The 5 Worst Error Messages in the History of Technology

Error messages are a necessary evil. We live in a world filled with complicated things that break in complicated ways. If we're all being honest with ourselves, we can admit we're fortunate to live in an age with computers and fancy toys, considering our grandparents were essentially still banging rocks together to start fires. Also using them as furniture. Clothes? Rocks.

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Everything in this picture is a rock.

So if it seems kind of childish to make fun of the error messages that come with our fantastic lives, just remember that that's all we really do around here. With that clear, here then are five of the most frustrating, completely bullshit error messages that have ever existed.

Interestingly, not all of them are for Microsoft products.

#5. Blue Screen of Death

This one is, though. Possibly the most famous of all error messages, the Blue Screen of Death was how Windows spectacularly died, most prominently in the Windows 95/98 era.

For a couple years in the late '90s, this was essentially the desktop.

That isn't playful exaggeration; the Blue Screen of Death was an everyday occurrence. Famously, one showed up when Bill Gates was actually giving a demonstration of Windows 98. You know. To sell it.

"Ha ha ha," the world laughed. "Windows sure is terrible. Let's use nothing but it."

Why It's So Frustrating:

It Doesn't Tell You Anything

The most frustrating thing about the Blue Screen of Death is how little it tells you, giving you no real indication why your computer crashed or how to fix it. Fatal Exception 0E? What the hell does that even mean? Has my computer been drinking again?

Obviously, this complaint can apply to lots of error messages, with their cryptic hashcodes and core dumps and other gibberish. All information is basically useless to anyone who'd actually see the error message. A regular computer user doesn't know what it means. A regular computer user's cousin Kenny (who's pretty good with computers) doesn't know what it means. Tech Support doesn't know what it means. It sort of could be the kind of information that a Microsoft programmer could use, but they sure didn't want to fucking read it.

Comstock/Getty Images
"What's that you say? A bug in Windows 98? Fuck you. We tried."

These kinds of error messages do serve a purpose, but only when the software is still being developed, when programmers are actively trying to fix these bugs. But once they've given up and shipped it, these messages are close to useless. Having the screen go black while playing a long farting sound that changes pitch twice would serve the same purpose.


PC LOAD LETTER was a not-so-helpful error message found on various HP LaserJet printers and a familiar companion to basically anyone who worked in an office a decade or so ago.

DuffDudeX1 via Wikimedia Commons
Hello, dear friend.

This showed up when the printer refused to print and, once you knew what it meant, was pretty easy to fix and get the printer running again. But if you'd never seen it before, you might be there scratching your head/ass for a little while.

Why It's So Frustrating:

Because It Tells You the Wrong Thing

I'm going to give you a little quiz. What do the letters "PC" usually mean? "Politically Correct," yes, of course, thank you Ms. Smart Ass. But in the context of computers and offices, "PC" always means "Personal Computer." It's shorthand we use to mean computer, right?

Aidon/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Wrong, asshole. OK, then. Let's back up. This is a printer problem. What printer things could "PC" mean? "Printer Cartridge"?

Inkspots via Wikimedia Commons

Stop embarrassing yourself, moron. Do you give up? Or at least want me to stop calling you childish names? OK then, I'll tell you.

"PC," in this case, stands for "Paper Cassette," which every human being on the planet (and quite possibly the HP manual) calls the "Paper Tray." This is what this error message is telling you to load letter size (8.5" x 11") paper into.

"Bucholz," I hear you saying. "You colossal dickfarm. That's not that hard to decipher. I mean, if something isn't printing, and it's asking for letter size paper--shit. Why not check the paper tray?" And that's pretty reasonable, except what if you happen to work in a country that doesn't use letter size paper? Other than North America, most countries in the world use paper sizes like A4. For a few reasons, people in other countries still would commonly see this error message and wonder why the heck the printer was so interested in their correspondence.

#3. Red Ring of Death

For the first two or three years after its launch, somewhere in the neighborhood of one in four Xbox 360s would just up and die. It would announce this calamity by festively illuminating its set of circular LEDs a bright, Christmassy red.

Droobey, via Wikimedia Commons
Except this Christmas takes your toys away. Bizarro Christmas, then.

To their credit, Microsoft did end up expanding its warranty program to address the issue and try to do right by their customers. Though, as they also built and sold a video game console that was made entirely out of hot turds, we probably shouldn't let them completely off the hook.

Why It's So Frustrating:

There Was No Way You Could Fix It

Most computer errors aren't that hard to fix. Whether it's rebooting it or taking a half-hour to read some forums and download a free tool, we can do most of this ourselves, using nothing more than a bit of knowledge or time. But if you saw a Red Ring of Death, there was no way you could fix it; no amount of blowing on it would make this thing work again. Your $250 toy was toast, and you'd have to send it back to Microsoft for a new one.

Evan-amos via Wikimedia Commons
Which was, more often than not, a used one, because this is still Microsoft we're talking about. It's a small miracle they didn't send back a blender and a Windows ME CD.

Hardware problems are always more frustrating than software problems, because there's nothing to be done but return it, and that's probably going to involve getting out of your chair. Days or weeks of downtime are the norm, and because video game players aren't known for their ability to delay gratification, the Red Ring of Death became one of the most hated error messages of all time.

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Chris Bucholz

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