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Dr. “Ctrl-Alt-Del”

Dr. “Ctrl-Alt-Del”

At DFC, we love elegant design: in systems, hardware, and software. Usually, beautiful design draws attention to itself naturally — and there’s nothing more sublime than being called to admire something worthy of admiration
 
But there’s lots of subtle solutions, so simply perfect that they seem to have occurred naturally, that fade into the background of everyday life unfairly. I was reminded of this by a new video (itself beautifully animated!) from the knowledge junkies at Great Big Story. The video tells the tale of Dr. Dave Bradley of IBM, who invented the “three finger salute” of Control Alt Delete way back in 1980.
 
“Ctrl-Alt-Del” didn’t spring fully formed from the ether: Dr. Dave developed it as a three-key-combo designed to reset a program without power cycling. Also known as turning-it-off-and-on-again, power cycling took forever in computing time (“a minute or two”). But, until Dr. Dave, there was no way to restart a hanging program without dragging the whole system along with it.
 
Dr. Dave’s innovation put an efficient, seconds-long restart in the hands of his fellow developers, and eventually the average PC user. But what I love most about its design is how difficult he made one particular aspect. In “The History of Ctrl+Alt+Del”, Dr Dave narrates:
 
One of the things we discussed was putting a reset button on it, but if you put it on the system board there was a chance that you could hit it by mistake and all your data gets lost. So what we did was came up with a three key sequence to reset the computer, and you couldn’t hit by mistake: a single Control key, a single Alt key, and then all the way over at the right hand side a single Delete key.”
 
Dr. Dave was already revolutionary in giving this power to users. But his designer’s attention to context ensured that every restart initiated by a user would be a conscious one, without sacrificing ease of use. Because of this, I think Ctrl-Alt-Del is right up there with Liquid Paper and Newton’s Cradle as a work-easing solution for the ages. In his honour, I offer a three-finger-salute!