Bill Gates: Control-Alt-Delete Was a Mistake

The IBM keyboard designer didn’t want to give us a single button, reveals Gates.

Bill Gates: Control-Alt-Delete Was a Mistake

David Bradley, the designer of the original IBM PC and the inventor of the Control-Alt-Delete key combination to reboot a system, famously poked fun at Bill Gates on stage at IBM’s 20th anniversary of the IBM PC event in 2001.


“I may have invented it, but Bill made it famous,” Bradley said. The audience laughed and applauded but Gates looked far from amused.

More than 10 years later, Gates has admitted that forcing users to press the random key combination was a mistake. Speaking at an interview at a Harvard fundraising campaign, Gates said: “We could have had a single button, but the guy who did the IBM keyboard design didn’t want to give us our single button.”

He also explained the logic behind selecting that particular key combination. “You want to have something you do with the keyboard that is signaling to a very low level of the software,” he said. “Something that is actually hard-coded in the hardware–that it really is bringing in the operating system you expect, instead of just a funny piece of software that puts up a screen that looks like a log-in screen, and then it listens to your password and then it’s able to do that.”

While pressing Control-Alt-Delete in Windows 8 brings the user back to the lock screen that can be used to lock a machine or access the task manager, it can still be used in Windows 7 and Windows XP to log on to the system.

Bradley has said in an interview that he doesn’t really know why Microsoft decided to make his invention their log-in command. We hope he’s satisfied now.

[Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

About the author

Pranav Dixit has written about everything from megalomaniacal Bollywood stars to Mughal history as a reporter in New Delhi. But secretly, he has always wanted to cover technology.