Windows is famous for its blue screen of death, but back in the early days of the operating system, that familiar blue hue wasn’t limited to system-crashing errors alone. Windows 3.x featured a similar CRTL + ALT + DELETE screen that provided you with various options for misbehaving programs. And as it turns out, those options were written by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer himself, who led the company’s Systems Division at the time, according to Microsoft veteran Raymond Chen.
From Chen’s The Old New Thing blog on MSDN:
“He paid a visit to the Windows team to see what they were up to, as is the wont of many executives. When they showed him the Ctrl+Alt+Del feature, he nodded thoughtfully and added, ‘This is nice, but I don’t like the text of the message. It doesn’t sound right to me.’
‘Okay, Steve. If you think you can do a better job, then go for it.’ Unlike some other executive, Steve took up the challenge, and a few days later, he emailed what he thought the Ctrl+Alt+Del screen should say.”
Chen says Ballmer’s text (which you can see at the top of this post) was good enough to be included in the final, shipping version of the operating system. The screen has long since been replaced, of course, with an automatic prompt when apps crash and a much more streamlined CRTL + ALT + DELETE system that most people associate with the Windows Task Manager, but hey—it’s always nice to learn a little history.
Interestingly enough, during an interview in 2013, Microsoft founder Bill Gates admitted that the iconic CRTL + ALT + DELETE keyboard combination should never have been, then went on to blame the situation on IBM.
“We could have had a single button, but the guy that wanted to do the IBM keyboard design didn’t want to give us our single button, and so we programmed at a low level,” he said. “It was a mistake.”