Top 5 Myths About Bill Gates

Bill Gates -- seen here at a ONE Campaign press conference in June 2009 -- is the source of a number of myths.
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Microsoft Corporation co-founder Bill Gates often tops lists of the world's richest people. His computing and business prowess, and more recently, his staggering philanthropic acts have attracted immense media coverage. But living in the spotlight means more than just fame; it also means dealing with an Internet-age rumor mill that perpetuates half-truths and, in some cases, outright lies.

Rumors about Gates have been zipping around the Internet for years. They veer from unlikely to outlandish, but what's interesting about the Gates anecdotes is that they're often difficult to prove or dispel.


His colossal fame and worldwide impact means certain fabrications circulate for years, hidden in the deepest recesses of the Web long after other media outlets dismiss them. But not everyone who encounters a Gates rumor ends up reading or hearing the follow-up stories which dispel those tales.

None of the following rumors, listed in no particular order, are true, but they all serve as proof that Bill Gates is leaving an indelible mark on the world. Read on to see five of the most popular Bill Gates myths.

5: Bill Gates Dropped a $1,000 Bill and Just Shrugged

Money flying out the window
Is Bill Gates so rich that he'd let money just fly out the window?
Hiroshi Watanabe/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Bill Gates' wealth is estimated at around $40 billion [source: Forbes]. Perhaps it's no surprise that many Gates myths center on his piles of cash. One prevalent Internet tale seems to say that Gates is so rich he'd literally throw his money to the wind.

In one version of this story, Gates was on a city street corner when he accidentally dropped a $1,000 bill. A helpful passerby alerted Gates to the Grover Cleveland note floating on the breeze, but Gates, apparently indifferent to the loss of this relatively small bit of cash, simply walked away.


As it turns out, though, this particular story is false. And if Gates ever were to casually dismiss $1,000, no one has stepped up with evidence to verify such a thing.

The story is even more unlikely because the U.S. Treasury stopped circulating $1,000 bills -- and other large-denomination bills -- in 1969, due to their lack of use [source: U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing].

4: Bill Gates Will Give You Cash if You Forward This E-mail

That e-mail promised you that Bill Gates would send you cash. But don't hold your breath.
Dennis Flaherty/Stockbyte/Getty Images

There's at least one other incredibly common Gates myth that relates to his huge fortune. Perhaps that's why so many people think that an electronic version of a chain letter will help them tap into his bank account.

The trick e-mail promises that Microsoft and AOL are merging and that the new mega-corporation is conducting an experiment. Forward the test e-mail (which the company is tracking) and you'll receive credit for your participation.


For every person you forward the message to, Microsoft will pay you hundreds of dollars; and of course, it's all true because Bill Gates has so much money that he can write the project off as a marketing expense. So send the message to enough of your friends and you could become a millionaire overnight!

Well, that would be nice, if only it were true. The misleading e-mail is basically just a long-running practical joke targeting computer users who believe incredible claims. Though most people instantly recognize the message as a prank, it's probably the tie to Gates' name that makes a few gullible folks hope that maybe the e-mail really is true. And so the legend lives on.

3: Bill Gates Said 640K RAM Was Enough -- for Anyone

With the ever-growing needs of operating systems and other software, your computer is probably always going to need more RAM.
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It was a bold proclamation from the tech world's leading visionary. "640K is more memory than anyone will ever need on a computer," Gates reportedly said at a computer trade show in the early 1980s. Only he didn't really say it.

This rumor refuses to die in spite of his repeated public protestations. "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."


In addition to his vehement denials, there doesn't seem to be any real forthcoming evidence regarding this quote -- either for or against its existence. Numerous publications have attempted in vain to confirm the now-infamous 640K statement.

Thanks to the Internet and the way it continually regurgitates this information, Gates may be dealing with this myth for the rest of his life. "I keep bumping into that silly quotation attributed to me that says 640K of memory is enough. There's never a citation; the quotation just floats like a rumor, repeated again and again."

However, perhaps common sense should guide anyone who thinks this one might be true. Considering Gates' technical expertise and business sense, it seems likely that even in the beginning stages of the personal computer revolution, he would've known computers were going to get faster and better in a hurry.

2: Bill Gates Stole Apple Inc.'s GUI Technology

A judge with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Microsoft was within the law when it created derivatives of the Apple-licensed Windows 1.0.
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In 1988, Apple Inc. filed a landmark lawsuit against Microsoft. The suit claimed that Microsoft Windows used graphical user interface (GUI) parts too similar to those in Apple products such as the Macintosh operating system.

At a judge's behest, Apple eventually named more than 200 GUI operating system components, such as resizable, overlapping windows, title bars and other features that it felt encompassed a specific "look and feel" protected by copyright. Considering the size and wealth of the companies involved, and the technological minutia that the case revolved around, it's no surprise that the case dragged on for about five years.


Apple had licensed portions of its GUI to Microsoft for Windows version 1.0. However, Gates' development teams took full advantage of those GUI elements for subsequent Windows operating systems, too. As the lawsuit progressed, newer versions of Windows based on those GUI components became more and more popular.

Apple lawyers argued that their licensing agreement (including GUI design) with Microsoft was in effect for only one version of Windows. Microsoft disagreed. As the case unfolded, Gates told InfoWorld newsweekly, "We're saying that these graphic interface techniques, the ideas, are not copyrightable."

In 1993, Judge Vaughn Walker with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Microsoft, throwing out all of Apple's arguments [source: Andrews]. However, despite the legal system's judgment, and similar to the other Gates myths we've mentioned, conspiracy theories and rumors about these events will probably be around for as long as we use the Web.

1: Bill Gates Wrote a List of Rules Kids Won't Learn in School

Some people say that Bill Gates told a high-school audience that flipping burgers is an opportunity. Instead, the piece was written by Charles Sykes.

Gates has done a lot of public speaking over the course of his career, including many speeches at schools. One well-known myth is that Gates appeared in front of a high-school audience and pontificated on a list of rules that kids would never learn in school.

The rule list circulating on the Internet includes some succinct bits of wisdom such as, "Life is not fair, get used to it." Another supposed Gates imperative is, "Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had another word for burger flipping -- they called it opportunity."


Gates certainly has a history of passing down terse directives at those he thinks need guidance. However, he never created this list of rules. And he never read them in front of a group of students, either.

The real author of the list is Charles Sykes, a teacher who wrote books such as "Dumbing Down Our Kids" and "50 Rules Kids Won't Learn in School." If you review the rest of the supposed Gates list, you'll see another rule that may explain why the list wound up widely attributed to Gates. That rule is, "Be nice to nerds. You may end up working for them."

For more on myths and famous people, visit the links on the next page.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • "Bill Gates' 11 Rules Of Life." (Aug. 5, 2009)
  • Andrews, Paul. "Apple-Microsoft Lawsuit Fizzles To A Close -- 'Nothing Left' To Fight About." The Seattle Times. June 2, 1993. (Aug. 5, 2009)
  • Brandon, John. "Famous Tech Myths That Just Won't Die." Sept. 26, 2008. (Aug. 5, 2009)
  • Emery, David. "Further Adventures In Email Tracking." Aug. 12, 1998. (Aug. 5, 2009)
  • "Bill Gates." (Aug. 5, 2009)
  • Katz, John. "Did Gates Really Say 640K Is Enough For Anyone?" Wired. Jan. 16, 1997. (Aug. 5, 2009)
  • Lai, Eric. "The 640K Quote Won't Go Away -- But Did Gates Really Say It?" June 23, 2008. (Aug. 5, 2009)
  • Shwiff, Kathy. "Bill Gates Reclaims Title As Richest Man In World." The Wall Street Journal. March 11, 2009. (Aug. 5, 2009)
  • "Microsoft/AOL Giveaway." (Aug. 5, 2009)
  • "Some Rules Kids Won't Learn In School." (Aug. 5, 2009)
  • "Bill Gates' High School Speech On The Eleven Rules Of Life." (Aug. 5, 2009)
  • U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. "Large Denominations." 2009. (Aug. 21, 2009)
  • U.S. News & World Reports. "Gates Talks." Aug. 20, 2001. (Aug. 5, 2009)
  • Weil, Nancy. "The Quotable Bill Gates: In His Own Words." June 23, 2008. (Aug. 5, 2009)