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It’s the bane of many a Windows user’s life. When you’re using it more frequently than your poor digits care to stretch, it’s often a tell-tale sign that you’re opening too many apps and lagging your PC up, or you have some sort of malware / infectious outbreak on your hands. I am, of course, referring to the famed Ctrl-Alt-Del combination often sought by Windows users as a last resort to the Task Manager as well as a login mechanism, and after umpteen years as an omni-present feature, Microsoft co-founder and Chairman Bill Gates has stepped out and confirmed that it was actually a mistake.

Combining these three specific buttons was always seen as an arbitrary, unnecessary grouping by many Windows users, and in a speech given at Harvard University earlier on this week, shed some light on its original conception.

Bill Gates

In short, an IBM keyboard designer refused to offer a single button for the same purpose, so with some low-level programming already in place, Ctrl-Alt-Del made its way right to the end-user. As time progressed, users had become so accustomed to the feature as both a login measure and a way to bring about the Task Manager that it has simply remained.

As Gates noted:

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. So we had, we programmed at a low level, eh, it was a mistake.

Gates is not alone in his apathy of Ctrl-Alt-Delete. Many Windows users still find the process of inputting these three magic buttons to be rather tedious, and when I first switched from Windows to Mac many years ago, I certainly was not sorry to leave it behind.

Alt Ctrl Del Microsoft Keyboard

Still, it’s nice to hear somebody as important within Microsoft as Gates actually step out and explain the bungled feature, which is a rarity of both the Redmond company and one of its founding fathers.

Old habits die hard, especially within Windows, and the fact that the Start button – abolished by Microsoft with Windows 8 – is re-entering the fold with Windows 8.1, is a sure-fire testament to that.

So, now you know; Ctrl-Alt-Delete is, essentially, a nonsensical feature that needn’t ever have existed.

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