From the many computer keyboards kicking around my office, here are closeups depicting the most common arrangements of Function and modifier keys:
This unwanted variety in layout (and function) drives me nuts. It slows my typing, as I have to work harder to make sure I’m hitting the right key when copy-pasting, application switching etc.
- When Microsoft decided to add the Windows key to the standard PC keyboard, they idiotically put it between the Ctrl and Alt keys, so it wasn’t consistent with the already established convention of Apple’s command key (which in early days was also labelled as the Apple key)
- Most manufacturers, when faced with the need for yet another modifier key (especially on compact keyboards), further cluttered the lower left key area with a Fn key. Again idiotically, Apple and Microsoft failed to standardize on the location of this, so on Apple keyboards Fn is the first key whereas with Windows keyboards it is the second.
- On Windows, common hotkeys for manipulating text are all based on the control key, whereas on Mac they use the Command key (which didn’t have an analog on PC keyboards until the the Windows key was added, in the wrong place). Note the control key and the command keys are in very different places, so the finger positions are very different for common operations.
- The Windows key is DUMB. It’s primary purpose is [was] to open the Windows start menu. It’s also a modifier key, but I’m guessing not widely used as such (every now and then I hit Windows-E to launch Explorer, just to remind myself I can). Also it doesn’t even have a symbol I can type, because Microsoft decided to brand it with the goddamn Windows logo. At least Apple’s command key has an actual glyph that can be typed (⌘) and isn’t in and of itself a trademark.
Special credit goes to the refreshingly simple key layout to be found on Google’s Chromebooks, which actually dispenses entirely with the Command/Windows key and the Fn key.
I really kind of love what they’ve done here; it’s like Google looked at existing layouts and said “Wait a sec, why do we need so many modifier keys anyway? And what’s the deal with the caps-lock key? Why such prominent placement for a key that is almost never used?”
Bravo Google for a bold design choice. Boo Apple and Microsoft for not sorting your shit out and saving everyone a lot of time and typing mistakes.