The Caps Lock key MUST DIE!!!

Seriously. Who uses the caps-lock key?

Other than people composing Nigerian Scam (419) e-mails - you know the type, "DEAR SIR... CONFIDENTIAL BUSINESS PROPOSAL... typo typo typo."

I got used to Sun keyboards that put the control key in the location where capslock keys are found on PC keyboards. When I used Linux and Solaris x86 I was able to use xmodmap to remap the caps lock key to act as a control key - but of course anytime I try to use somebody else's computer, such as at an internet cafe when travelling, or worse yet, when doing a demo on fixed hardware somewhere - I keep hitting caps lock and getting myself into trouble. I don't use Windows often enough to justify searching for a program

On my mac powerbook I've found a program to remap the capslock key as well - but it doesn't always work. After suspend and at occasional random times, the key has memories of its previous life and decides to switch case rather than put Emacs into the right mood for the next keystroke.

So here's my question -- why do we give such a prominent position to a key that's probably not used? Or am I missing some big class of business users that say work in spreadsheets with the capslock mode turned on? Since people use the control key a lot (to do ctrl-c and ctrl-v to copy and paste for example), can't we put the control key up there on all keyboards? It's certainly a more comfortable position than where it currently sits.


The CAPSLOCK key may deserve to die, but the control key should stay where it belongs on the far lower left of the keyboard. After 20 years of using keyboards with the control key in the standard location it was a real shock six years ago to find that Sun workstations used keyboards with a strange layout with control in the CAPSLOCK position. <p/>Luckily I discovered that Sun also made keyboards with the normal PC layout. When I've used Sun hardware I've always used a normal ISO layout keyboard. <p/>What's been most surprising about the Sun keyboard is the depth of devotion by Sun employees to the non-standard layout. Also that every new model from Sun seems to continue the perpetuation of the odd layout. I sure hope we aren't shipping these keyboards with the new Opteron workstations. The general computing community almost certainly has no love for non-standard keyboard layouts. <p/>Try a PC layout keyboard. A few days and you will never go back. Honest.

Posted by Mike Duigou on August 18, 2004 at 02:11 AM PDT #

I disagree. I cut my teeth on the "standard" layout keyboard so that's what I was used to until I went to work for Sun. Switching to a new position of the control key was easy, because physically it's more comfortable there (you don't have to bend your pinky or wrist to press both control and say the A key at the same time. It's switching back that I can't do. And believe me I've had to use the PC keyboard for more than a couple of days - but it has no advantages that I can tell, and has the disadvantage that I mentioned (less comfortable position to reach).

Posted by Anonymous on August 18, 2004 at 02:21 AM PDT #

....but of course I wouldn't be opposed to having control in BOTH places, for muscle memory for those who prefer it there :) Just like the Shift key is in two places on the keyboard as well.

Posted by Anonymous on August 18, 2004 at 02:22 AM PDT #

Tee One True Location for the Control key on a keyboard is immediately to the left of the A key. Anywhere else is absurd. Mike's comment about "20 years with standard layouts" made me chuckle; does he not realise that the original IBM keyboard for the PC had the Control key immediately to the left of the A? Try using vi on a PC layout keyboard; after a few hours you'll have a sore pinky and be willing to do anything to get back to using a real keyboard...

Posted by Rich Teer on August 20, 2004 at 09:11 AM PDT #

Sure (and thanks for the feedback both of you)... but vi isn't so bad - I don't use the control key much when using vi - it's mostly Escape and colon commands. But most of the time I use emacs - and emacs is truly painful to use without the control key in a comfortable place since almost all character commands are formed with the control key!

I tried to make the point though that this isn't just for die-hard unix fans (where vi and emacs are important applications), but even normal editing in common Windows applications involves lots of control hitting (cut copy paste, and control-arrow to jump words), so I think even PC users would benefit from this.

Posted by Tor Norbye on August 20, 2004 at 09:17 AM PDT #

I'm surprised noone has mentioned the the happy hacking keyboard so far: (website not answering right now, check the google cache...). There is nothing like having the control key in the right place and not having a caps lock key <em>at all</em>!

Posted by Moritz Willers on August 24, 2004 at 07:46 AM PDT #

The "right" place for the control key is under your thumbs since your pinky isn't really designed for the stress put on it from using Emacs with either of the "normal" positions for Control.

I've never quite understood Emacs power users who claimed to prefer the Sun layout. How they get by without two control keys (one on each side) is beyond me.

As for the Caps Lock, I find it quite useful when programming, as constants and environment variables are conventionally in all caps, and trying to type whole words with the shift key down is a recipe for hand pain.

Posted by Kevin Scaldeferri on September 05, 2004 at 05:44 AM PDT #

Probably Kevin is right about where the key should be. I frequently keep using my Apple/Command key with the thumb. The reason I could see for the common location of the caps lock key is that computer keyboards tried to be like typewriters in that respect – but most manufacturers don't go all the way these days: My 'old school' mid 1990s Mac keyboard still has in caps lock key that physically locks – thus making it much harder to hit by accident (and not having that irritating behaviour where hitting the shift key disables caps lock). On the other hand my 1987 Mac keyboard has a caps lock key that physically locks and is at the very bottom left. So as far as keyboards are concerned things got worse and worse...

Posted by ssp on September 05, 2004 at 07:37 AM PDT #

One of the earliest computer keyboards I used had no Caps Lock key -- because it was ona terminal that could not display lower-caser letters!

In the olden days, computer keyboards did not resemble typewriter keyboards the way they do nowadays. Apart from the control key being in the correct place, next to the A, they had a lot of symbols paired with keys with similar ASCII values. For example, Shift+2 produced ", because their ASCII codes 0x32 and 0x22 differed by one bit position. This made the electronics easier. This is why I know ASCII codes for punctuation characters and my younger colleagues do not.

The "extended" PC keyboard layout was introduced to make PCs keyboards seem more like typewriters for the benefit of secretaries and managers. One of the most annoying consequences in Britain is that keyboards have displaced or even removed # in order to allow us to type the pound-sterling sign -- great for secretaries, incredibly annoying for programmers. Supposedly this has all been standardized but none of the computers I use agree on the positioning of \\, `, |, and ~. Feh.

Most of my keyboards have a hole where the Caps Lock key was.

Posted by Damian Cugley on September 05, 2004 at 06:38 PM PDT #

Just to bring up the need for the Caps-Lock key: on French keyboards there is no humanly guessable way to type accented uppercase letters. (I'm sorry but I don't see myself typing stuff like Alt+0182 or whatever just to get an acute accent on top of a 'E', especially when this way is specific to Windows.) That is on fr_FR at least, since fr_CA (Québec) substitutes this problem with the funky four-accents key problem.

Posted by Michel Valdrighi on September 05, 2004 at 10:34 PM PDT #

Who uses the caps-lock key?
Us poor saps who have to regularly interact (via telnet) with case-sensitive legacy systems that expect everything in SHOUTY MODE<sup>1</sup>, that's who. I wish I could say otherwise, but there are times when I'd go bonkers without it.

<sup>1</sup>Yes, I find that a horrible concept too, but we're stuck with 'em.

Posted by blufive on September 06, 2004 at 07:12 AM PDT #

It seems obvious to me that a better solution than the caps-lock key for the case-sensitive legacy systems in "shouty mode" is a software solution: Telnet clients should offer a key mode and automatically upcase characters when selected (and remember the keymode when you attach to the same legacy system next time).

Posted by Tor Norbye on September 06, 2004 at 10:46 AM PDT #

I have never been one to swap the caps lock and control keys, but reading this blog post made me rethink this. It sure would be nice to have the control or win/apple key up there where caps lock currently sits. Caps Lock is nothing but a nuisance to me.

Posted by Scott Johnson on September 08, 2004 at 11:20 AM PDT #

And while we are at it: Why not remove the Insert key as well? Sure, _somebody_ is using it for something, but in the quest to make a userfriendly keyboard for normal day use the sucker must go. Every now and then I find myself overwriting lots of my text since I by mistake hit the Insert key when I wanted to just Delete af comma.

Posted by Christian on October 03, 2004 at 04:01 PM PDT #


Posted by MARZIPAN on November 08, 2004 at 10:29 AM PST #

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