The 5 Worst Error Messages in the History of Technology

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.

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.

HIndous A fatal except io E bas occurred at 928:0811136 In UXD UMMC81) 9R1936. The current applicat on uLit he terninated Press anU key to terninate t

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.

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"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.

LETTER LOAD PC Size Paper Ready Feed
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?

The 5 Worst Error Messages in the History of Technology
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Wrong, asshole. OK, then. Let's back up. This is a printer problem. What printer things could "PC" mean? "Printer Cartridge"?

02 10A IST th
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.

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.

The 5 Worst Error Messages in the History of Technology
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.

Check Engine Light

The Check Engine Light is kind of the Red Ring of Death for automobiles.

40 -20 - Hy 20 CHECK mph
Wikiuser100000, via Wikimedia Commons

"Why did we buy a car from Microsoft again?"

Well, that's maybe a bit much; when the Check Engine Light comes on, that doesn't mean your car has died. It just means it's time to put some tape over the Check Engine Light.

40 20 20 mph
Wikiuser100000, via Wikimedia Commons

Lifehacking with Cracked.

But, if you don't want your car to soon sound like someone feeding an aluminum ladder into a lawnmower, the Check Engine Light is an excellent clue that you should probably check your engine.

If only it were so easy.

Why It's So Frustrating:

It's Going to Cost You Hella Dolla Dolla Bills

The Check Engine Light might as well be a little glowing dollar sign, because cars are not known for being cheap to fix. First, there's no online forum that tells you what your Check Engine Light (illuminated, kind of yellowish) means. If you have a code scanner, you could connect it to your car and find the problem, but that's already costing you money. And that's just to find the problem, not fix it. Because there sure as fuck isn't a free program you can download that will replace your head gasket for you.

The 5 Worst Error Messages in the History of Technology Images

"I would pay up to $2.99 for an app that would buy and replace an O2 sensor for a '98 Jetta. Your move, free market."

The Check Engine Light is essentially the herald of big, cash money hardware problems. And because it doesn't say much, it gets really unsettling staring at it as the miles tick by. Will it only be a couple hundred bucks to fix? Or 50 hundred bucks? Can you make it to work? Can you make it home after? That's what the Check Engine Light signifies. A world of unknown financial hurt and the possibility of getting stranded miles from your loved ones. Nothing's more worrying and frustrating than that.

The 5 Worst Error Messages in the History of Technology
Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images

Unless you have a really unhappy home life, in which case maybe it's welcome news.

Abort, Retry, Fail

For those of you that never experienced the joy of working with a DOS prompt, I'll summarize it thusly: Colons were extremely important, things disappeared off the top of the screen all the time, and if a friend suggested you try typing in "FORMAT C:" he wasn't really your friend. It combined all the excitement of making typos with the fun of eye strain, and there's a reason no one uses it any more.

Enter todau's date n-d-ul: 08-04-81 The IEM Persont Conputer DOS Ures lon 1.0n (CICopuright 1 Corp 1981 A>dir -.cor IRMEIO COM 1920 07-23-81 IBMDNS CO

Windows 98 was vastly better than this, and it was just awful.

DOS was also notable for having an error message that it would barf up essentially every time something happened, good or bad. "Abort, Retry, Fail?" was its name, and if you used DOS for more than about five minutes you were guaranteed to see it.

C:DIR A: Not ready reading drive A Abort, Retry, Fail?

It'd most commonly show up if your computer was missing a disk, had too many disks, or had exactly the right number of disks.

Why It's So Frustrating:

It Became an Unsolvable Riddle

The most sinister thing about Abort, Retry, Fail? was that it gave you options. Not just an error message, but a command prompt. The situation was still under your control! Sure, two of the options seemed to be identical -- is "abort" different from "fail"? How? Also, all of the options did the exact same thing, which was this:

C:DIR A: Not ready reading drive A Abort, Retry, Fail? Abort, Retry, Fail? Abort, Retry, Fail? Abort. Retry, Fail? Abort. Retry, Fail? Abort, Retry, F

"Wait. Let's try "abort" again. I ... oh damnit."

There were supposedly ways around it, but not even experienced computer nerds could remember what they were. So every appearance of Abort Retry, Fail? became a new, unsolvable mystery.

Wait. A puzzle that defeated the greatest minds of an age? That sounds familiar. Abort Retry, Fail? was the Gordian Knot of computer errors.

The 5 Worst Error Messages in the History of Technology
Zedcor Wholly Owned/ Images

And putting a sword through your computer was far from the least popular way to handle it.

Chris Bucholz is a Cracked columnist and your best friend. Join him on Facebook or Twitter and make him reconsider that.

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