A Brief History Of The Ctrl+Alt+Del: The 3 Finger Salute

A Brief History Of The Ctrl+Alt+Del: The 3 Finger Salute

The general function of Ctrl+Alt+Del is to interrupt an executable program or a process. This action is also known to be the 3 finger salute.



Bill Gates reckoned the complete idea of Ctrl+Alt+Del as a form of mistake. Gates admitted later that he had the plans of a single button. But his plans didn’t finalize. The reason is pretty interesting.

David Bradley, an engineer who was working on the original IBM PC was responsible for creating this combination that was specifically designed with the idea of rebooting the PC. Bradley was tasked with the project of developing IBM’s new PCs during that period. The three keys were chosen in a specific manner such that they aren’t close to one another to make user accessibility difficult. There was a reason for all this. The strange pattern was designed in such a manner so that users do not accidentally press those 3 buttons at once and interrupt the process while doing the same. Ctrl+Alt+Del shortcut was mainly designed by Bradley for his own use and his fellow coders and not for the general public.

Why was it developed?

One of the main problems that the programmers faced in that period was the unavoidable glitches in the code that generally used to occur at the time of development. There was only a single solution which was a manual restart of the entire system.

Bradley’s Ctrl+Alt+Del solved this problem to a certain extent where a system reset was activated without an encounter with any form of memory test. This saved the programmers a lot of valuable time and resources.

The 3 finger-salute came into prominence after Microsoft Windows 3.0 was launched for the general public in early 1990s.

This short cut was mainly recognized by people when their computers started crashing and BSOD (the Blue screen of death) illuminated their computer screen.

There was a quick fix mentioned in the BSOD which would help users restart their PCs- the Ctrl+Alt+Del.



Thus, Bradley’s design gained immense popularity because people themselves used to inform others of this solution.

Bradley’s design was praised by the journalists and hence, Ctrl+Alt+Del was hailed to be the “The 3 finger salute.”


The Ctrl+Alt+Del function was used by Windows PCs to reboot a particular operating system or to terminate any application.

From Windows 95 and up, the Ctrl+Alt+Del function provided users with a few superior functions. On pressing those keys together, a new windows pops up on the screen where users will be able to detect the status of the programs running on their PCs. The users can choose to terminate them one at a time. That windows is known to be the task manager.

The task manager provides users with additional features like the shutdown, restart etc. Such features vary slightly on basis of the versions of Windows.

 Say for example, pressing the combination twice in a row in Windows 95/98 PCs result in a restart. That specific feature was unique and was there only in Win 95/98 PCs.


The system sometimes becomes unresponsive for a whole number of reasons. The Ctrl+Alt+Del combination solves this problem to a certain extent. By calling up the task manager, the users are able to terminate the “not responding” program and regain control over the system.

Bradley was quite surprised to see the fame that this combination gained around the word which was supposedly built within 5 minutes. That 5-minute hard work has seemingly become the most significant work of his career that was capable of landing him in the Microsoft Hall of fame. He, himself said this in the end-

“I may have invented it, but I think Bill made it famous.”

Sudipto Das

Sudipto writes technical and educational content periodically for wizert.com and backs it up with extensive research and relevant examples. He's an avid reader and a tech enthusiast at the same time with a little bit of “Arsenal Football Club” thrown in as well. He's got a B.Tech in Electronics and Instrumentation.
Follow him on twitter @SudiptoDas1993

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