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Bill Gates: Yes, Ctrl-Alt-Del salute was a MISTAKE

Billionaire software baron still smarting over 2001 on-stage burn?

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Vid Microsoft supremo Bill Gates has claimed that the ctrl-alt-del keystroke - once a way of admitting defeat in the face of crashing software - was a mistake all along.

Anyone with a passing knowledge of PCs will remember hammering those three keys to forcefully reboot the computer as code locked up. Some people even called the shortcut a three-fingered salute.

It later became the way to pull up the Windows task manager or log into the operating system, which may be an even more depressing activity that trying to perform a soft restart. (The thinking behind the login mechanism is that hitting the three keys together kicks the OS into running the official login program, meaning the user can trust the login prompt that pops up on screen is real and not a bogus one that'll steal your username and password.)

Speaking at the launch of the Harvard Campaign, a fundraising drive designed to raise $6.5bn for the Ivy League university, the Microsoft kingpin said he had originally wanted a single button to perform the ctrl-alt-del function.

"So 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. "So what we had, we programmed at a low level. It was a mistake."

IBM engineer David Bradley came up with the ctrl-alt-del mechanism, although the third key was originally intended to be escape rather than delete. He used the three-key combination so the reboot could not be trigger by accident.

"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 said earlier this year.

But don't forget that back in 2001, at a bash marking the 20th birthday of the IBM PC, Bradley quipped to his audience: "I have to share the credit [for ctrl-alt-del]. I may have invented it, but I think Bill made it famous.” Gates, who was sitting just feet away, didn't see the funny side... ®

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