The Invention of Ctrl+Alt+Delete

At this rate, even with 12 of the country’s best engineers working round-the-clock, IBM was never going to deliver its first computer prototype to Microsoft in a matter of four months. The parts were all new. The software. The hardware. Even the names “software” and “hardware.” They were treading new ground. There had never been a “PC,” a personal computer, until this group of programmers built the first one in that lab.

So, as you can imagine, there was a lot of frustrating rebooting going on as Dave Bradley tried to get the CPU – the central processing unit, which they named – to talk to a printer or a monitor for the first time, code he had spent months writing.

He needed a quicker way to restart, to refresh, to escape from a computer quagmire than just switching the computer off and waiting for it to reboot. So he wrote nine lines of code, a “10-minute job,” Bradley remembers. He wanted to make sure it wasn’t something you could just press by accident and wipe out your work. He wrote it so that with his left hand, he held down the keys Ctrl+Alt. With his right hand, he pressed Del.

The screen went black, came back to life and voilà: A cultural icon was created and some great one-liners from the creator, such as “I got to meet Bill Gates when he was only worth millions” .

Actually, about that meeting – At a panel discussion with Gates for the 20-year anniversary of the PC, Bradley was asked about how he created the keystroke. Google Dave Bradley and Bill Gates to see video of Bradley quipping, “I may have invented it, but I think Bill made it famous.” The crowd rolls with laughter. Bill Gates, frozen in a smile-shaped grimace, is not amused.

Read more at  Palm Beach Post : In flash of keystrokes, Dave Bradley changed computer history..

Click more to see the video

One thought on “The Invention of Ctrl+Alt+Delete”

  1. Quite interesting. It inspired me to cobble together this mash-up of articles blended with my own reminiscences. For most, this will define ‘tedium’ but hey, someone might like it, you never know!

    Courtesy of a link from my friends Terry and Maria, I read an excerpt from a book on the history of the personal computer, with Dave Bradley, one of the “original 12” IBM engineers who developed the first pc for home and business use . . . and also the engineer who invented the ctrl/alt/del reboot.

    The article brought back a lot of memories for me, and I’ll share those here, no doubt to the overwhelming boredom of most. But a few of you might be entertained – hey, it could happen! – so I’ll append those thoughts below.

    Yes, Mr. Gates looks profoundly unamused . . . but that just makes it even funnier!

    Another pioneer who never got enough credit was Ted Nelson, who invented hypertext – IN 1960!! – talk about a visionary. This was 35 years before the World Wide Web, or the Internet as we know it today, was commercialized for public use. Hell, when Nelson came up with this,the debut of the freaking ARPANET (a web for scientists and universities only) was still 5 or 6 years away.

    It’s funny – it feels like the Internet has been around forever now, but there really wasn’t one, anything like what we know today, until the early 1990’s. We had CMS, and Bulletin Boards, but no true internet.

    But it was indeed 1960 when Tim Nelson, then a Harvard grad student in sociology, began jotting down notes for an idea that he had – he imagined a global, networked computer system. He envisioned a world where there would be what he called “personal computers: – and that they would be ubiquitous and that they would make it possible for people to navigate their own, individualized paths through all of the world’s art and literature by using “hypertext” links to related documents.

    Nelson ultimately described his ideas in a paper submitted to the Association for Computing Machinery in 1965. Later on, he elaborated on them in his now-famous book “Computer Lib/Dream Machines” in 1974.

    In 1982, our neighbor in the Ocean Beach section of San Diego was an IBM engineer, Bill Schley. Bill and I became fast friends, and in June of 1982, when IBM rolled out it’s first PC, he brought one home and summoned me to his apartment to join him in marvelling over this new wonder.

    I was bemused. It was a big, clunky box with a small black and white monitor. It had no graphic interface at all, just a dull black screen with a white, flashing C-prompt.

    Bill had a tall stack of 5- ¼ inch “floppy disks” and I watched as he excitedly spent about an hour loading all of “the software’ on to his new machine. The end result of all that work was that he was able to run a few primitive BASIC programs using the whopping 64 KILOBYTES of RAM memory that the d@mn thing had. He showed me how he could make it do some simple math, and turned to me, beaming – an enormous sh*t-eating grin plastered across his face.

    “See, Bob? See? Do you get it, man? DO YOU GET IT”

    I pretended to edge carefully towards the door. “Uh, yeah, Bill – I get it. Of course I get it Uhh . . . let’s not get crazy!”

    I turned towards the living room and hissed a stage-whisper to his wife Joan. “Joanie! Call the cops! Right now! I’ll keep him occupied.”

    They laughed. I really didn’t “get it” though . . . not yet. We were still almost a decade before the internet, and I didn’t see the Big Picture. But Bill – he saw it just fine, and he was already tremendously excited about everything that was to come.

    Flash forward 5 more years. Like it was yesterday, I remember sitting at my desk in the System Testing unit at Aetna in Middletown, reading an article about this “hypertext” thing in a tech magazine. I think it was 1987. The ARPANET was now going strong, I was aware of it but had never seen it, I knew that it ran on something called the the TCP/IP protocol, and as I say the pc had been around for about 5-6 years now . . . but there was still no World Wide Web, no web browsers, none of that.

    The article was about how Apple was going to use Ted Nelson’s hypertext invention for some cool new application in it’s next generation of Macintosh pc’s. I remember that I read the article, then read it again . . . I found it brilliant and interesting, but I still didn’t quite ‘get it’ – I thought it sounded kind of like an electronic version of linked index cards, just something to take you from one card to another card. But again, it was hard for guys like me to see the whole vision of what could be done with that, because – have I mentioned? – there was no Internet yet.

    I can still remember the day – in 1991, if memory serves, when an Aetna colleague named Rick Brant gave me a stack of little plastic floppies (remember those?) and told me how I could take them home and install TCP/IP protocol on my home pc, and then install something called the Netscape Navigator web browser over that, and thus get myself out on to this new thing called “the World Wide Web.”

    I brought it home, and after much trial and error I got everything up and running. I’ll never forget that night, and I recall that as I explored around in my first ever web-browsing session, I thought, literally: “Holy crap! This changes EVERYTHING!” I had been a guy that haunted libraries for years, a true information junkie, a book-learnin’ version of what jocks would call a gymn rat. And now, like everyone else, all the information known in all the wide world was available to me while sitting in a chair in the comfort of my den, in my own house. Holy crap, indeed!

    Ted Nelson was a true Rennaisance figure. He’s the son of Academy Award-winning actress Celeste Holm and Emmy Award-winning director Ralph Nelson.
    Before he’d written his seminal work on hypertext while at Harvard, he was planning to be a rock musician. He’d written 30 songs and, produced what he believes to be one of the first rock musicals ever.

    Ironically, Ted Nelson says he’s deeply disappointed in the way graphical user interfaces have evolved. He calls the GUIs on Windows, Linux and Macs “PUIs.” Yes, he pronounces that “pooh-ies.”

    They are mere derivatives, he points out, of work at done Xerox Palo Alto Research Center nearly 40 years ago. He considers them “inelegant” and it bugs him that hyperlinks only move in one direction, for example.

    When the Microsoft Vista OS rolled out worldwide to much hype in 2007, he was the first to proclaim publicly: “It’s absolute crap. Get rid of it.”

    He’s not a huge fan of Windows 7 or Mac’s OS either, but allows that – “at least they are a moderate improvement over Vista, but then what wouldn’t be? – it wouldn’t be humanly possible to do worse than that.”

    His motto: “A user interface should be so simple that a beginner in an emergency can understand it within 10 seconds.”

    So . . . I raise a glass to Dave Bradley and Ted Nelson- just 2 brilliant guys who have been key figures in bringing so much to the world of information.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *