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Our Daily Bleg: Does “640K” Really Belong to Bill Gates?

Last week, Fred R. Shapiro, editor of the The Yale Book of Quotations, inaugurated Our Daily Bleg, with a request to learn the true source of the quote “Read my lips.”

A consensus has yet to be reached on the origin, but your thoughtful comments (to which Fred replied) made some headway — and possibly helped out Netflix.

Fred will keep blegging for quotes here on Thursdays. (You can send your own blegs to: Here’s his next request:

Our Daily Bleg
by Fred R. Shapiro

There seems to be a strong correlation between interest in technology and interest in quotations, and many of the emblematic sayings of our time are computer sayings, such as “information wants to be free.”

Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations ignores computer culture almost completely (in 1989 the editor said, “There ought to be something about computers and artificial intelligence. Surely somebody somewhere said something memorable.”). In my own book, The Yale Book of Quotations, I tried to pay special attention to computer-related quotes, and, in order to continue this effort in the next edition, I have begun a Computer Quotations Project seeking contributions of information about famous technological adages.

Recently I posted a list of inquiries about famous computer quotations on the Times‘s Bits blog. One of the quotes I asked about was “640K ought to be enough for anybody,” attributed to Bill Gates (the earliest I have found this credited to Gates was in 1990). There were over 100 comments posted, including one that, on its face, appears to be by Mr. Gates himself:

The statement I made about memory space was that we need about one new bit of addressable memory every two years or so. We did our best to get the 68,000 to be used in the IBM P.C. because that would have simplified the address space issues a lot.

The schedule was six months too late for IBM. The VAX already had a clean 32 bit address space. The history is far more complicated in terms of the x86 memory space because we supported both Extended and Enhanced memory (bank switching). At no time was the software the limiting factor — it was always the hardware going from 20 bits to 24 bits segmented (Os/2 and Windows exploited this) and finally 32 bits linear.

I have always found it amusing that that quote is attributed to me but you can read interviews I gave about address space from the 1970’s talking about the growing need for address bits over time. 64 bits is nice but even that will run out.

– Posted by billg

Are any readers of this blog able to verify with Microsoft or Mr. Gates himself whether this was an authentic posting by him? Also, can anyone discover any evidence of the “640K quote” prior to 1990?