This claim recently came up in a Reddit post but linked to this article from news.softpedia.com which states:

Getting back to the Gates mug shot being used as the generic profile picture in Outlook 2010, Ars discovered that the silhouettes in the two photos are a perfect match. No confirmation from Microsoft has ever been offered on this, despite the obvious evidence that seems to indicate this is the case.

Since then, Microsoft has switched to other generic photos for its apps, so Outlook 2010 was the only version that featured Bill Gates’ mug shot for the People Pane. In Windows 10, for instance, the Mail app uses a generic circle that shows the sender’s initials, instead of a silhouette created using some employee’s photo.

Given the "evidence" of the picture below, I'm highly doubtful this is more than an urban legend. enter image description here

But I certainly wouldn't put it beyond some company employee to do such a thing as a running joke (with or without approval).

Given that the source is already dated, I wonder if evidence for or against this claim exists by now.

Edit: As far as I can tell, the only source to the story is the above cited ARStechnica article by Peter Bright and his (?) image comparison. I haven't found any independent source or validation so far.

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    What evidence are you looking for? (There seems to be a lot of evidence that the images are genuine, but not so much evidence for whether the silhouette is based off the mugshot, other than what you might assume by looking at them.)
    – Laurel
    Commented Sep 25, 2020 at 14:00
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    Did the police in 1977 use color photography for mugshots?
    – fraxinus
    Commented Sep 26, 2020 at 6:42
  • 3
    +1 for having something on this site that's not pouring gas on a conspiracy theory linked to hate movements Commented Sep 28, 2020 at 13:25
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    @fraxinus Why would they not? Kodak had been selling colour film for 20 years by that point. But if you doubt the authenticity of that extremely famous photo, that would be worthy of a separate question.
    – IMSoP
    Commented Sep 28, 2020 at 14:42
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    @fraxinus ... Kodak had been the subject of an antitrust action in the 1950s, after which color photography became much less expensive in the US. Certainly for consumer snapshot photography black and white film was uncommon by the mid seventies. It's not surprising that some departments switched to color before 1977.
    – phoog
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 5:51

1 Answer 1


While there has been no official confirmation from Microsoft of a connection between the two images (that I could find), we know that both images are real. For example Disable The People Pane In Outlook 2010 [How-To] has the same silhouette:

Shows the full interface including the outline

This video shows the same thing: Outlook 2010 People Pane.

The mugshot is from 1977 and can be found uncropped in Time (for example):

Side and front view

And here is a better comparison image from OES-UK to show how similar the images are:

Mugshot on outline

Either way, this would not have been the first time that Microsoft used the mugshot. In May 1998, Bill Gates used his mugshot in a speech “as proof that almost anything can be found on the Internet” (here’s the video; it’s 25 minutes in). The Albuquerque Journal quoted Microsoft spokesperson Dean Katz as saying “Bill thought the picture was kind of funny. He looks pretty youthful and shaggy-haired there”.

Brill’s Content in September 1998 reported (in the same issue that showed the mugshot on the cover), however, that Gates obtained the mugshot from New Mexico police.

  • 6
    Well, certainly +1 for verifying the authenticity of the images. It doesn't do much for adding addtional proof, but maybe it is the only that can be done. I was just hoping that such a fun-story would create or leave some sort of trace in history over time. After all, if it is true, there is at least one person that could confirm it.
    – BmyGuest
    Commented Sep 25, 2020 at 18:02
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    @BmyGuest perhaps that one person is Bill Gates himself, and he's disinclined to admit it? Commented Sep 25, 2020 at 20:51
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    @MarkRansom the use of the photo may as well be unauthorized by Bill Gates. Graphical designers behave sometimes like this.
    – fraxinus
    Commented Sep 26, 2020 at 6:40
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    A statistical analysis of the geometric closeness of the silhouettes could quantify the evidence that they are associated. If they were both available at an arbitrarily high resolution and they continued to match perfectly, that would make it asymptotically certain that the similarity is not coincidental. As it is, given that they match within some finite error, one could determine that the Outlook silhouette is more similar to this mug shot than to X% of frontal head-and-shoulders portraits from a large photo library. If say X% = 99.99%, this would be very strong circumstantial evidence.
    – nanoman
    Commented Sep 26, 2020 at 7:55
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    My intuition from visual inspection of the last comparison image is that the evidence is very strong, because the Outlook silhouette closely matches many specific shapes that would vary from one portrait to another: the width and slope of the shoulders, the right shoulder being slightly higher than the left shoulder, the extra-wide collar, and about a dozen protrusions/indentations in how the hair falls around the head. There are only 3 free parameters in the match (scale, x and y offset -- looks no rotation is needed).
    – nanoman
    Commented Sep 26, 2020 at 8:06

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