New keyboards – good or bad

Don Box writes about new keyboard offerings from Microsoft. I’m not sure if he likes them or not. I will say that they appeal to me. Microsoft has removed the Insert key.

There are historical reasons for keeping the Insert key. The primary reason is its use for copy and paste. Ctl-Ins used to be the standard for copy and Shift-Ins was the standard for paste. This has since been standardized across several OSs with the Ctl-C and Ctl-V key combinations.

Another use of the Insert key, especially in text-based editors, was to insert spaces in lines. I can’t imagine any modern programs needing to insert repetitive spaces. Every modern editor supports use of the Tabs or automatic indenting, which is much more portable when printing text to printers with non-proportional fonts. The reason the insert key was used before was because the space bar would overwrite text. This left the Insert key as the only way to insert blank room for additinal text to be inserted.

This leads me to my third usage of the Insert key, and the one that makes me happy to see it disappear. In modern editors, the Insert key is used to toggle between “insert” and “overwrite” mode. The default for most programs, and I’m sure the mode that most of use exclusively, is the insert mode. Today, when we overwrite text, we simply highlight the text we want to replace before we start typing.

However, the Insert key still functions as the mode toggle in many editors. Frequently, I overextend and hit the Insert key when I mean to catch the Delete or the Home key. I start typing and don’t realize until I look up from my paper that I’ve just wiped away three lines of text because I happened to have accidentally toggled into overwrite mode.

I, for one, will be happy to see the Insert key disappear from my next keyboard.

Don then goes on to say that we should also remove the Scroll Lock, Pause, and CAPS LOCK keys. I must object to removing the CAPS LOCK key. I just used it twice to type this sentence. As a touch-typist who needs to frequently type constant names and/or codes that are all capital letters, I need the use of the CAPS LOCK key. Without it, my typing speed goes way down because of the need to consistently hold down the shift key.

Do I accidentally hit the caps lock sometimes? Yes. Isn’t that the same complaint I made about the Insert key? Yes. However, the Insert key caused me to undo and have to retype information. Accidental use of the CAPS LOCK key is fixed by the editor with a “convert to lower case” function.

I am ambivalent about removing the Scroll Lock and Pause keys. I did use these when I was doing REXX programming in OS/2. However, all operating systems today have functional replacements for these two keys, more or less.

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  1. #1 by jim kukral on December 22, 2003 - 3:34 pm

    I love my natural ergo keyboard from MS. All 3 of them on 3 pc’s. Fantastic product.

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