The History of CTRL + ALT + DELETE

Thinkstock
Thinkstock

By Virginia Hughes

In 2013, Bill Gates admitted ctrl+alt+del was a mistake and blamed IBM. Here's the story of how the key combination became famous in the first place.

In the spring of 1981, David Bradley was part of a select team working from a nondescript office building in Boca Raton, Fla. His task: to help build IBM’s new personal computer. Because Apple and RadioShack were already selling small stand-alone computers, the project (code name: Acorn) was a rush job. Instead of the typical three- to five-year turnaround, Acorn had to be completed in a single year.

One of the programmers’ pet peeves was that whenever the computer encountered a coding glitch, they had to manually restart the entire system. Turning the machine back on automatically initiated a series of memory tests, which stole valuable time. “Some days, you’d be rebooting every five minutes as you searched for the problem,” Bradley says. The tedious tests made the coders want to pull their hair out.

So Bradley created a keyboard shortcut that triggered a system reset without the memory tests. He never dreamed that the simple fix would make him a programming hero, someone who’d someday be hounded to autograph keyboards at conferences. And he didn’t foresee the command becoming such an integral part of the user experience.

Bradley joined IBM as a programmer in 1975. By 1978, he was working on the Datamaster, the company’s early, flawed attempt at a PC. It was an exciting time—computers were starting to become more accessible, and Bradley had a chance to help popularize them.

In September 1980, he became the 12th of 12 engineers picked to work on Acorn. The close-knit team was whisked away from IBM’s New York headquarters. “We had very little interference,” Bradley says. “We got to do the design essentially starting with a blank sheet of paper.”

Bradley worked on everything from writing input/output programs to troubleshooting wire-wrap boards. Five months into the project, he created ctrl+alt+del. The task was just another item to tick off his to-do list. “It was five minutes, 10 minutes of activity, and then I moved on to the next of the 100 things that needed to get done,” he says. Bradley chose the keys by location—with the del key across the keyboard from the other two, it seemed unlikely that all three would be accidentally pressed at the same time. Bradley never intended to make the shortcut available to customers, nor did he expect it to enter the pop lexicon. It was meant for him and his fellow coders, for whom every second counted.

The team managed to finish Acorn on schedule. In the fall of 1981, the IBM PC hit shelves—a homely gray box beneath a monitor that spit out green lines of type. Marketing experts predicted that the company would sell a modest 241,683 units in the first five years; company execs thought that estimate was too optimistic. They were all wrong. IBM PC sales would reach into the millions, with people of all ages using the machines to play games, edit documents, and crunch numbers. Computing would never be the same.

And yet, few of these consumers were aware of Bradley’s shortcut quietly lingering in their machines. It wasn’t until the early 1990s, when Microsoft’s Windows took off, that the shortcut came to prominence. As PCs all over the country crashed and the infamous “blue screen of death” plagued Windows users, a quick fix spread from friend to friend: ctrl+alt+del. Suddenly, Bradley’s little code was a big deal. Journalists hailed “the three-finger salute” as a saving grace for PC owners—a population that kept growing.

In 2001, hundreds of people packed into the San Jose Tech Museum of Innovation to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the IBM PC. In two decades, the company had moved more than 500 million PCs worldwide. After dinner, industry luminaries, including Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, sat down for a panel discussion. But the first question didn’t go to Gates; it went to David Bradley. The programmer, who has always been surprised by how popular those five minutes spent creating ctrl+alt+del made him, was quick to deflect the glory.

“I have to share the credit,” Bradley joked. “I may have invented it, but I think Bill made it famous.”

Amazon's Best Black Friday Deals: Tech, Video Games, Kitchen Appliances, Clothing, and More

Amazon
Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Black Friday is finally here, and Amazon is offering great deals on kitchen appliances, tech, video games, and plenty more. We will keep updating this page as sales come in, but for now, here are the best Amazon Black Friday sales to check out.

Kitchen

Instant Pot/Amazon

- Instant Pot Duo Plus 9-in-115 Quart Electric Pressure Cooker; $90 (save $40)

- Keurig K-Cafe Special Edition; $190 (save $30)

- Ninja OS301 Foodi 10-in-1 Pressure Cooker and Air Fryer; $125 (save $75)

- Nespresso Vertuo Next Coffee and Espresso Machine by Breville; $120 (save $60)

- KitchenAid KSMSFTA Sifter with Scale Attachment; $95 (save $75)

- Keurig K-Mini Coffee Maker; $60 (save $20)

- Cuisinart Bread Maker; $80 (save $97)

- Anova Culinary Sous Vide Precision Cooker; $139 (save $60)

- Aicook Juicer Machine; $35 (save $15)

- JoyJolt Double Wall Insulated Espresso Mugs - Set of Two; $14 (save $10)

- Longzon Silicone Stretch Lids - Set of 14; $16 (save $11)

- HadinEEon Milk Frother; $37 (save $33)

Home Appliances

Roomba/Amazon

- iRobot Roomba 675 Robot Vacuum with Wi-Fi Connectivity; $179 (save $101)

- ASAKUKI 500ml Premium Essential Oil Diffuser; $22 (save $4)

- Facebook Portal Smart Video Calling 10 inch Touch Screen Display with Alexa; $129 (save $50)

- Bissell air320 Smart Air Purifier with HEPA and Carbon Filters; $280 (save $50)

- Oscillating Quiet Cooling Fan Tower; $59 (save $31)

- TaoTronics PTC 1500W Fast Quiet Heating Ceramic Tower; $55 (save $10)

- Vitamix 068051 FoodCycler 2 Liter Capacity; $300 (save $100)

- Ring Video Doorbell; $70 (save $30)

Video games

Sony

- Marvel's Spider-Man: Game of The Year Edition for PlayStation 4; $20 (save $20)

- The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening; $40 (save $20)

- Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity; $50 (save $10)

- Marvel's Avengers; $25 (save $33)

- The Last of Us Part II for PlayStation 4; $30 (save $30)

- LEGO Harry Potter: Collection; $15 (save $15)

- Ghost of Tsushima; $40 (save $20)

- BioShock: The Collection; $20 (save $30)

- The Sims 4; $24 (save $20)

- God of Warfor PlayStation 4; $10 (save $10)

- Days Gonefor PlayStation 4; $20 (save $6)

- Luigi's Mansion 3 for Nintendo Switch; $40 (save $20)

Computers and tablets

Microsoft/Amazon

- New Apple MacBook Pro 16 inches with 512 GB; $2149 (save $250)

- Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 with 13.5 inch Touch-Screen; $1200 (save $400)

- Lenovo ThinkPad T490 Laptop; $889 (save $111)

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Tablet (64GB); $120 (save $70)

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids Edition Tablet (32 GB); $130 (save $70)

- Apple iPad Mini (64 GB); $335 (save $64)

- Vankyo MatrixPad S2 Tablet; $120 (save $10)

Tech, gadgets, and TVs

Apple/Amazon

- Apple Watch Series 3 with GPS; $120 (save $79)

- Seneo Wireless Charger, 3 in 1 Wireless Charging Station; $16 (save $10)

- SAMSUNG 75-inch Class Crystal 4K Smart TV; $998 (save $200)

- Nixplay 2K Smart Digital Picture Frame 9.7 Inch Silver; $238 (save $92)

- All-New Amazon Echo Dot with Clock and Alexa (4th Gen); $39 (save $21)

- MACTREM LED Ring Light 6" with Tripod Stand; $16 (save $3)

- Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote; $28 (save $12)

- DR. J Professional HI-04 Mini Projector; $93 (save $37)

Headphones and speakers

Beats/Amazon

- Beats Solo3 Wireless On-Ear Headphones; $120 (Save $80)

- Apple AirPods Pro; $169 (save $50)

- Anker Soundcore Upgraded Bluetooth Speaker; $22 (save $8)

- Powerbeats Pro Wireless Earphones; $175 (save $75)

- JBL Boombox; $280 (save $120)

Movies and TV

HBO/Amazon

- Game of Thrones: The Complete Series; $115 (save $89)

- Jurassic World 5-Movie Set; $23 (save $37)

- Deadwood: The Complete Series; $42 (save $28)

- Back to the Future Trilogy; $15 (save $21)

Toys and Games

Amazon

- Awkward Family Photos Greatest Hits; $15 (save $10)

- Exploding Kittens Card Game; $10 (save $10)

- Cards Against Humanity: Hidden Gems Bundle; $14 (save $5)

- LOL Surprise OMG Remix Pop B.B. Fashion Doll; $29 (save $6)

- LEGO Ideas Ship in a Bottle 92177 Expert Building Kit; $56 (save $14)

Furniture

Casper/Amazon

- Casper Sleep Element Queen Mattress; $476 (save $119)

- ZINUS Alexis Deluxe Wood Platform Bed Frame; $135 (save $24)

- ROMOON Dresser Organizer with 5 Drawers; $59 (save $11) 

- AmazonBasics Room Darkening Blackout Window Curtains; $26 (save $5)

- Writing Desk by Caffoz; $119 (save $21)

- SPACE Seating Office Support Managers Chair; $112 (save $116)

- Rivet Globe Stick Table Lamp; $53 (save $17)

- Christopher Knight Home Merel Mid-Century Modern Club Chair; $188 (save $10)

- Walker Edison Furniture Industrial Rectangular Coffee Table; $121 (save $48)

Beauty

Haus/Amazon

- MySmile Teeth Whitening Kit with LED Light; $21 (save $12) 

- Cliganic USDA Organic Lip Balms Set of Six; $6 (save $4)

- HAUS LABORATORIES By Lady Gaga: LE RIOT LIP GLOSS; $7 (save $11)

- Native Deodorant for Men and Women Set of Three; $25 (save $11) 

- BAIMEI Rose Quartz Jade Roller & Gua Sha; $14 (save $3)

- Honest Beauty Clearing Night Serum with Pure Retinol and Salicylic Acid; $20 (save $8)

- WOW Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo and Hair Conditioner Set; $30 (save $5) 

- La Roche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel Cleanser; $15 (save $5)

- wet n wild Bretman Rock Shadow Palette; $9 (save $6)

- EltaMD UV Daily Tinted Face Sunscreen Moisturizer with Hyaluronic Acid; $25 (save $6)

Clothes

Ganni/Amazon

- Ganni Women's Crispy Jacquard Dress; $200 (save $86) 

- The Drop Women's Maya Silky Slip Skirt; $36 (save $9)

- Steve Madden Women's Editor Boot; $80 (save $30)

- adidas Women's Roguera Cross Trainer; $40 (save $25)

- Line & Dot Women's Elizabeth Sweater; $74 (save $18)

- Levi's Men's Sherpa Trucker Jacket; $57 (save $41)

- Adidas Men's Essentials 3-Stripes Tapered Training Joggers Sweatpants; $28 (save $12)

- Timex Men's Weekender XL 43mm Watch; $32 (save $20)

- Ray-Ban Unisex-Adult Hexagonal Flat Lenses Sunglasses; $108 (save $46) 

- Reebok Men's Flashfilm Train Cross Trainer; $64 (save $16)

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The Best Black Friday and Cyber Monday Deals on Electronics, Clothing, Kitchen Products, and More

A Harry Potter mood lamp from Toynk, the Buckingham Backpack from Herschel, and a Dash air fryer from Wayfair.
A Harry Potter mood lamp from Toynk, the Buckingham Backpack from Herschel, and a Dash air fryer from Wayfair.
Toynk, Herschel, Wayfair

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Sure, you can go to the usual spots like Amazon and Walmart for Black Friday, but you'd be missing out on so many great deals from a range of different online shops. If you're curious about branching out, check out some of the best bargains we found below. This list will be updated through Cyber Monday, so keep checking back for more sales. 

Moosejaw

The North Face/Moosejaw

Start prepping for your favorite outdoor winter activities with Moosejaw. During the brand's Thanksgiving sale, get 30 percent off products from The North Face, Columbia, Marmot, and more. You can also get a gift card until December 6 when you spend more than $99 and use the code FREEMONEY2020. On Cyber Monday, get 50 percent back in Moosejaw Reward Points on purchases with the code CYBERTURKEY.

iRobot

iRobot

The robot vacuum company iRobot is offering great deals this holiday season. Starting now, you can get $200 off select iRobot Roomba Robot Vacuums. The company is also taking $20-$100 off mops and up to $50 off coding robots. If you are looking to get both a vacuum and mop, make sure to check out the exclusive bundles to save up to $380. Orders over $29.99 get free shipping. 

ShopDisney

Disney/ShopDisney

If you want to bring the wonderful world of Disney home, ShopDisney's Magical Savings Event is offering 40 percent off from now until November 29. From November 25 at 3 p.m. PT until November 27, you'll also get an extra 20 percent off sitewide. Then, starting November 29, ShopDisney is offering tiered discounts: so, when you spend $50, you'll get 15 percent off; spend $75 and get 20 percent off; spend $100 and get 25 percent off; or spend $150 and get 30 percent off. 

Hot Topic

Funko/Hot Topic

Hot Topic has already started its Black Friday sale online, which includes deals on Funko Pops (buy two, get one free), pajamas, T-shirts, collectibles, and plenty more. These prices are valid through November 29.

CBS All Access

Looking to catch up on the new show Star Trek: Picard or watch the first 10 seasons of RuPaul's Drag Race? Then CBS All Access is where you should be heading. Get one free month by using the code TURKEY at checkout. This deal is available until November 30.

Gap

Gap

For those looking to add some great items to their wardrobe this winter, the Gap is offering 50 percent off sitewide, plus an extra 10 percent off when you use the code GAPFRIDAY at checkout through November 28.

Outdoor Voices

Outdoor Voices

Get 50-70 percent off select styles from Outdoor Voices, one of the premier sportswear and athleisure brands. New customers will also get an additional 20 percent off orders over $100. The sale runs through November 26. 

Rosetta Stone

Rosetta Stone

Ever wished you'd learned a second language but never had the time to do it? Rosetta Stone makes it easy with its online language-learning programs which are now discounted for Black Friday. Get a three-month subscription for just $12 per month, a 12-month subscription for $8 per month, or unlimited lifetime access for a one-time payment of $189. Make sure to take advantage of these deals before they disappear on December 6. 

Coursera

Coursera

If you've been looking to expand your horizons a bit, check out Coursera's Black Friday deals. Until December 4, you can nab a free course focused on creative exploration and personal growth, like the Modern and Contemporary Art and Design class from the MoMa or the Science of Well-Being class from Yale University.

Wayfair

GE Appliances/Wayfair

For those looking to spruce up their home for the holiday, check out Wayfair's Black Friday Salewhere you can get up to 80 percent off major items like GE appliances, air fryers, stand mixers, work-from-home essentials, and rugs. Wayfair is also holding its annual Holiday Sale, featuring up to 60 percent off almost everything from holiday decorations to outdoor furniture.

Hulu

If you’ve never tried out Hulu before, now is the perfect time to start. For Black Friday and Cyber Monday, new customers can get Hulu (ad-supported) for just $1.99 per month for a whole year. This deal starts on November 27 and lasts through November 30 until midnight. Some returning customers can get this deal if they canceled over three months ago, but if you took advantage of this deal last year then you cannot get it a second time.

Herschel

Herschel/Amazon

For those looking for a new backpack, duffle bag, or even outerwear like rain jackets, fleeces, and winter coats, Herschel has everything you need on a discount. Starting November 26 through November 29, enjoy savings of up to 60 percent off. Get $10 off for spending over $70; $30 off for spending over $120; and $50 off for spending over $160 sitewide. Their popular Buckingham backpack is 50 percent off, too, so you can go on new adventures without breaking the bank.

Redbubble

KristyKate/Redbubble

Starting November 26 through November 30, Redbubble is offering up to 60 percent off their whole site with the promo code DEALS2020. At Redbubble, you can find everything from T-shirts and face masks to shower curtains and phone cases with designs by independent artists from around the world.

Toynk

Toynk

Looking for a new geeky collectible for your home? Toynk is the place to go this Black Friday. From November 26 through December 1, expect to get up to 50 percent off pop culture puzzles, LookSee gift boxes, mood lamps, and plenty more.

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