In a recent appearance, however, Bill Gates blamed IBM for the shortcut, saying he favored a single button, BBC reports.
The keyboard shortcut was invented by IBM engineer David Bradley. "It was like a five-minute job in doing it. I didn't realize that I was going to create a cultural icon when I did it," he said while appearing on a 2011 panel.
He originally wanted Ctrl+Alt+Esc but then found it was too easy to accidentally bump the left side of the keyboard and reboot the computer unintentionally. It’s impossible to press Ctrl+Alt+Del with just one hand.
"I originally intended for it to be what we would now call an Easter egg -- just something we were using in development and it wouldn't be available elsewhere," Bradley said. But software publishers found out about it, and when they were trying to figure out how to tell somebody to start up one of their programs, they had the answer. "Just put the diskette in, hit Control-Alt-Delete, and by magic your program starts."
The shortcut -- also known as “the three-finger salute” -- came to prominence in the early 1990s as a quick fix for the blue screen of death on PCs.
“It was a mistake,” Gates said at a fundraising campaign at Harvard last weekend, throwing up his hands to laughter and applause from the crowd. "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."
Below is a video of his Q&A session.
Image: Renato Targa via Flickr