Perhaps the most famous key combination in computing is the notorious "three-finger-salute" that lets you break out of crashed programs. On the Mac, you press Command-Option-Escape; in DOS and Windows, the three keys are Ctrl-Alt-Del.
A few years ago, someone tracked down David Bradley, the IBM engineer who devised the Ctrl-Alt-Del combo, and asked him why he had picked those specific keys. He said that he’d wanted keys that were far enough apart that they couldn’t be pressed accidentally.
Of course, he didn’t realize how often that ejector seat would be used. In later years, Bradley started joking that although he had invented the combination, it was Microsoft that made it popular. (Here’s a funny video of Bill Gates’s reaction.)
I thought about that today after reading about the FlipStart, a new palmtop PC with a tiny keyboard designed to be operated with your thumbs. It was so awkward to press Ctrl-Alt-Del on prototypes that the company combined the three keys into a single button—sorta defeating the purpose.
The FlipStart merges three keys into one Ctrl-Alt-Del button. Reviewers called it an ergonomic nightmare.
Coincidentally, we just published an unusual article about user interface design over at O’Reilly Digital Media. It’s called “Singing With Your Thumbs.”
What are some of your favorite three-finger salutes?