate-and-stay-resident), there was briefly available a blue-screen-of-death recolourizer.

      That must have been really useful, as DOS didn't do BSODs!

      DOS (having no memory protection nor the notion of a supervisor mode) doesn't really have any way of telling whether it has crashed or not, let alone any way to report the fact.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Never heard of it...

    > Firstly, "I never once heard the term 'blue screen of death' at Microsoft," he recalled, "We called it primarily just a blue-screen or, more frequently, a bug-check."

    Proof that MS never listened to users

    ;-)

  15. Dazed and Confused
    Mushroom

    And with W10

    Even the F***ing blue colour got worse!

    The thing that really used to piss me off with the BSoD was after it the machine had gone mammaries to the ceiling, you'd restart the bloody system and it would come up with the chkdsk screen chiding you for not shutting down cleanly and suggesting you took more care it future.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: And with W10

      "suggesting you took more care it future."

      I take much more care by not running Windows in the first place. I honestly can't remember the last time my primary computer went TITSUP[0] (ABENDed, CoreDumped, BSoDed, whatever). Over ten years ago, anyway.

      [0] The Idiot Thing Seems Uncommunicative ... PANIC!

      1. Dazed and Confused

        Re: And with W10

        > I take much more care by not running Windows in the first place.

        I'd never looked at it that way, perhaps that was what the message was telling me all along "You'd be better off running Linux". Thanks, I'd not understood the message properly.

        I can't remember when last any of my Linux servers at home have ever panic'd

        [dazed@confusion ~]$ uptime

        20:13:55 up 1087 days, 53 min, 3 users, load average: 1.00, 1.00, 1.00

        [dazed@confusion ~]$

        This one seems to have been going for a few days. Hmmm not happy about the load average though.

        1. storner
          FAIL

          Re: And with W10

          Load constantly at 1.0 after 1087 days of uptime? That'll be the Bitcoin miner that was installed by a hacker because you haven't patched the thing in 3 years!

          1. Dazed and Confused

            Re: And with W10

            Nah, bloody metacity gnome shit, I'd started a VNC session a tad over 2 years ago. Some counter has probably overflowed.

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: And with W10

              Nonetheless, assuming it's a home box, why the three year uptime? What's the point? Those DSWs went away a couple decades ago ... and I'm pretty sure that whatever kernel you are running, it's remotely exploitable at this point. Upgrade and reboot that box before you cause other people trouble!

              1. Down not across Silver badge

                Re: And with W10

                Hmm, I shan't paste the uptime of a SS5 running 4.1.3_U1 then. I'll just get told off...

  16. tin 2

    anyone hankering over a bit of Guru Meditation?

    Have a bit of USA's Prevue Guide channel with the local cableco's Amiga having a bit of trouble live on air... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4x9Vado0S7M

  17. Binraider Silver badge

    What exactly was the entomology of BSOD, then?! Rabbit hole to go down...

    1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

      Wouldn't entomology imply an ant hole?

    2. jake Silver badge

      "What exactly was the entomology of BSOD, then?"

      Keeping an eye on bugs, obviously.

  18. jake Silver badge

    Originally there was the Black Screen of Death.

    That was when a full-screen DOS box would crash Windows, with just a blinking white cursor in the upper left hand corner. I first heard it called thusly in (probably) late 1990 or early 1991. By 1993, the term was common enough for it to have been used in a "Notes From the Field" Cringely column in Infoworld (April 12, 1993 issue, page 102 ... I have a copy at my elbow as I type).

    When WinNT3.1 was released (mid 1993), it came with the error screen that we all know and love. I first noticed this called the BlueSoD in Usenet, probably late 1993.

    I assumed that the 'orrible white on blue combo was a rather childish homage to Doogie Hauser, but it turns out that it is the result of not bothering to change the defaults for error messages when they were porting the Lattice C compiler from OS/2's Presentation Manager to Windows NT's Program Manager.

    Redmond called it the "Stop Screen", and got really bent out of shape if you called it the Blue Screen of Death in their hearing. So naturally, I did so whenever possible :-)

    1. WallMeerkat

      Re: Originally there was the Black Screen of Death.

      Wow that column is a blast from the past, especially the section about Next - Canon were looking to scoop it up for nothing, and Steve Jobs last hope was to sell to Novell!

      I love that whole era of computing, the early 90s. Things seemed to go downhill late 90s onwards when PCs started becoming home appliances.

  19. coconuthead

    Bug check

    The odd "bug check" terminology was straight out of VMS. There was a companion "machine check" for when the hardware noticed something wrong with itself.

    It always seemed wrong to me, because you can check for a bug and not find one. On the other hand there is the mental image of some Microsoft engineer taking his shiny bug out of the hangar, and doing a pre-flight check on its wings, eyes, antennae etc. so that the user would know, as usual, the bug would be ready to bite the user.

  20. Mike 16 Silver badge

    Why so blue?

    1) To me, and many of my acquaintances, the two-word "blue screen" refers to chroma-key, although the screens tend to be green these days, so calling it that marks one as an old fart. OTOH, had they started with green screens, they would not have had the Paris skyline showing through Dinah Shore's eyes back in the day.

    2) Life (even computer life) did not start with the IBM PC. Many home computers were hooked to TV sets, and Blue (actually a bit Cyan) was an easy color to get into an NTSC signal, being the "gold" color-burst phase-shifted by 180 degrees. White text on such a background is "not bad", and then we had all those CGA screens clearly "inspired by" Apple ][, C-64, and the occasional Atari 800.

  21. Roger Kynaston Silver badge

    Oh those memories

    My intro to desktop support was Win3.1 and the GPF was my favourite.

    I contractor I knew described some IBM kit he used to work with that simply said "an error has occurred".

  22. Jamesit

    I was sure someone would have posted "Keyboard bad or missing, Press F1 to continue"

    1. Antonius_Prime
      Trollface

      I do love that message.

      The one thing I love even more is the memory and core dump it causes in people reading it for the first time, looking for a keyboard and generating their own "Keyboard missing" error.

      I'm quite certain at this point that I may slightly get off on watching or causing cognitive dissonance events...

      ... which would explain why I still do Hell Desk... XD

    2. WhereAmI?

      Always been my favourite startup message, that one. Then there's the infamous 'hit any key to continue', followed by the stories of users calling the helpdesk looking for the 'Any' key; so much so that Compaq actually had an entry for it in their knowledgebase. I contracted for Compaq for a while, so went looking for it and sure enough, it was not an urban legend. However, it did get removed at some point, but IIRC, it was also later restored for a short period.

  23. Sceptic Tank Bronze badge
    Windows

    I had a BSoD on a work PC running NT 3.51. My manager suggested I write down the register/memory dump (or whatever it was) on a piece of paper and give it to tech support. Didn't happen.

  24. Xalran

    PANIC, DOUBLE PANIC

    while BSOD is a fixture,

    there's also the PANIC and DOUBLE PANIC ( I only saw that one once ) from the various flavor of unixes.

    1. AndrueC Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: PANIC, DOUBLE PANIC

      Many years ago at polytechnic I was at a loose end. I'd already finished my assignments but as I liked programming I thought I'd wander into the lab and have a bit of fun. I entered my credentials and behind me there was a beep. I looked at the Bleasdale (uh huh, that long ago) and the screen was showing the text 'Panic. System stopped'.

      So while the other students moaned I quietly slipped away.

  25. HorseflySteve

    How to bork Windows 98

    1. Open C:\Windows\Powerpnt.ini in a text editor

    2. Insert a # as 1st character in the file (before the [ )

    3. Save & exit

    4. Reboot

    It'll then repeatably BSoD the instant it switches to graphics mode, even in Safe Mode. You'll have to boot to DOS to fix it. And, no, it's nothing to do with PowerPoint. And this file can get corrupted all by itself in exactly this way! I very nearly re-installed because of that....

  26. Spanners Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    My favourite BSOD

    We all remember Bill Gates demonstrating the use of USB...

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IW7Rqwwth84

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