Fact Check: Rumor Has It Microsoft Outlook 2010's Default Profile Pic Was a Silhouette Based on Bill Gates' 1977 Mug Shot



The silhouette of a person's head used as the default profile icon for Microsoft Outlook 2010 was based on a police mug shot taken of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates in 1977.


Rating: Research In Progress
Rating: Research In Progress

The outline of the default profile icon for Microsoft Outlook's 2010 program has long been compared to the silhouette of a 1977 mugshot of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. We looked into the claim and found that while the similarity is striking, neither Microsoft nor Gates himself has officially responded to the claim, much less confirmed its accuracy.

In 1977, Bill Gates was arrested in Albuquerque, New Mexico for running a red light and driving without a license. The Harvard drop-out was 21 or 22 at the time, and he publicly spoke about the incident in a 2007 profile for Time Magazine.

More than 30 years later, Microsoft Outlook 2010 was released. Within months, a site called Ars Technica published a piece [archived here] pointing out the similarity between the two outlines, including a side by side visual comparison.


The Ars Technica article made the following assertion:

That isn't just anyone's silhouette, however. Our eagle-eyed editor-in-chief, Ken Fisher, noticed that the silhouette has a striking resemblance to one William H. Gates III. Quite how he noticed this is anybody's guess—we suspect he has a framed picture of the Microsoft founder and philanthropist mounted on his wall.

And it's not just any old picture of Bill Gates that some cheeky Outlook developer has used. Oh no. It's a picture from one of the man's finest moments. It's the picture taken in Albuquerque, New Mexico, way back in 1977, when he was arrested for a driving offense, the exact nature of which is lost to the sands of time. It's the man's mug-shot.

Over the years, numerous posts have made the same claim on multiple sites, including Reddit, Instagram, and Facebook.

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From our own previous investigation, we know that the mugshot itself is authentic. The Microsoft Outlook 2010 default profile icon is also authentic; it can be found on an official Microsoft webpage. (We don't know exactly when Microsoft stopped using the silhouette for this purpose, but it is absent from the 2021 release of Outlook.)


We reached out to Microsoft for confirmation, and have not yet received a response, as of this writing. This story will be updated upon receiving confirmation or comment from Microsoft.

In sum, because neither Microsoft nor Gates himself has publicly addressed this speculation and we have not yet received a response confirming or denying the similarity of the two images, this claim is rated "Research in Progress."


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Staff, Ars. 'Is That Bill Gates Staring Back at You from Outlook 2010?' Ars Technica, 24 Sept. 2010, https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2010/09/bill-gates-staring-back-at-you-from-outlook-2010/.