Bill Gates: Ctrl + Alt + Delete was a mistake, should have made it one button

If Bill Gates had a time machine, he would like to “Ctrl + Alt + Delete” the Ctrl + Alt + Delete command from existence.

The famous Windows command, which activates when all three buttons are pressed at the same time, opens a task manager to interrupt a running function. The command — nicknamed the “three-fingered salute” — has been adopted in Apple’s Macintosh operating systems, but using slightly different buttons for similar functions.

Despite its current ubiquity, Gates reportedly said if he could do it again, the command would just be one button.

“If I could make one small edit I would make that a single-key operation,” said Gates.

Get tech news in your inbox weekday mornings. Sign up for the free Good Morning Silicon Valley newsletter.

Gates was pressed about Ctrl + Alt + Delete at the Bloomberg Global Business Forum on Wednesday by Carlyle Group co-founder and CEO David Rubenstein, according to Quartz. At first, Gates deflected responsibility.

“Clearly, the people involved should have put another key on to make that work,” said Gates. “You can’t go back and change the small things in your life without putting the other things at risk.”

It is not the first time Gates admitted to his disdain of Ctrl + Alt + Delete. In 2013 at his alma mater Harvard, Gates said the command was a “mistake” and placed blame on IBM and its engineer David Bradley, who created the command.

“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,” Gates said. “We programmed at a low level — it was a mistake.”

Bradley, too, admitted that Ctrl + Alt + Delete was created on a whim in a nondescript office in Boca Raton, Florida, on a forgotten day in the spring of 1981.

“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,” said Bradley.

Photo: Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates in 2008.  (Bebeto Matthews/AP)


Tags: ,


Share this Post

  • joel_in_oakland

    OK, fine. But what’s the problem? In the 25 years or so since W3.1 I’ve never had an issue or thought twice this command.

    Now, putting the copy and paste keyboard commands on adjacent keys… Can’t tell you how many times I’ve accidentally hit ctrl-c again instead of ctrl-v, thus copying a blank space or stuff I wanted to get rid of.

    And… one that’s not too far out of the barn – and maybe now fixed? – is W7’s “shut down” button that actually does start shut down. After a couple decades of clicking on “start” to get the various shut down choices (sure, it’s a fine target for ridicule but never caused me a single problem; I mean, who actually *reads* the type after the first 100 uses… or 50, or 25? – you just click on the place you’re supposed to click on. Problem? I don’t think so) now I have to remember to click on the option arrow (after lo, these many years). And the system’s picky about about exactly how I move the cursor to the option I want. That’s *really* annoying.

    Maybe that’s a glitch that’s worked itself into my system (can’t remember if it’s been there since I changed from XP to W7), but if not, that “software engineer” should be put in charge of marketing. Then their incompetence would provide entertainment rather than frustration.

  • TechEntrepreneurInTexas

    I wonder if Mr. Gates’ memory is beginning to fade. For many years, Ctrl-Alt-Delete did not start the Task Manager but *immediately* re-booted the system. Imagine how much trouble accidentally hitting a single button and triggering a re-boot would have caused. I think most graybeard techies have understood and appreciated the origin of the “three-button salute”