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Dissatisfied with Windows 3.1 failure message, Mr. Ballmer created an almost loveable iconic failure message

While his days at Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) are over and he's engrossed in a second career as owner of the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers, the legacy and memories of former CEO Steven Anthony "Steve" Ballmer continues to live on at his former firm in unexpected ways.
 
This week a veteran Microsoft developer and principal software engineer, Raymond Chen, revealed for the first time that Steve Ballmer was responsible for crafting perhaps the most iconic failure message of all time -- the instructional text that appeared when you pressed or CTRL+ALT+DEL or if a system failure transported you to this unfortunate place.

Microsoft Raymond Chen
Microsoft's Pirncipal Software Engineer, Raymond Chen

The screen was created as a catch-all failure/interrupt element for Windows 3.1, which released twenty-two years ago, in April 1992.

A Michigan native, Mr. Ballmer had joined Microsoft in 1980 as its first business manager and 30th overall employee.  In the 1980s he headed various divisions including sales, where he made his infamous pitch for Windows 1.0 that still delights YouTube viewers to this day.

By the time Windows 3.1 was in the works, he was heading up the Operating Systems Division.  He visited the engineering offices one day, according to Mr. Chen and was shown the blue-screen failure message in an earlier form.

BSOD Message
The classic Windows 3.1 BSOD message was authored by Steve Ballmer.
[Image Source: Raymond Chen/MSDN Blogs]

The emotional executive was none too pleased with the current state of the message.  According to Mr. Chen, Mr. Ballmer complained:

This is nice, but I don't like the text of the message. It doesn't sound right to me.

Mr. Chen, who today is known internally as "Microsoft's Chuck Norris", recalls replying:

Okay, Steve. If you think you can do a better job, then go for it.

But Mr. Ballmer, showed he was more than just talk.  As the Microsoft veteran recalls:

Unlike some other executive, Steve took up the challenge, and a few days later, he emailed what he thought the Ctrl+Alt+Del screen should say.

The text he came up with was actually quite good, and it went into the product pretty much word for word.

Thus it was Steve Ballmer who arguably deserves credit for creating the most famous failure message of all time -- the Blue Screen of Death (BSoD).  Raymond Chen faithfully recreates the look and text of Steve's message in his blog using a simple HTML TABLE element-- a neat trick for those who like to read web code.

Steve
Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft [Image Source: You Digital Space]

More famous than even the Twitter Inc. (TWTR) "FAIL Whale", the BSoD appeared often as the grim harbinger of doom whenever a crash occurred.  The original message was preserved virtually unchanged through several updates.
 
Finally with Windows 8, Mr. Ballmer's original text received more substantial modifications including a frowny face -- a problem a small percentage of Windows 8.1 users recently observed after a botched update.

BSOD
The Windows 8 blue-screen-of-death just doesn't have the nostalgic ring to it that Mr. Ballmer's version did.
[Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]

But it is Steve Ballmer's original BSoD that has taken on a rather rosy glow of nostalgia amongst aging PC users as they look back on the Microsoft operating systems of yesteryear, including Windows 3.1 and Windows 95.
 
William Henry "Bill" Gates, III -- Microsoft's first CEO, cofounder, and Harvard University classmate of Mr. Ballmer -- recently complained that in hindsight Ctrl+Alt+Del was a "mistake".  Assuming he's right, at least the infamous recovery keyboard shortcut is today associated with a bit of timeless Microsoft nostalgia, thanks to Mr. Ballmer's iconic era message.  Thanks to Mr. Ballmer, Ctrl+Alt+Del became, at worst, a loveable screw-up.

Sources: MSDN Blogs, via The Verge





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