The origin of CTRL-ALT-DELETE

You may not have ever thought about it, but the far-too-often-used keyboard combination of Control + Alt + Delete had to have been brought into existence by some random coder at some point in technological history. But wait, it wasn’t just a random coder. The keystroke combo is attributed to [David Bradley]. He was one of the original designers of the IBM Personal Computer. You can even hear his own recount of the story in the video after the break.

He came up with the idea after growing weary of waiting for the Power-On Self Test (POST) routine to finish during each reboot of his software testing regiment. We remember the old days of slow hardware and can understand his frustration at the lost time. He decided to throw in a shortcut that allowed the software to reboot without power cycling the hardware. The original implementation used CTRL-ALT-ESC, but was later changed so that one frustrated keyboard mash couldn’t accidentally reboot the system.

[via Gizmodo]

[Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]

32 thoughts on “The origin of CTRL-ALT-DELETE

  1. I’m ashamed to admit i never wondered about this. Just one of those things that was so embedded in my day-to-day (least in windows 95) I never even thought about it.

  2. in your picture you use the left control and alt

    i use the right control and alt so i can do it with one hand

    how many people use the left vs the right?

  3. The original keyboard of the IBM PC looked nothing like the one on this article. There’s a more accurate picture on Wikipedia:

    As you can see, there was no way to do the “three finger salute” with one hand on that one.

    More info about IBM keyboards here:

    http://www.quadibloc.com/comp/kyb03.htm

    ===Jac

  4. For some reason I almost always use my left hand for ctrl-alt and my right hand for delete. The right hand 3-finger method is just clumsy and pretty much requires that you look at the keyboard.

  5. I just use Ctrl+Shift+Esc and have always used that. I just assumed (since it was easier) that it was the original).

  6. Hey, you left out the very best part of the wikipedia article:

    [quote]Bradley is also known for his good-natured jab at Bill Gates, at that time the CEO of Microsoft, and also the creator of many of Microsoft’s programs: “I may have invented Control-Alt-Delete, but Bill Gates made it famous”
    [/quote]

  7. Hahaha, I think the joke was totally accidental, yet it was the most hilarious thing I’ve heard in a while. Nice post, thanks.

  8. You know your a computer nerd when your the only one in the room cackling at the joke at bill’s expense. (this just happened to me, had to explain the joke to a couple ppl.)

  9. “He came up with the idea after growing weary of waiting for the Power-On Self Test (POST) routine to finish during each reboot of his software testing -regiment-.”

    I don’t mean to be a grammer Nazi, but the word you meant was regimen, not regiment. A regiment is a military unit.

  10. The Apple II had soft reset button on the keyboard, with a setting to also require the CTRL key to be pressed. It was still too easy to accidentally hit that combo, and I’m sure that was reflected in IBM’s three finger salute design.

  11. you need 2 fingers to break an apple II, 3 to reset it … It was sorta easy to do on the older keyboard design (I guess, I never had an issue as I generally dont meat hand my keyboards), but maybe not so much on the newer apple II keyboards where reset is off in left field and it takes an extra stretch to get your pinky out there

  12. I took an embedded programming class lead by him in college at NCSU. He had some notoriety in the engineering dept due to his IBM days and the ctrl+alt+del addition. He was kind of a lazy professor, but his stories were entertaining.

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