The 25 Most Notable Quotes in Tech History

Legendary sound bites that made sense, made history--or just made us laugh.

By  |  Monday, November 9, 2009 at 11:53 pm

5. Unnamed dog sitting at a computer:

On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog

Googleosity: 2,000,000

Quote type: Insightful, amusing epigram

Circumstances of origin: In a New Yorker cartoon by Peter Steiner in the July 5th, 1993 issue

Why it’s notable: Steiner’s cartoon–whose caption is endlessly riffed upon to this day, often by folks who probably can’t identify where it came from–neatly summarizes the democratizing effect of the Internet. In retrospect, it’s amazing that it did it sixteen years ago–before Netscape, before Yahoo, and before many Americans had ever logged onto the Net at all.

4. Elwood Edwards, husband of an early AOL employee:

You've got mail!--Elwood Edwards

Googleosity: 2,040,000

Quote type: Time-honored WAV file.

Circumstances of origin: Recorded in 1989 on a cassette recorder; debuted with AOL 1.0 in 1989

Why it’s notable: Edwards, a broadcast-industry veteran and husband of an early America Online employee, is the voice behind the three words that have been heard billions of times by millions of people over the past twenty years. (He was also responsible for the less iconic “Welcome,” and “Goodbye,” and “File’s done!”) “You’ve got mail!” is as emblematic of AOL as the surging sea of demo disks it once pelted us with; it was made into a movie and continues to serve as the inspiration for maybe half of all headlines relating to AOL. In short, it’s hard to imagine AOL without it.

3. George W. Bush, president of the United States:

I hear there's rumors on the Internets that we're going to have a draft.Googleosity: 2,400,000

Quote type: Political blather.

Circumstances of origin: Uttered by the 43rd president during a presidential debate on October 8th, 2004. He also referred to “the Internets” during a debate on October 17th, 2000 and in an interview on May 2nd, 2007.

Why it’s notable: It may have been a simple slip of the tongue–okay, one made repeatedly over the course of years–but “the Internets” and its variant, “the Interwebs,” have transcended simple memehood. On much of the Internet, the terms are used in discussion of Internet-related matters that isn’t otherwise particularly wacky. I wonder if the former president knows he gave the Net this little gift, and if so, what he makes of it?

2. Al Gore, vice president of the United States:

During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.Googleosity: 3,490,000

Quote type: Political blather.

Circumstances of origin: During an interview on CNN’s Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, March 9th, 1999.

Why it’s notable: Want to take a convenient cheap shot at the 45th vice president of the United States ? Join the untold legions who have accused him of having claimed to be the inventor of the Internet. Hoax-debunking site says that Gore “did not claim he ‘invented’ the Internet, nor did he say anything that could reasonably be interpreted that way.” Well, maybe–taken literally, Gore’s words do seem to say that he was a co-creator of the Internet, at least. (Originally known as ARPANET, the Internet went online in October 1969, when Gore was a recent college graduate.) As a Congressman and Senator, the famously tech-savvy Gore did play a major role in communications policy; if he had said he’d been instrumental in “developing” or “expanding” the Net rather than “creating” it, his statement would have unassailable–and it wouldn’t be in this article.

1. An intergalactic villain in Zero Wing, a 1991 videogame:

All your base are belong to us.Quote type: Botched translation.

Googleosity: 11,800,000

Circumstances of origin: It’s a piece of threatening dialog in the European edition of a Japanese game for Sega’s Mega Drive (aka Genesis) game console. Wikipedia helpfully provides the following improved translation: “With the help of the Federation Government forces, CATS has taken all of your bases.”

Why it’s notable: Beginning in early 2001, it became the most pervasive Internet meme this side of Rickrolling. It continues to flourish, spawning thousands of variants in discussions of everything from politics to public utilities to sports. Most of the people who riff on it can presumably tell you it originated in a game. But the percentage who can tell you which game–let alone who have actually seen it–is probably minuscule.

Any nominations of notable quotes I failed to include here–including ones that deserve to be better known than they are?

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66 Comments For This Post

  1. OHaleck Says:

    How about Bill Gates' "That must be why we're not shipping Windows 98 yet"?

  2. Chip Says:

    Steve Ballmer: “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance."

  3. Brian Says:

    "If I were running Apple, I would milk the Macintosh for all it's worth — and get busy on the next great thing. The PC wars are over. Done. Microsoft won a long time ago."

    Steve Jobs, As quoted in Fortune (1996-02-19)

    And, what nobody's noticed is that he's doing exactly this.

  4. Mark Says:


  5. Jared Says:

    You have no chance to survive make your time.

    … sorry I can never resist. Move zig.

  6. Z Says:

    Thank you for posting more than one quote per page! Nice post overall.

  7. Backlin Says:

    And there’s always the classic, “What do you mean this computer is late? It’s five years ahead of its time!”

  8. Tech Says:

    “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer at home” LOL Ken Olsen is really eating his words. Forget the home, people have computers in their pockets.

  9. tom b Says:

    October 6, 1997: “And at the Gartner Symposium and ITxpo97 here today, the CEO of competitor Dell Computer added his voice to the chorus when asked what could be done to fix the Mac maker. His solution was a drastic one.

    “What would I do? I’d shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders,” Michael Dell said before a crowd of several thousand IT executives. “

  10. Thomas Says:

    Bill Gates: “No one will need more than 637 kb of memory for a personal computer.” it may have been said in the early 1970s

  11. NanoGeek Says:


    That quote is often attributed to Bill Gates, but I’ve heard that he never really said it.
    Could be wrong though.

  12. Dan Palacios Says:

    And I, for one, welcome our new insect [or insert technology here] overlords

    as quoted from the Simpsons.

  13. Robert Says:

    Re: "You've got mail." In documenting this clearly memorable tech phrase, you really should have noted it's poor grammer. It has trained a generation in bad English. If you expand the contraction "You've" you get "You have got mail." There's no need for the "got" — it's redundant. The simple statement "You have mail." is all that's needed — and could have been delivered with the same excited intonation for the same effect.

  14. jpaul Says:

    Ah ah, it's not "grammer", it's "grammAr" 😉 !

  15. Andrew Says:

    The infamous John C. Dvorak quote: “The Macintosh uses an experimental pointing device called a ‘mouse’. There is no evidence that people want to use these things. I dont want one of these new fangled devices.”

  16. Bertolomie Says:

    I really, really like this article. Excellent work, Harry. One of your best, freshest Technologizer pieces yet!

  17. Michael Peck Says:

    Of course, lost in all this idiotic “Jobs was right!” hurrah-nonsense is the fact that at the time, Jobs pooh-poohed the Macintosh efforts in favor of his own Lisa.

    Which did not ship.

  18. Rolf.Breuer Says:

    Did not ship? Check the facts. I still say I had a "mouse interface" 2 years before everybody else. Yes – it did cost me 32,000 Deutsch Marks in 1983 but I loved it. (Some would say I had to.)
    The software was amazing and BTW – when I sold it in 1986 I had made all my money back. A week later and now in California, I bought a Mac Plus for $2,500…

  19. Clive Says:

    I think the best Bill Gates quote is “I believe OS/2 is destined to be the most important operating system, and possibly program, of all time.”

    It is the opening sentence of the foreword to the “OS/2 Programmers Guide”.

  20. Daryl Says:

    I can’t believe you missed Charles Wright’s summing-up of the Amiga computer in some computer magazine review many, many years ago: “Adults don’t need colour.”

    This at a time when the world was filled with 8-bit, monochrome “IBM-compatibles”!

  21. Walter M. Clark Says:

    @Michael Peck, while the Apple Lisa was a commercial failure it most assuredly did ship. I passed on taking a job at a school district in 1984 with one of the jewels dangled in front of me the fact that they’d recently bought a Lisa to use for attendance projections.

  22. Irreverent Says:

    @Michael Peck: you’re wrong on every count. Not only did the Apple Lisa most certainly ship, but you are also way off the mark regarding Jobs’ attitude toward the Mac. He was the biggest Mac proponent at Apple from pretty much day 1 (read something like Andy Hertzfeld’s “Revolution in the Valley” to uncross your wires on this issue). To be honest I don’t know how you managed to cram so much misinformation into such a small post. Can I say “You’ve got fail”?

  23. John Richardson Says:

    For me, the best tech comment ever was by Walter Cronkite. In his TV series “The Twentieth Century” he visited the Jet Propulsion Labs in California. There the programmers, as a technology demonstration, had programmed an early computer- probably a PDP 8, to play a video game that resembled “Asteroids”. This was at a time when most people interfaced with their computer through a deck of punched cards. Cronkite looked at the row of refrigerator-sized computers running the game and speculated “Who knows, maybe some day we’ll have games like this in our own homes.”

    At the time, I thought he was crazy. Nothing that cool could ever happen.

  24. Idrankthekoolaid Says:

    It was Jobs who said 64K was enough and he said it about the Macintosh.

  25. Dave Says:

    “One more thing” isn’t Jobs’ own phrase; he’s just quoting (perhaps mis-quoting) Columbo, who always used to pull that trick on suspects.

  26. SofaKing Says:

    Columbo: Oh, just one more thing…

  27. Pat Says:

    “Linux is a cancer” – Steve Balmer 2001

  28. Arby Says:

    Proof of Bill Gates "640k" comment is in the recordings of a speech he gave at Waterloo University (Ontario Canada) in the late 80's or early 90's. These recordings are available out there.

  29. Michael McDonald Says:

    Speaking of Ken Olsen's forthrightness, I remember a front-page story in a trade weekly, maybe ten years ago, which quoted him to the effect that DEC's financial difficulties were a good thing, becouse they provided an opportunity to "get rid of the riff-raff".

  30. JP Says:

    “PC Load Letter”

  31. wizarddrummer Says:

    “nothing would please me more than to be able to hire ten programmers and deluge the hobby market with good software.”

    Well Gates got it half right … hired more than ten programmers and then deluged the market with bug ridden crappy software!

  32. wizarddrummer Says:

    Gates is usually said to have made the claim that the IBM PC’s 640K of RAM was sufficient at a 1981 microcomputer trade show,
    What was completely retarded about how they implemented this was that the USER portion was BEFORE the Operating system instead of the other way around.

    Because of this massive stupidity we had to have memory “go arounds” for years with expanded memory and extended memory in the mix.

    It was horrible. I hated programming in the early DOS days. Unix was so far superior that there wasn’t even a notable chart worthy comparison; but the “best” does not always win!

  33. jpaul Says:

    What about the Little Britain meme "The computer says 'No'!" ?

  34. marko Says:

    I find that everything has its variety and everything goes according to consumer taste

  35. Nick Says:

    What about "My Name Is Macintosh?"

  36. GADEL Says:

    Interesting quotes.

  37. Tube Worm Says:

    "I just think he and Microsoft are a bit narrow. He'd be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger." Jobs on Gates / MS

  38. Michael Says:

    "Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons"; popular mechanics, 1949

  39. DaveA Says:

    Many moons ago, I was using a beta for AppleLink Personal Edition, which I think eventually became AOL. The You've got mail sound was in a very young child's voice. Very cute. I know I looked thru old floppies once, trying to find that sound, but couldn't. Maybe I can use The Google to try to find it on the interwebs.

  40. Dave Says:

    "No wireless. Less space than a Nomad. Lame." Rob Malda, on the iPod at its release in 2001.

  41. LauRoman Says:

    Actually the "One more thing…" quote is another thing Steve stole or (innovated) as his followers would put it. There was a famous glass-eyed italian-american police detective that was using the phrase a long time before mr Jobs. The actor playing that detective died a little over 2 months ago.

  42. Cactus Wren Says:

    "Have you got a prediction for us, UNIVAC?"

    — Walter Cronkite, November 4th, 1952. UNIVAC most assuredly did: it predicted that Dwight D. Eisenhower would get 438 electoral votes and Adlai Stevenson would get only 93. CBS found this so implausible that UNIVAC's prediction did not air live. Hours later the numbers were reported — but not until after what pollsters had forecast as a very tight race turned into an Eisenhower landslide, with the official count being 442 electoral votes for Ike, 92 for Stevenson.

  43. tool steel Says:

    This is an affecting point of view on this topic. I am happy you shared your ideas and I find myself agreeing.

  44. James W Says:

    If you make a technology statement today, you should expect that ten years from now, people will be laughing at you.

  45. James W Says:

    Funny how we had computers with slots that were the size of refrigerators and had graphics that were so pathetic that it required a vivid imagination to play them.

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  48. jones123peter Says:

    My favorite “oops, I wish I never said that” quote is Michael Dell’s “shut it down and give the money back to shareholders” advice to Apple. Of course, this was circa 1997 when Apple was in quite dire straits.
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  51. kelly grundy Says:

    Some great and funny quotes there, many things we say come back to haunt us eventually

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  53. dss Says:

    I am in closer agreement with you than Robert

    "You have mail" would be true if you haven't deleted all the mail you have ever received. You still have some.

    "You've got mail" means mail has arrived – informing you that you have received mail since the last time you looked.

  54. Freddy Says:

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  55. Marky Says:

    An then there is this Quote: "Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons"
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  58. Stanley Says:

    I actually miss "Clippy"! It was a nice feeling that there was something livving in my computer and was always there to help….euhm…annoy me 😉 Winther Kinderbus

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  60. Xyzzy Says:

    1. Here's another notable quote: "Do you want to play a game?" – Wargames

    2. "Originally known as ARPANET, the Internet went online in October 1969 …"

    No: ARPANET was the 1st WAN, connecting California & Utah. The word "internet" was defined in the mid-70s as a theoretical global TCP/IP network — and the final links were connected to form *the* Internet around the very late 80s.

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