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Ctrl + Alt + Del

by: LuciWiz - Aug 07, 2005

We just got this new oscilloscope at work. Naturally, we all gathered around to test drive it.

It lit up like a Christmas tree, and so did our faces when we found ourselves glazing at the Windows Desktop! All but making that familiar Windows startup sound (rumors say you can hear Devil's words when played backwards, but those are just rumors). Wow! was on everyone's lips.

We started toying around, watching signals from every device we could find, capturing all the signals, and generally having fun [1]. Of course one of my colleagues actually needed to do some work with the gadget and he eventually sent us away...

We got a good night's sleep and came back to work the second day. When the oscilloscope was powered up again, it just started acting funny: it booted OK, but any button pushed would just "freeze" it; even using the touch-screen had the same effect.

This is where child's psychology kicks in: just like a little child refusing to listen to his parents because he didn't get that toy for Christmas, the oscilloscope wouldn't listen to any of our commands. "He" was upset with something. Usually in this situation, you would just ask him nicely - didn't work. I remember my parents solved conflict situations like this by beating me; however, this was an expensive device, and we couldn't just "make another one".

Being fully-grown men, we didn't panic right away; it's Windows, right? So we restarted the damn thing (by cutting off the power) and watched it boot up again. It did; sadly, with the same effect.

We all agreed now it was time to panic: the mesmerized Wow! was replaced by much harsher words, and it had something to do with "...Linux instead ... damn Micro-bastards". One of us had tears in his eyes (I'm not giving any names, but I don't care what you say: "light-allergy" doesn't make you cry).

After calming down, we all came to terms with the fact that maybe it wasn't such a good idea to install all of those programs. Oh yeah, didn't I mention it? We all took part to the installation fiasco, so there was no one to cast blame on. We had to work together.

We used an USB port to get the acquired signals and port them to a PC. So we got this wild idea to try and connect a keyboard to it - it might just work! [2]

Fortunately, this little thing is like a small PC, so we could use input peripherals on it. Keyboard included. That is when we hit:

Ctrl + Alt + Del!

We could see the running services and there seemed to be a problem with the video codecs an UFP (Unidentified Freakin' Person) installed. Although the idea of video codecs on an oscilloscope makes perfect sense to everybody, it seems that Windows CE [3] didn't like it.

So we stopped the guilty process (yes, I "am sure", you bastard!) and things were back to normal!

Now, you might say, everything was OK in the end, so why the big fuss? I want to implore every embedded device manufacturer out there: if your hardware doesn't have a keyboard, don't put Windows on it!

As always, there is a second way to go:

Equip your device with a Big Red Button [4] like the one above. That should do it!


  • This is a true story, interspersed with my attempts to be funny.

  • Windows™ CE is a trademark of the ©Microsoft Corporation.

  • "Micro-b*stards" is an affectionate term used by one of my co-workers. If you are offended by the term, please direct all your hate-mail directly to him. I will not tell you his name.


[1] I apologize for my idea of fun. I also enjoy watching people wrestle sharks, if that matters.

[2] You may be wondering if we didn't have some sort of technical documentation to read and see if this was possible. Of course we do, but that is besides the point; that's not the way we do "engineering" around here!

[3] I found out about that picture from WaltP

[4] I drew the Big Red Button using Dia

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