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IBM PC inventor explains how Control + Alt + Delete was born

submitted by Greater IBM Editor on 04/26/2011

Ah, control + alt + delete. CTRL + ALT + DEL for short. On the Mac, its a little more complicated: Command + Option + The Media Eject Key. Still, they all do the same thing they reboot your computer without yanking the cable out of the wall or hammering a physical button. You probably never gave the actual provenance of Control + Alt + Delete much thought. Clearly, its a shortcut birthed by some coder or another in the early days of computer lore, but you probably assumed that the guy who actually invented Control + Alt + Delete had his name forgotten by history because ultimately no one cared. Youd be wrong. In fact, the inventor of the Control + Alt + Delete keystroke combination didnt have his name forgotten by computer history at all. Hes just better known for other things. His name is David Bradley, and hes one of the inventors of the original IBM Personal Computer (PC).

In this video, you can hear David Bradley give a fascinating interview with Bill Gates in which he explains how he came up with the idea for the reboot keystroke. According to Bradley, he originated the idea for a keyboard-based shortcut for rebooting a system because he grew weary of waiting for the PowerOn Self Test, or POST, to finish during each reboot. What Bradley wanted to do was come up with a way for a system to reboot itself without power cycling the hardware, necessitating going through the lengthy POST process. Thats how Control + Alt + Delete was born, except it wasnt Control + Alt + Delete at first. It was Control + Alt + Escape. Why was it changed? Control + Alt + Esc was the kind of keystroke that would be easy to accidentally hit with one hand, rebooting the system and losing all of a users work. Eventually, Bradley changed the left-side Escape to a right-side Delete (necessitating two hands to perform a keyboard reboot) and history was made.