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Inventing the “Three-Finger Salute”

April 16, 2010
Roscoe, N.Y.

Everybody knows that IBM engineer David Bradley invented the Ctrl-Atl-Delete key combination used to reboot the IBM PC. But who first described this key combination as the "three-finger salute"?

I think I was. In the February 25, 1986 issue of PC Magazine (Volume 5, Number 4) is a cover story I wrote entitled "Operating in a New Environment," which introduced readers to the new world of Windows, TopView, et. al.. On page 114 is the following paragraph:

I'm pretty sure that when I wrote that paragraph over 24 years ago, I had never heard or read anyone else referring to Ctrl-Alt-Delete as the "three-finger salute." I know it's a miniscule contribution to our culture — and I'm not even that proud of it because "salute" suggests honoring someone or something while rebooting seems like a more hostile act — but I'm holding on to it.

Of course, I will graciously cede neologistic priority if anyone can find a previous printed use of the term "three-finger salute" in this sense.


Comments:

"I'm not even that proud of it because 'salute' suggests honoring someone or something while rebooting seems like a more hostile act"

I always assumed "salute" in this context was meant in the same ironic sense as in "one finger salute" (i.e. flipping somebody off). Ideed, you're so pissed off by your computer crashing that you end up using not one finger, but three.

— Adrian Lopez, Fri, 16 Apr 2010 12:04:49 -0400

I like that analogy! — Charles

Charles I think I remember reading that article! Previous to the PC dominance I remember using the term "Punching BOB" to mean rebooting, because the Tandy computers we were using at the time had a Big Orange Button for reseting the computer.

By the way ... I am another one of those fellows who learned Windows programming from your books and to this day I buy all of your programming books as soon as they come out.

— Eric Meyer, Fri, 16 Apr 2010 13:23:19 -0400

Programmer's triple-stop. That is what use my colleagues. Since Windows programmer needs to summon Task Manager window I think it fits almost perfectly.

— Nerevar, Sat, 17 Apr 2010 14:21:42 -0400

I agree with Adrian. Ever since I first heard of the term, I've always assumed you were so upset with Windows that flipping it off with one finger just wouldn't suffice! This combined with the fact that you needed to use both hands to enter Ctrl-Atl-Delete to regain Windows attention seemed a reasonable explanation.

— Jaime Moreno, Sat, 17 Apr 2010 20:52:12 -0400

There's an entry on Wiktionary for the term, so I've added your quote. Of course if anyone knows of an earlier use, go ahead and add it.

— Geoff Richards, Mon, 19 Apr 2010 18:44:50 -0400

Thanks! — Charles

Did you start Big Red Switch too? Because to this day I will say "seems like a BRS situation" when things are so hung we need to power off and on. I do remember that the power switches on the early IBM machines we used really were big and red.

Kate, Sat, 24 Apr 2010 09:52:27 -0400

I can't take credit for that one! Frequent references to the "Big Red Switch" were already quite common when I began associating with the "PC Magazine" crowd in 1984. — Charles

In 82/83 I worked here in the UK with a hardware engineer Chris, who had lost an arm to cancer. We had PCs brought over from the USA, before they were released in the UK, and we were working on networking hardware and software. For Chris, it was a two-finger-plus-nose salute.

— Justin Forder, Sat, 24 Apr 2010 22:33:57 -0400

I used the term 'Three Finger Salute' even before I knew it in the context of computers. I cannot explain in what context I was using it but it was something that cannot be discussed publicly. Anyways I liked some of your work, I heard these days you are part time consultant?

Cheers

— Dave, Mon, 26 Apr 2010 02:49:38 -0400

I don't discuss my years as a Boy Scout publicly either. — Charles

Hey, I was in a couple of good troops in Boy Scouts. My first troop hiked all over the Taunus mountains in Germany. I earned my 50 mile patch before I made Second Class.

Your mileage may vary. If it's much lower you're getting a raw deal.

— BobW, Thu, 29 Apr 2010 09:41:19 -0400

"I do remember that the power switches on the early IBM machines we used really were big and red."

That was the emergency power off switch, not the ordinary power switch.

Industrial equipment still has big red emergency power off switches because of safety regulations in many countries.

If you flipped an IBM emergency power switch then you had to call IBM to send someone to reset the switch mechanically. Modern industrial equipment usually lets the end user reset the emergency power switch themselves.

— Fortunately wasn't an altar boy, Thu, 29 Apr 2010 20:54:07 -0400

I remember during my IBM days there were specific rules for a BRS. It had to be red (really!) and it had to directly switch off the mains to the system.

It was a big controversy inside IBM when the PS/2 came out with a white switch. Of course, the white switch was tied to a metal bar that engaged the 'real' BRS (yes it was red) on the power supply.

— Doug, Fri, 30 Apr 2010 00:15:56 -0400


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