A story about computing history took the Internet by storm this week after Bill Gates told a Harvard University audience that Microsoft’s use of Control-Alt-Delete to initiate Windows log-ons was “a mistake” — explaining that the company would have preferred to use a single key for the command, but the IBM keyboard designer at the time didn’t want to give them one.
There’s actually a bit more to the story. Of course, the command is not just for logging on but also serves as an escape when Windows or a piece of software hangs — giving it a negative connotation for many users.
But David Bradley, the IBM engineer who originally invented Control-Alt-Delete, has said over the years that he didn’t intend for the command to be widely used. Here’s a video from the 20th anniversary celebration of the IBM PC, in which Bradley tells his side of story, with Gates sitting across the stage.
“It was like a five-minute job in doing it. I didn’t realize I was going to create a cultural icon when I did it,” he said. “But I have to share the credit. I may have invented it, but I think Bill made it famous.”
Gates’ stone-faced reaction is classic. In this interview two years ago, Bradley said Gates actually took it “very nicely” and sent a letter when Bradley retired from IBM. “So I don’t think he’s really mad at me,” said Bradley.
Based on the events of the past week, it looks like Gates may have gotten the last word … for now. I’ve been trying to find Bradley’s contact information, without any luck. If Bradley is reading this, or if anyone knows how to get in touch with him, we would love to hear his thoughts on Gates’ latest comments.