The origin of Ctrl-Alt-Delete

Note: This post is over 4 years old. It was first published in June 2009

This did the rounds a few years ago, but it’s worth sharing again. it’s an interview with Dave Bradley who invented Ctrl-Alt-Delete.

“…I was just trying to solve a development problem we had. Brand new hardware, brand new software, you’re testing the stuff out – it would hang up all the time! The only solution you had was to turn the power off, wait for a few seconds, turn the power back on, wait for it to go through the power-on self test, and I said – I’m writing all this code for the keyboard, let’s just shortcut it! I originally intended for it to be […] just something we were using in development. […] It was a five minute job. I didn’t realize I was going to create a cultural icon when I did it. But I have to share the credit. I invented it, but I think Bill made it famous. [Bill Gates pulls a bemused face, crowd laughs] … When you used it for NT logon! That’s what I meant! Okay… Oh boy!””


Can’t see the youtube video above?

It’s interesting that Ctrl-Alt-Delete is an annoyance that was never quite annoying enough to warrant being killed off in its youth. As a result, it’s become so entrenched that it’s here for good – a vestigial feature, like the human appendix. Useless, but part of the DNA.

Most good design processes take inspiration from evolution. In other words, a bunch of designs are tried out, the worst performers are killed off, and the best performers are bred. In real life, animals evolve through the process of mutation, sex and death. In the world of human-driven design, we don’t have this luxury, so we have to track the performance of our creations and do the breeding and the culling ourselves.

This begs the question, are you doing enough mutation, sex and death in your own design process?

natural selection

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