Skip to main content

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates admits Control+Alt+Delete was a "mistake"

Bill Gates has admitted that the familiar "Control+Alt+Delete" command was a "mistake."

During a far-reaching discussion at Harvard on 21 September, Gates was questioned about why the architects of the PC decided to go with the Control+Alt+Delete command. He said the decision was actually made by IBM.

"We could've had a single button, but the guy who did the IBM keyboard design didn't want to give us our single button," Gates said. "It was a mistake."

That guy, as GeekWire pointed out, is David Bradley, who designed the original IBM PC. During IBM's 20th anniversary of the IBM PC, Bradley said Control+Alt+Delete came about when PC architects were "trying to solve a development problem."

While testing software, it would often freeze, requiring a reboot. As a result, Bradley created a shortcut, which was Control+Alt+Delete.

Developers "originally intended it to be an Easter egg," Bradley continued, but news of the shortcut caught on. "It was like a five-minute job," he said, "I didn't realize I was going to create a cultural icon when I did it."

He then quipped "I may have invented it, but I think Bill made it famous."

"We did some very clever things" when developing the PC, Gates said last week, but Control+Alt+Delete was not one of them.

Gates went into a bit more detail about why such a command is necessary, regardless of the keyboard configuration. "When you turn your computer on, you're going to see some screens and eventually type your password in, you want to have something you do with the keyboard that is signaling to a very low level of the software – actually hard-coded in the hardware – that it really is bringing in the operating system you expect," Gates said.

The hour-long chat delved into the rise of Microsoft, Gates's current philanthropic efforts, his friendship with Warren Buffett, and more. The Control+Alt+Delete part of the discussion comes in around 16:30 in the video above.