Steve Ballmer Wrote The BSOD, So Stop Slacking Off

Steve Ballmer Wrote The BSOD, So Stop Slacking Off

Even when you’re the boss, it sometimes pays to muck in and make changes yourself.

Image: Edouard

If you’re a Windows user, the chances are pretty high that you’ve spent some time staring at the Blue Screen Of Death, or BSOD to its friends, of which at last count it had approximately none.

It’s also what was used for earlier versions of Windows when a single application crashed and you hit CTRL-ALT-DEL to make it stop. Somebody had to write the text that appears when that occurs. As it happens, the text you read when that happened was the brainchild of one particular Microsoft employee.

Yeah, you’ve read the headline, so you know that was Steve Ballmer.

As Microsoft Developer Raymond Chen tells it, Ballmer was notably unhappy not with the functionality, but with the prose used when errors happened. “This is nice, but I don’t like the text of the message. It doesn’t sound right to me”, he reportedly said.

So the team challenged him to do better, and so he did, writing the text that went into the screen himself.

The practical upshot? You might be the head of a major division (as Ballmer was at the time) and a future CEO, but sometimes if you want things done a certain way, you’re going to have to do them yourself.

Who wrote the text for the Ctrl+Alt+Del dialog in Windows 3.1? [The Old New Thing via The Verge]


  • Prose or no prose it was still a terrible way to deal with errors, take over the whole screen, change the color to something crazy, dump a whole lot of error numbers. Way to freak someone out.

    • You’ve been mislead by the stock photo. Ballmer wrote the Windows 3.1 BSOD, which only came up when someone hit [ctrl][alt][del]. His BSOD evolved into the Windows 95, 98 and ME BSOD’s.

      Windows NT4 had a completely different BSOD, and used task manager for killing rogue user apps via [ctrl][shift][esc].

      The BSOD with the crash-dump on it originally looked like this in Windows NT4:

      I doubt Ballmer had much to do with the Windows NT BSOD … that is until he became CEO and it evolved back into something far more friendly like this:

          • It may be more friendly but far less useful in what information it says.
            The blue screens on those computers in the main pictures are 0x101 which are caused by clock interrupts not being processed, alright that’s all the information you can get without using a debugger but on other crashes where other parameters help identify the cause without a debugger is far more useful than a sad face with a single error code.
            I’ll give you an example, on the 0x7A bugcheck (I’ll not go into detail.) you can’t just rely on the error code itself (KERNEL_DATA_INPAGE_ERROR) as there are lots of different causes. However, the second parameter shows you the reason for the error (the exception).

            The error code could be 0xC000000E or 0xC000009D indicating a loose cables to your drive or a failing HDD. On the other hand if the error code is 0xC000009A it means there were insufficient resources available in the nonpaged pool region in memory, hence the crash.
            This can help identify the cause when a dump file isn’t made, it points us in the right direction.

            When using Windows 8, all you get is the stop error code and a sad face, if no dump files are produced then it could be a vast number of things which makes it a lot more difficult and time consuming.

    • That’s it’s intended purpose. It’s not supposed to be some kind of fluffy error message that you just hit cancel to and continue playing solitaire. It does that because the OS has encountered something fatally wrong, it cannot work anymore, the only way to fix it (at that point in time) is to reboot and try again.

      The reasons for the specifics of the message vary, things like the fact it takes over the whole screen, and is text based, it because you still need to show an error message when you don’t necessarily have the ability to draw fancy windows. It returns the information it has on hand to assist with diagnosing errors, some times that can be the only information you’re able to get out of the system, it needs to be there.

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