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Monday, August 22, 2005

The ctrl-alt-delete test

Abstract: There are so many clues that mute devices can give about their owners. One such effective method is described here as an example.

Motivation: Given a PC, you have to make out whether the owner runs Windows or Linux on it. The system is switched off. No, you are not allowed to switch it on. In case, it's a dual boot system, find out if the user uses Windows more or Linux.

Background: Any regular computer user would know that the keys on the keyboard erode with use. With time, dust settles on the keys but they are consumed by the fingers which touch them. However, this consumption of dust away from the keyboard is not even. The keys which are used the most, look the shiniest. Therefore, the shininess of the keys give an idea of the relative frequency of keys-usage.

The ctrl-alt-delete test: Any windows user knows the importance of the Ctrl-Alt-Delete dose. It's needs to be injected every now and then, often out of wilderness. I argue that if the computer runs Windows, the Ctrl-Alt-Delete keys will be the shiniest. Windows users spend most of their time with the Ctrl-Alt-Delete keys. One might refute the claim, saying that the Space key could be shinier and it's used most often. No. Windows users hardly touch the keyboard except for this Ctrl-Alt-Delete medication. Interestingly, windows users instead use the mouse to bring up the start menu even though there's a full-fledged key on the keyboard dedicated just to this purpose (the windows key / super key).

Conclusion: The keys on the keyboard provide several clues about the user. Some of these are quite unexpected. Had Conan Doyle been alive, Sherlock Holmes would have found many uses of these in his investigations for the truth.

Future Work: Space bar, the longest key on the keyboard, can reveal a lot. For instance, if the space bar is eroded from the right, this means that the user is right handed. The relative shininess of the other keys also tend to let the cat out of the bag. The F & J keys can reveal if the user has to look at the keyboard while typing or is a touch-typist (can type without looking). The W, A, S, D keys reveal if the user is a gamer. So much so that the ASL (age-sex-location) keys will tell you if the user is an avid chatter! Many more of these promising arenas remain unexplored.

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