I have a lull in stuff to do at work and I looked at my keyboard and realized that it is quite an outdated and unfriendly piece of equipment. A line from Atom and His Package’s song on the metric system comes to mind, ” You’re drunk with your tradition / That has no validity”. Ever wonder what the scroll lock key really does (was used to allow scrolling text around the then small screens with the arrow keys)? Ever actually used it for anything? Me neither. So why is it still being placed on our keyboard even though it hasn’t been used since the 1980’s.
Most things we use are engineered for a particular use, the shifter in your car is made just to shift and P, R, N, and D all make pretty good sense. The keyboard sitting in front of you though doesn’t make sense because it is meant as a general purpose input device and this leads to a boatload of problems.
In Microsoft Word, know what the F7 button does? It brings up the spellchecker. The only way you would know that is if you have it memorized, not because it makes sense to associate function key 7 with checking your spelling. Any guesses on what the other function keys do?
The shift key is another marvel all in itself, with the addition of one key the number of available functions available on a keyboard double! So in Word, when you hit shift+F7, it no longer brings up the spellchecker, this time you get the thesaurus. In some programs like Photoshop, I’ve seen some functions being tied to triple and quadruple key presses, good for people highly proficient in the program, bad for people trying to learn it.
Some keyboard functions have become standardized simply because of the location of the keys themselves! Ctrl+X cuts text and places it memory, Ctrl+V inserts that text wherever the curser is on the screen, and Ctrl+Z undos the process. There is no real meaning tied to the Z, X, and V keys, they just happen to be the easiest to press while holding down the left Ctrl key with your pinky. I feel sorry for people without a left pinky because it would make copying and pasting a pain.
So what’s the problem? This abstract relationship between buttons and functions is not user friendly. The longer things stay the same the more people get locked into it and that makes changing things even harder. I think our biggest hope for change lies with laptops and smaller form factor devices that don’t have the real estate luxury for extraneous buttons.
Have you had any problems with your keyboard or experienced difficulty figuring out what keys actually do what?