Bill Gates: Control-Alt-Delete was a mistake

Gates on Control-Alt-Delete: "Eh, it was a mistake." (Harvard/YouTube)

Bill Gates has finally admitted the puzzling Control-Alt-Delete key combination used to access the login screen on personal computers was a mistake.

"It was a mistake," Gates, co-founder and former chairman of Microsoft, said during a recent appearance at Harvard University. "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.

“You want to have something you do with the keyboard that is signaling to a very low level of the software — actually hard-coded in the hardware — that it really is bringing in the operating system you expect, instead of just a funny piece of software that puts up a screen that looks like a login screen, and then it listens to your password and then it’s able to do that,” the billionaire software mogul explained.

The odd combination was originally designed to reboot a PC, but it became part of PC folklore as a login prompt in early versions of Windows. The IBM PC that Gates helped develop was introduced in the fall of 1981.

Gates' admission came after years of debate over the origin of Control-Alt-Delete.

"Finally," Taylor Soper wrote on

In a 2001 interview marking the 20th anniversary of the IBM PC, David Bradley, the engineer who came up with the Control-Alt-Delete sequence, blamed the oddity on Gates.

"I may have invented it," Bradley said, "but Bill made it famous."

That left Gates "looking rather awkward" for more than a decade, said.

In 2011, Bradley said he still didn't know why Gates used the Control-Alt-Delete for the login screen.

“Why they used it for the login also, I don’t know,” Bradley told CNET. “I guess it made sense for them.”

While Windows 8 defaults to a new login screen, the Control-Alt-Delete requirement is still used in Windows XP and Windows 7, and it still works in Windows 8 as a shortcut for locking your PC or accessing the task manager.