By Shamus Posted Monday Feb 27, 2006

Filed under: Rants 41 comments

Steven Den Beste (who, really, really needs to get some permalinks, seriously man) makes the following gentle suggestion:


While it is true that the CAPS LOCK is certainly an optional key, I do find uses for it. For example, when writing code, it is an almost universal convention to give constants names in all uppercase, as in:

#define TURN_SPEED


So, if you have to type a lot of these at once (which is rare, usually lines of code like this are added as needed) then it might make sense in some cases to use the caps lock. Let’s face it, typing ROCKET_MAX_RANGE while holding down a shift key is akward. (try it!) So, there are certain rare exceptions where I do put this key to use. I suggest that this happens no more than once a year. If my keyboard did not have this key, it would have no impact on my productivity, except perhaps a small improvement gained from avoiding iNVERSED cAPS tYPING that SDB demonstrates above, and which, I assure you, happens a lot more often than once a year.

But no, by far the most useless key on the keyboard is of course:

This one.

I have never pushed it on purpose. I have pushed it by accident many, many times, and such mishaps usually end in confusion or disaster. It opens the start menu, and if you don’t stop typing you will end up launching a random application. So here we have the most annoying and useless key on the keyboard, tucked between two of the most commonly used and indispensible. Press this one when you’re playing a game, and the OS thoughtfully yanks you out of it (often leading to a crash) to present this menu to you. The left ALT and CTRL are two important buttons for most gamers. They get used for stuff like jumping and ducking. So, gamers get the thrill of hammering away on these two buttons, knowing that a misplaced finger in a moment of panic will bring the whole show crashing down.

What amazes me is this: Ever try to buy a keyboard without a windows key? They are rare and expensive. There are high end “gaming” keyboards (a friend showed me one last night) that allow you to disable the key, but nobody has the nerve to just leave the stupid, useless, annoying little bugger off the keyboard entirely. The fact that the key needs to be disabled should be a dead giveaway that it shouldn’t be there in the first place. I keep waiting for Winkey-free keyboards to catch on, but year after year we see the same stupid keyboard.

I’m telling you: For a clever person out there someplace, there is a fortune to be made on this problem. Make a (cheap!!) keyboard without the Windows key, without that also-useless “clipboard” key, without the CAPs lOCK, and of course without the shopping keys and “internet” buttons that appear on some big-name branded keyboards. Make a trimmed-down version of the standard keyboard, and geeks will buy them faster than you can make them.


From The Archives:

41 thoughts on “cAPS lOCK kEY

  1. Bitwize says:

    geeks don’t buy keyboards.. we hoard old ones and collect them like stuffed animal head tropheys.

    we also value google more than a best friend with free beer..

    i’m sure there’s a hack out there that redirects those keys to some “incredibly useful” USB device.. *imagines LED keyboard clock/light*

  2. Shamus says:



  3. bkw says:

    I think the windows key can be a great time saver.

    Copernic used to have a neat little freeware program that you could use to create windows hotkeys (they’ve killed it, unfortunately ( I still have the install, and I use it on every computer I touch to create hotkeys to launch applications. For example:

    Win-C = calc.exe
    Win-I = web browser
    Win-N = Notepad (constantly dumping snippets of code and stuff; I have eight different notepads open at the moment)
    win-O = Outlook.exe
    Win-T = terminal service (remote desktop)
    Win-V = winVNC

    … not to mention the other built-in hotkeys (e.g. Win-E for windows explorer, Win-R to bring up the run dialogue box).

    Watching other people work drives me nuts because of the steps they have to go through to navigate their computers. I’m a keyboard junky and I hate taking my hands off the keys to use the trackball to move the mouse when I can do the same thing by hitting a couple key sequences.

    But totally agree re: the caps lock key. I’ve got it disabled on my computers.

  4. Gothmog says:

    I’ve actually have an old pre-windows key keyboard that have to I connect to my PC using an adapter-
    It gets alot of strange looks at LAN parties. :)

  5. Dustin says:

    I’ve actually deliberately pressed the Windows key.

    I remotely login to a Citrix server to do a lot of my work, and I like to work in in full-screen mode. The windows key is a great way of returning to my “native” desktop if I don’t have any other windows open.

  6. Justin says:

    There is a very easy way to ‘disable’ any key you don’t want on your keyboard, pry it off with a screwdriver. Fast, ugly, and effective.

  7. nigel little says:

    and why cant the letters be in alphabetical order iether?

  8. Kochise says:

    The best one, I installed on my computer :


  9. Joe says:

    Ahh, I miss my old IBM Model M, no windows key, ginormous, and a PS/2 connector (on a l-o-n-g spiral cable) to boot. Not to mention, I dislike the modern “quiet” keyboards and loved its clack-y goodness. Sadly they are not impervious to margaritas. Bullets possibly, but not a spilled drink.

    I do use the windows key, often when shutting down the computer with the monitor off. I am also fond of launching the run command with the windows key. What I don't understand is why it was placed between the ctrl and alt keys. I would have thought it better to push those to together and put the windows key on the outside. I find myself using the caps lock key most often in writing. It's easier to hit it and type “CHAPTER 12″ then holding down shift. It is definitely an improvement over the shift lock key from the typewriter era. Otherwise that example would have come out, “CHAPTER [email protected]”.

  10. Ms. Pounce says:

    Just pry it off!

  11. Daemian_Lucifer says:

    Funny thing is,but I do use the windows key quite often,because I have wireless mouse and keyboard,and its much easier to just have your keyboard in your lap,then both of them.So while typing something and I wish to turn on something new in the background,its much more easier to use the win key then to reach for the mouse.cAPS LOCK,ON THE OTHER HAND,i CAN COUNT ON MY FINGERS HOW MANY TIMES i USED IT INTENTIONALLY IN MY WHOLE LIFE(THIS SITUATION INCLUDED),YET i CANNOT STORE ALL THE UNINTENTIONAL USES ON A 200 gb hd.

  12. Rick says:

    nigel little: I don’t know if you’re serious, but the primary reason today is because so many people have learned to type on a QWERTY keyboard that putting them back in alphabetical order would muck us up :-) (Originally, the QWERTY keyboard was designed so that typewriters wouldn’t jam.)

    Anyway, I use my Windows key because Win-D is “Revert to desktop,” which I find very convenient. (Still, I agree that I hate hitting it accidentally.) Capslock, though…

  13. Brickman says:

    I occasionally use it as part of my attempts to back out of a game that’s crashed or buggy, since control-alt-delete is so freaking crippled in XP, but the number of times I’ve done that (rather less the number of times it actually helped) is far outshadowed by the number of times it’s F***ed everything up. I’ve never gotten annoyed enough with it for the screwdriver, but it doesn’t need to be there. I suppose it’s just there for the “casual” PC users who barely know how to operate the thing to make that friendly start menu even easier to find.

    And I have never once pressed that clipboard key, or at least never had anything happen as a result. In fact, five minutes ago I did not even know if it did anything, and out of curiosity when you mentioned it hit it a few times to discover it’s basically the same as a right click.

    By the way, caps lock has uses besides typing. I’ve played more than one game where it was used to toggle running, and one game (specifically N) would only let you properly play custom levels with it held down because it was in frame-by-frame mode if you didn’t use capslock (you can imagine what that game’s forums and the reviews on the level database looked like, though your mind would probably exaggerate).

  14. Mircoles says:

    I’ve never had problems with the windows key.I even find it useful sometimes. The caps lock is a little bothersome,but really only in chat where you have people that flip out when you write in caps.

  15. Target says:

    There used to be a keyboard shortcut to the start menu. I think it was alt-s. Of course it no longer works because it’s been replaced by a stupid key (which I only use on my laptop w/ any regularity). This was a rather stupid innovation brough to us, I’m sure, by microsoft.

    As for Caps Lock: I propose just relocating it. Somewhere out of the way, perhaps the ins/home/end/page/etc cluster. In some of the work I do, I type in all caps. The rest of the time it is annoying when I’m aiming for shift/tab and clip the caps lock.

  16. GURPSguy says:

    You can always remap the CapsLock; there are several cheap/free key remappers available. I’m considering swapping CapsLock with the Backspace key, in the same manner as the Colemak keyboard layout (

    On the other hand, I *do* use the Windows key frequently, either to access the Start menu, or as part of some macro I’ve written.

    Having said all that, I’ll agree it’s in an awful position, especially when gaming. I much prefer where it is on my other computer, in among the Insert/Del/Page xx cluster. Like BKW, I’m a keyboarder, and watching anybody else work can be insanity inducing. I so seldom use my touchpad that it looks like new, while there are shiny spots on the spacebar.

  17. Charlene says:

    Standard procedure for genealogy research puts SURNAMES in all caps. I use several databases and spreadsheets that have data in all caps; I’m constantly switching between mixed case and all upper case; and I couldn’t do without a caps lock key. I’ve never accidentally hit the caps lock, but I’ve been a touch typist for over 25 years.

    I’ve been looking for a new wireless keyboard/mouse combo and have found the bigger problem right now — the caps lock / num lock lights have disappeared from keyboards. So not only are people accidentally hitting the key, they no longer have any indicator that it’s on. Why did the lights disappear?

  18. Puck says:

    What? This is a completely foreign concept to me. How could anyone use the windows operating system and not use the windows key? It’s useful for all sorts of things, and I didn’t even know about programs to make custom hotkeys.

    Win + D instantly brings up the desktop, often even forcing modal or buggy windows to disappear
    Win + E opens windows explorer instantly to manipulate files, hitting the hotkey twice is an extremely fast way of starting two instances for easy copying, sorting, and generally working with two directories at the same time
    Win + F opens the windows find dialog
    Win + R opens the windows run dialog, good for entering quick commands (for example if you’re an unfortunate Windows XP user who gets the dreaded shutdown dialog, it’s much faster to hit Win+R than to use the mouse)

    It also provides very fast access to common functions if you memorize basic accelerators. It’s a long standing habit of mine to hit Win, U, Enter at the end of the day to shut down the computer. Maybe I’m an exception to the rule, but I would never call the windows key useless.

  19. poxjedi says:

    I actually do have uses for the Winkey. Most often while playing some computer game and listening to iTunes at the same time, I might pause the game, press Winkey to get to the desktop without quitting the game, select the next podcast I want to listen to, and then return to Neverwinter Nights without bothering with saving and loading progress bars.

  20. Chris says:

    There is a use for the Caps Lock key, but I can see how it would be situational. I’m a drafter; everything in drafting is almost always in capital letters. In fact, the only exception I can think of is common abbreviations, such as m for milli. So, at work, my caps lock is always on. But, then, that’s simply because my job calls for it. When I’m on my PC at home, I don’t use it.

  21. Kel'Thuzad says:

    Well, let me say I hate that key. It is the bane of all my gaming needs (warcraft 3) where I usually talk a lot in custom rp maps. So, talking suddenly a little windows symbol appears in the bottom left. I say to myself, “oh crap” write “windows button” as fast as possible so they know why I lag and why not to drop me.
    Some people actually say they have TORN THE KEY OUT. I have considered that for a while, but… mom might get mad. Not a happy sight.


  22. Tiana says:

    I’m possibly the only person I’ve met that uses the caps lock key and NEVER SHIFT for capitalization.

    I have no idea why I do. I know that when I started typing, I knew it made things capitalized, and didn’t know the shift key did? So, why, yes. I hit the caps lock key every single time I capitalize something. And every single time I decapitalize it. And for me, it’s faster than using shift.

    And I type 100wpm. So yeah, those ‘it’s slowing you down’ arguements just don’t hold for me. I would be VERY UPSET if it was removed. :)

    Useless? Nah. But that Windows key just gets in the way.

  23. Inna says:

    I actually use the windows key, although I use it in Linux. If you’re using Emacs it’s useful to have a modifier key that Emacs doesn’t grab, so that you can have system-wide keybindings (for switching desktops and running programs and such) on a key that Emacs doesn’t see.

  24. KelThuzad says:

    Oh, I use the caps lock key to put in serial codes… but, it usually doesn’t bother me. Well, it’s NEVER bothered me.

  25. Tengokujin says:

    Ctrl + Esc is the alternate shortcut for Start Menu. True Fact. Also, Ctrl + Shift + Esc for Task Manager.

  26. Mephane says:

    Actually, Windows Vista made it somewhat more useful (but nevertheless annoying while gaming), because it focuses on the input line in the start menu, so if you’re on the desktop, you can launch pretty much any application by pressing WinKey, typing the name and pressing Enter.

    Actually, that and the better 64bit driver support are the only real improvements over WinXP… *sigh*

  27. Takkelmaggot says:

    I suppose I’m one of those rare mutants that uses the Windows key on a daily basis; specifically, winkey+D to minimize everything- very handy- and winkey+R to bring up the “Run” command.
    Even that… other? windows key gets occasional use. But you kids with your newfangled buttons for “internet” and “help” and “music” need to get off my lawn. I refuse to buy keyboards that require drivers.
    One of these days I’ll get a Das Keyboard Professional and never buy another keyboard again. That thing looks like it could stop an artillery round.

  28. MuonDecay says:

    I once got so pissed off with that key that I opened up the keyboard and disabled it.

    It was pretty easy actually. I just removed the bottom of the board and inserted a piece of paper between the two polymer sheets underneath that key. I did the same with the calculator key.

    Both stopped working.

  29. THOR says:

    IBM Model M FTW.

  30. Dr. Fears says:

    I agree with those who talked about mapping the Win key combos to useful functions. I personally use that key quite a bit in PekWM (where it’s called Mod4). But the thing that I hate the most about the Win key is pressing just the Win key in Windows. If I want a menu, I want to have it be at least two keys (like the aforementioned Alt-S).
    For that matter, though, get rid of the Alt key single-key menu activation. If I want the file menu, I’ll press Alt-F, not Alt and then F. (I actually rather like the fact that my laptop keyboard requires two keys depressed in order to do PgUp, PgDn, Home, or End.)

  31. Julian says:

    Ah, but there is a use for the Winkey! Pressing Winkey + D minimizes EVERYTHING you have open at the moment and returns you swiftly to your desktop.

  32. Maldeus says:

    I’m poring through the old Twenty Sided archives, and when I found this one (while on a friends computer) I noticed something. The windows key has been ripped off.

  33. Ve Das says:

    Necroing for this:

    You can just remove the key by simply taking it out. Most keyboards are customisable to some extent and I usually pop out the win key with a knife as a lever. It’s not like I need the bloody thing anyway.

  34. Tacoma says:

    The keyboard also needs to somehow include variable key weight. You could probably do this by having a fitting under each key that you turn when they key is pulled out. Four settings. For best results, set all your keys to the same weight.

    The keyboard should be sturdy. It should have a wireless broadcaster compatible with all brands of wireless keyboard interceptor. It should also include a USB cable and standard keyboard cable, both of which attach securely to the keyboard with clamps.

    Each key should have a slight ridge around the top and the keyboard should come with a pliers-like tool that easily pulls the keys out. It should be waterproof except at the data ports. Meaning if you dunk the thing underwater with the ports above the surface you can type like that all day.

    It needs a “I’m connected!” light that turns green if everything is fine, red if there’s a fault, and blinks if the keyboard is running low on battery. If the battery is out it doesn’t blink at all.

    It should contain a 2gb camera memory card which you can swap out. The keyboard memory contains all necessary drivers for every operating system in existence to date. It doesn’t update automatically but you can set it to. You can also drop drivers into the memory card manually.

    Finally a keyboard manager program can be accessed on your computer to create, record, and run keystroke macros, alter the input values if you really like Dvorak, and handle alternate languages and custom alt-key combinations.

    Anything else?

  35. SlothfulCobra says:

    I actually find the windows key useful for getting me out of games when I don’t have another window open to alt+tab to.

  36. timothymh says:

    Just pry it off and tape over it! That’s what I would do if I used Windows.

  37. Vedran says:

    I rip out capslock from any keyboard I own (and some that I don’t), and this rant inspired me to rip win key as well. :D

    Anyway, the start menu can be opened by pressing Ctrl+Escape.

  38. Stephen says:

    Wow, really?

    On a machine that runs Windows Vista, 7, or later, hold that key and hit tab.

    In Windows 7, I use that key more than any other on the keyboard.

  39. Scow2 says:

    I hate the Window’s key too, partially because it’s a System command that works against the same principal of the other two system commands, Ctrl+Alt+Del and Alt+F4 – the reasoning behind those keys being they’re nigh-impossible to push intentionally.

    I’d like to replace the key with another Alt-function for gaming purposes.
    As it is, I just pry the button off my keyboards.

    Also… I hate programs that completely disable Alt-F4.

  40. Dreadjaws says:

    I also despise the WinKey with all my heart. Though I have used on purpose once in a while, in order to exit a game which had frozen. It almost never worked. It works perfectly when I press it on accident though. I’d prefer its existence were confined to a faraway corner of the keyboard, along the least used keys.

    Though I’ve never had a problem with Caps Lock. I actually use it every day. Very useful for the kind of work I do, since I have to type mostly in uppercase. And remember, this is not some lame Microsoft invention, the Caps Lock key also existed in typewriters (though it was far harder to press it on purpose).

    Leaving this aside, my biggest issue comes with the idiot who thought it would be a good idea to leave the “Edit” key next to the “Help” key. There are not enough stars in the Milky Way to count all the times I tried to edit something and was greeted by a popping up help window instead. And mind you, most of those edits are not by mistakes made, but by having to reuse a format for printing.

  41. mendota says:

    i hate to post to such an old blog post, but for posterity i have to defend the windows key. it gets a lot of use on my linux netbook. all of my main programs are accessible with a two-key combination based on the windows key.

    no clumsy mouseover menus, no typing in program names to the command line or search bar, just WIN+W and i have a web browser.

    it’s really elegant and eliminates a lot of unnecessary mousing (which is already a pain on a netbook’s trackpad.)

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