Typing Off Key: Do Keyboards Really Need These Legacy Keys and Can You Reuse Them?

With my recent interest in keyboards and customization of keys, I keep thinking of all the keys on the keyboard I don’t use. The latest keyboard I acquired has an F13 button, and it made me think…what is that doing there? So, I thought I should cover a few keys I question whether or not I really need, and might be able to repurpose.

  • Caps Lock – Chromebooks already got rid of the Caps Lock key. On my 40% keyboard, I set Caps Lock using a Tap-Hold function on the Shift key. When you tap the shift key, it triggers Caps Lock, otherwise, holding it is a shift. Double-tap is a common caps lock command on Smartphone keyboards. Also, the key is 1.75u…so even if you keep it, it takes up more space than a traditional key. On a Colemak layout, the Caps Lock position serves as a second backspace key to allow it to be reached by both hands.
  • Scroll Lock – This used to be used to change the behavior of the arrow keys, but it is not usually used for that outside of some programs any longer, making it less useful. On one keyboard I have, this was replaced by a microphone mute key.
  • Pause/Break – We’re back to….this doesn’t seem to do much on modern computers. On one keyboard I have, this was replaced by a control key for the lighting.
  • Num Lock – Num lock locks the keypad to numbers. Without it, the keypad can act as arrows, as well as having functions for home, end, insert, delete, page up and page down. Things pretty much every keyboard with a built in number pad already has.
  • Menu Key – Also known as the Application key, it has been used to launch a context menu with the keyboard, as opposed to a right mouse click. Microsoft recently decided to start replacing this with a Copilot or Search button.
  • Function Keys – Most keyboards has F1-F12. Macs remap these to media keys, which are often a secondary function on Windows systems. But computers actually support up to 24 function keys…thus my weird F13. These can be mapped in software to trigger operating system functions and are often used by default by software.. But, you can also just lock them to the media functions if you want to.

This doesn’t factor in the ANSI layout popular in the US with the alternate ISO layout popular in Europe. On the ISO keyboard, the Enter key is a larger L shaped key, the left shift is smaller to make space for another key, the right Alt is often replaced by a key to support additional languages, and the extra long backslash key is gone.

On many keyboard formats, some of these keys are omitted and generated using combinations of other keys. So, is this just a pointless exercise? I don’t think so. So many new keyboards still have all these keys, and they are sitting there, and you might as well use them for something, if not their original intention.

1 thought on “Typing Off Key: Do Keyboards Really Need These Legacy Keys and Can You Reuse Them?”

  1. Wrote a post on Gadget Wisdom(where I’ve been writing tech stuff) on the subject of keys on my keyboard I don’t really find much use for, and might want to repurpose. Curious what other people think of these keys.

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