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.”

Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody' Is Officially the Most Streamed Song of the 20th Century

Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" was a massive hit when it was released in 1975. After spending nine weeks at the top of the UK charts (it only broke the top 10 on the U.S. charts), it went on to become the third bestselling UK single of all time. Even as the way people listen to music has changed, the mock opera's popularity hasn't wavered. Now, "Bohemian Rhapsody" is officially the most streamed song recorded in the 20th century, Entertainment Weekly reports.

Queen's song has been streamed by listeners a staggering 1.5 billion times, putting it ahead of classic rock tracks like "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana and "Sweet Child O' Mine" by Guns N' Roses. But when looking at overall streaming numbers, contemporary tracks still dominate. Combined, the original version of "Despacito" and the remix garnered 4.6 billion plays in just six months last year.

This latest milestone for "Bohemian Rhapsody" is even more satisfying when you know the song's backstory. The long play time and unconventional, operatic style made some music industry insiders—including the band's manager and Elton John—skeptical of its marketability. When the song debuted on the radio, listeners calling in to demand more quickly proved them wrong.

The track likely got a boost in popularity recently with help from the Freddie Mercury biopic that shares its name. Bohemian Rhapsody, starring Rami Malek, hit theaters in early November and is now officially the second-highest grossing musical biopic of all time, just behind 2015's Straight Outta Compton. But it's not the first time a hit movie has led to renewed interest in the song: the tune saw a similar spike in sales—and it reentered the charts and hit No. 2—when it played an integral part in the hit 1992 comedy Wayne's World.

[h/t Entertainment Weekly]

The Pigzbe Wallet Teaches Kids How to Budget and Save Money

Pigzbe
Pigzbe

Fiscal responsibility isn’t the most exciting topic in the world, especially when you’re in elementary school. But, as Fast Company reports, Primo Toys is hoping to make the concept more child-friendly. The company’s new Pigzbe wallet works like a digital piggy bank to teach kids age 6 and older how to earn, budget, and save money by managing the cryptocurrency they receive from their parents.

Pigzbe connects to a smartphone app, which parents can use to set chores and tasks for their kids to complete, such as making their bed or washing the dishes. They can set a schedule for these chores (every Tuesday, for example) as well as monetary rewards in the form of Wollo, a “family-friendly” cryptocurrency developed by Primo Toys.

Tasks will be sent directly to the Pigzbe device, and once they have been completed, kids will receive their hard-earned Wollo tokens. The Pigzbe app helps kids visualize their earnings and how much they’ll need to save to get the items they want. "It’s a design that feels childlike, sure, but in a fun, self-aware way, almost like a Tamagotchi," Fast Company notes.

Although Wollo isn’t technically “real money,” the tokens can be used to purchase toys and other items from Pigzbe’s app. Parents can also order a specialized Visa card that will let them buy items using Wollo. Other family members can also send gifts and allowances to any Pigzbe user, no matter their geographic location.

The goal is to teach kids about financial responsibility at an early age, when they’re just beginning to form habits that will stick with them well into adulthood. “We believe that financially curious children become financially literate adults, and we designed Pigzbe to achieve just that,” Primo Toys, the maker of the Pigzbe wallet, writes in its Kickstarter campaign. The product has already exceeded its $50,000 fundraising goal, with more than 550 backers on board.

Backers who pledge $79 or more before the campaign ends on January 25, 2019 will receive the Pigzbe wallet at a 40 percent discount.

[h/t Fast Company]

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