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Bill Gates: Control-Alt-Delete 'was a mistake'

Microsoft's co-founder claims that an IBM keyboard designer created the function and wouldn't allow a single button to access the log-in screen.

Bill Gates at Harvard Sept 2013
Bill Gates recounts the history of how Ctrl Alt Del came to be. Harvard/Screenshot by CNET

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has admitted what quite a few Windows users have been thinking for a long time: control-alt-delete is an unnecessary mechanism.

Bill Gates at Harvard Sept 2013
Give us a single button, Gates said. But it wasn't to be. Harvard/Screenshot by CNET

Speaking in a broad interview at Harvard over the weekend, Gates said that the control-alt-delete function, which allows users to log in to Windows and access the task manager (you may be most familiar with it as the first step in rebooting), was conceived after an IBM keyboard designer wouldn't give him a single button to perform the same chore. (That part of the conversation starts at about 16:45 in the video embedded below.)

"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," Gates said. "So we had, we programmed at a low level -- it was a mistake."

As big a mistake as it might have been, the function lived on through generation after generation of Windows. This marks the first time that Gates has so forcefully acknowledged that the feature wasn't necessarily the best idea.

The function was created by IBM PC designer David Bradley as a way for computer users to reboot their machines. In an interview with CNET recently, Bradley said he didn't understand why Gates and Microsoft decided to make it a log-in feature, adding that "I guess it made sense for them."