THROWBACK THURSDAY: Blue Screen of Death

If you remember computing in the 1990s, you remember the “Blue Screen of Death.” It was a notice that something in your computer had failed — either hardware or software — in a way that was so unrecoverable that the computer had no choice but to stop immediately. The “Blue Screen of Death” was its last message before freezing up hard and requiring you to reboot with all your work totally lost.

For those who don’t remember, here’s a typical one:

Usually you got an arcane explanation that didn’t help you get your documents back at all, and you were down for anywhere from 10 minutes to 10 months while you were waiting to get back to work.

The blue screen of death wasn’t borne from nothing. And it was blue for a reason. Before the blue screen of death, there was “Abort, Retry, Fail?”

This was the message you got in the pre-Windows days when there was something wrong with either your floppy drive or hard drive. More often than not it meant you forgot to put the disk in, but if there was a disk there, it generally meant some very bad news for anything you had stored there.

Blue Screen

The screen was blue for a very simple reason. The message was displayed as simply as possible, to ensure that you could read it under almost any circumstance. That meant plain white text on a background that was black, red, blue, or green. White on black was still a fairly common occurrence during the boot process. Red and green were hard to read. That left one choice: blue.

Flash forward

Today’s computers have become so much more reliable and so much better at isolating programs that misbehave that you hardly ever see the old “BSOD” anymore, and it’s also gotten a tad more attractive:

This is the latest iteration of the blue screen. In early versions of Windows 11, it had a black background, but the developers decided to honor tradition and put it back to blue…

…as if that’s going to make you feel better.

It’s not just PCs

Mac computers have always had something like this:

but it’s been rare in the last 15 years since Apple introduced OS X.

At this point, the BSOD is almost totally gone from our daily lives. What does that mean? Well, means of course it’s time for a nostalgic gallery! I found one that brings back all the pain of past computing. At the same time, it keeps you savely ensconced in a modern operating system. Our friends at Techcrunch were proud to oblige. Take a look at this a gallery they call “27 old-school computer error screens that will fill you with anxiety.” It’s a nice gentle walk back to the days when computers were a little less of a sure thing. Yes, they posted it about five years ago, but it’s as much “fun” as it ever was. Enjoy!

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.