Home / Computers/technology / Hacks / The History of CTRL + ALT + DELETE


Date: 2018-11-27

In today's society, the term "Just hit CTRL+ALT+DELETE," is definitely a well-known phrase but, the question is, have you ever thought where it all started? We'll tell you.

In the spring of 1981, Dr Dave Bradley was part of a select team working from a nondescript office building in Boca Raton. His task was to help build IBM's new personal computer. Due to Apple and RadioShack, that was already selling stand-alone computers, IBM's project (code name Acorn) was a bit of a rush job. Instead of the typical three-to five-year turnaround, Acorn had to be completed in a single year.

One of the biggest issues was that whenever the computer encountered a coding glitch, they had to manually restart the system. Turning the machine back on automatically initiated a series of memory tests, which stole valuable time. "Some days, you'd be rebooting every five minutes as you searched for the problem," says Bradley. The tedious tests made the coders want to pull their hair out.

So to fix the issue at hand, Bradley created a simple keyboard shortcut that triggered a system reset without the memory tests. He never dreamed that the simple fix would make him a programming hero, and he definitely did not foresee the command becoming such an integral part of the user experience.

Bradley joined IBM as a programmer in 1975, and by 1987 he was working on the Datamaster; the company's early, flawed attempt at a PC. In September 1980, he became the 12th of 12 engineers picked to work on Acorn. The close-knit team was whisked away from IBM's New York headquarters. "We had very little interference," Bradley says. "We got to do the design essentially starting with a blank sheet of paper."

Bradley worked on everything from writing input/output programs to troubleshooting wire-wrap boards. Five months into the project he created CTRL+ALT+DELETE. The task was just another item to tick off his to-do list. "It was five minutes, 10 minutes of activity, and then I moved on to the next of the 100 things that needed to get done," he says. Bradley never intended to make the shortcut available to customers, nor did he expect it to enter the pop lexicon. It was meant for him and his fellow coders, for whom every second counted.

However, it was not until the early 1990s, when Microsoft's Windows took off, that the shortcut came to prominence. As PCs all over the country crashed and the infamous "blue screen of death" plagued Windows users, a quick fix spread from friend to friend: CTRL+ALT+DELETE. Suddenly, Bradley's little code was a big deal. Journalists hailed "the three-finger salute" as a saving grace for PC owners – a population that kept growing.

Dr Dave, the programmer, has always been surprised by how popular those five minutes spent creating CTRL+ALT+DELETE has changed the way customers use Microsoft products. "I have to share the credit," Bradley joked. "I may have invented it, but I think Bill made it famous."

Have a look at the video below to learn more about the history of CTRL+ALT+DELETE.

Loading More...