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Ctrl + Alt + Delete: Origins and Applications

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In 1981, David Bradley created the keyboard key combination of Ctrl + Alt + Delete. When he did, he didn’t actually have the end user in mind. Rather, Ctrl + Alt + Delete was a five minute internal job designed to perform a soft reboot for early computer engineers. But now, computer users now have several applications for Bradley’s keyboard combination, and the “Three-Fingered Salute,” as it’s sometimes called, is now an icon in computer culture. 

You might know Ctrl + Alt + Delete as the way you log on to a computer that has a Windows operating system. The reason for this is because Ctrl + Alt + Delete is a secure combination that cannot be intercepted. Meaning that when “Secure Logon” is enabled on your PC, malicious programs can’t intercept your username or password as you enter them. 

You may also know this combination as a way to combat the blue screen of death. Ctrl + Alt + Delete in this case is used to open the Task Manager when a program stops responding or your computer freezes up. From the Task Manager, users can see what programs are running actively and in the background and which ones are not responding. 

If a user isn’t sure exactly what program is causing the issue, the best course of action is to just restart the PC. From the initial Ctrl + Alt + Delete screen, there is a power icon in the lower right hand corner of the screen where users can opt to restart their computers, performing that “soft reboot” that the Three-Fingered Salute was designed for. Just holding down the power button until the computer powers off or worse… unplugging the power cable, is risky business. Users run the risk of corrupting and losing data when the computer isn’t shut down properly. That’s why David Bradley invented Ctrl + Alt + Delete in the first place.

If you’d like to learn more about why rebooting your computer fixes so many problems, click here to watch the video.

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