The semantics of Control (+ Alt + Delete)
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
I'm excited to hear what Microsoft is focusing on for Windows 8, targeted for 2012. I have to say though, that even the lock screen delivers a little trepidation, asking the user to press the eternal "CTRL + ALT + DELETE" to log on.

Why does this bug me? Okay:
  1. This is a keystroke that is deliberately difficult to type, because it used to be the way to shut down your computer, an action you would never want to have happen by accident. Exiting a lock screen is the most common task the user would want to perform when the computer is locked, and the gesture to do so should be much, much easier.
  2. Semantically, the keyboard combination makes no sense. 'Control' when chorded with a letter, is given the attributes of the verb 'do' (e.g. Control-C means 'Do copy') and 'control' + 'alt' means 'do in the special way'. Control + Alt + Delete means 'Do delete in the special way' which actually was appropriate when it was the method for shutting down your computer, logging the user out, or putting it to sleep. Using the same keystroke for logging a user in abandons semantics in favor of familiarity in the same way users must first go to the Start menu to select 'Shut down'.
  3. The very nomenclature of "CNTL + ALT + DEL" relies on every user to understand that '+' in this context means 'press at the same time' which may not be as obvious when presented outside the context of a menu shortcut, but also that many keyboards nowadays have a 'Control' key but no 'CNTL' key, and many also have two keys labeled 'Delete' (forward and backward delete) which is a whole separate issue.
Seeing as how Windows 8 will have a lot more functionality built in to support touchscreen environments, you can bet that the way to unlock a tablet will be far more elegant. It would be nice if they rethought some of the most antiquated and overlooked parts of the experience. Then again, at least you almost never see [A]bort, [R]etry, [I]gnore anymore.
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Hi, I'm Kevin Fox.
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