Posted by: Brad Nixon | December 29, 2010

Trapped! In the World Bill Made.

A story on, HERE, reports on some new dad-burned electronic device rolled out by … hold on, let me check … uh, oh yeah, some company named Google (are they a hardware company? I thought they were a software company; or an energy company; or an international cabal of data fetishists, I forget). The device in question is a notebook computer, the Cr-48 (I assume that the Cr stands for “Chrome,” also the name of Google’s browser cum operating system, which is apparently one of the Secret Ingredients on the Periodic Table ((CR is actually “Chromium”)) ). The news: the Cr-48 has no “Caps Lock” key.

Well, I am shocked to learn via that Slate article that there is an actual movement to eliminate the CAPS LOCK key. I can’t believe this story hasn’t gotten more coverage! Lose CAPS LOCK? I’ll elaborate. First, some background.

The Slate article provides a concise history of the evolution of the computer keyboard, including explanations for the presence of some of those arcane keys, now lost in the dim, chthonic past of computer programming. For example, have you ever even looked at that top of keys: F1, F2, F3, etc? You probably have 10 or 12 of them. Ever use ’em?

I have been using computers for a reasonable expanse of that history, and I probably use more of those function keys than today’s average user. For a time, I was addicted to the convention of “macro” commands, which allow one to program often-repeated functions to combinations such as SHIFT, CONTROL, and some regular key.  These macro commands do things like highlight or format text in particular ways. In the old-timey days before interfaces evolved, everyone has a mouse or a touch-screen, it was a way to simplify the cumbersome ol’ computer. Those macro keys were also a hedge against the constantly evolving and -changing idiocies introduced by interface designers at companies like, oh, say MICROSOFT; those bozos never had and, apparently, never will, an understanding of how normal humans think and work. Now, because my work involves a few specialized activities related to presentations, there are some function keys that help the average computer communicate with devices from the Other World of graphics and video hardware. Some of those devices still (when will it end?) retain dim memories deeply programmed into their inner cores of a day when the visual/video/graphics world existed on platforms entirely distinct from the standard computer platforms. For example, if you don’t know what the F7 key does, you’re probably not in the presentation biz.

I admit, it’s been a long time since I used some of the keys on the standard keyboard: END, HOME, SCROLL LOCK, PRNTSCR, and so forth. They could go away. If you’re using a laptop, some of them may already have disappeared from your keyboard.

I am, as it happens, one of the  WORLD MASTERS of keyboard commands, without using a mouse. Many years ago, in my freelancing days, I made an enormous investment in an IBM ThinkPad x486 laptop computer. The “mouse” on that computer was the famous “pencil eraser,” a little red ball in the center of the keyboard that moved the cursor around. At a certain point in that computer’s career, the little mouse device gave up the ghost. Since I hadn’t purchased any service warranties, I was stuck. No mouse. In that day, around 1994 or so, the computer screen was not so dependent upon mouse functions, since the WWW was still in its germinal stages, and most of what I needed to do involved word processing. You younger users haven’t paid much attention to this fact, but almost everything you need to do with a mouse in word processing can be done with keyboard commands. Copy? CNTRL-C. Paste? CNTRL-V. with no mouse, I learned them ALL: bold, indent, italicize, insert symbol, change case, page break, print — ALL of them.

Increasingly, of course, all applications have become mouse-oriented, and the ubiquity of clickable or touchscreen interfaces have made clicking the mouse an innate human function, and the joy of chiropractors and doctors everywhere who are treating us for our carpal tunnel syndromes. Only in the most arcane and rarefied of environments do humans actually write code — even most Web sites are built through authoring interfaces. I have some colleagues who might write in to say that they’re still writing hard-core code, but that’s why they’re so highly paid, so don’t complain, gang!

There is, however, another large group of humans out there wedded to our keyboards. We’re called WRITERS. Remember us? No, I don’t mean those of us texting in all lower- or uppercase: people writing large blocks of copy. To those who seek to eliminate CAPS LOCK, I say, “Beware!” You may enrage the writers of the world, and they’ll say bad things about you in every publication, on every Web site and every blog. Starting here!

As it happens I know how this move to ban CAPS LOCK came to pass.

I blame Bill Gates.

I blame Bill for a lot of things, as anyone who’s worked with me over the years can tell you. They’ve listened to me curse the rollout of each new version of Windows or Microsoft Office, as Gates’ band of clueless idiots, with decades of market domination and the world’s richest corporation behind them, have consistently — nay — unfailingly demonstrated that they have no earthly clue how ordinary computer users think or work. Instead, they persist in designing interfaces that reflect how programmers think and work, and shoehorn the rest of us into their mode. The latest iteration of Windows — with its scintillating, captivating name: “7” — is a consummation of sorts: a nearly incomprehensible restructuring of commands and functions into a miserable, labyrinthine collection of gadgets that only someone who holds a lot of Microsoft stock options would applaud.

The effort to eliminate CAPS LOCK demonstrates how successful the Microsoft microminds have been in programming the rest of us to think like programmers instead of users; is a function no longer required for coding? BAD. Get rid of it!

Well, allow me to enlighten you, Mr. Gates and friends: get rid of SCROLL LOCK or function keys F11 and F12 or something, BUT KEEP THE GOSH-DARNED CAPS LOCK KEY!

JUST BECAUSE it is something that existed on a typewriter doesn’t mean it’s obsolete. It was there because people who write SOMETIMES FIND IT USEFUL.

I WILL say that Windows 7 has me seriously considering re-instituting my use of those twelve function keys. I think I’ll program them to perform the primary operations I use in the Microsoft Office applications BECAUSE I CAN NEVER FIND THEM ANY MORE! I’ll go tentatively at first. One never knows what action is already assigned any given key combination like, say, CNTRL-ALT-F9. It might have some truly catastrophic result like deleting everything in my address book, or automatically sending a message to Pat Robertson that he’s a great guy and he should expect a lot of money from me.

Hey, if anyone bumps into Bill at a conference or something, let him know I’d like to have a word with him. A Microsoft Word!

And all you Mac-o-philes can save your comments. I know all about that Apple company. I work with graphic artists, photographers, designers, video editors, musicians … all the cool people, so I know about those Apple thangs. Wait! I have an Apple product right here, uh, somewhere. Oh, here it is. My iPod. Gosh, it’s so slim and sleek and and petite, I almost couldn’t find it. But, when one is in the corporate game, one uses what the company dictates and, for 25 years, it’s been the Intel/Microsoft Nexus of Doom. Just the way it goes.



  1. Hi Brad,
    This young lady had a few things to say about “unused” keys on the keyboard. This video was popular enough she did it again live in Canada at some comedy meet (pretty sure it was comedy).
    Regards, Mark


    • Thanks. Wish I’d thought of it!


  2. On a dismal, raining morning, with a more dismal cold in my body, I thoroughly enjoyed your article! Thought the video was funny as well. As Brad knows, I am one of those MAC folks, but thought I’d point out we have experienced changes in keyboards a number of times. The last time was when the entire function key row was assigned special duties for the MAC OS, like adjusting the screen and keyboard brightness (yes two different things) as well as “dashboard”, viewing all windows that are open, etc., driving me crazy at first. I have learned to accept them and even in the case of some have fully embraced the change (the above mentioned viewing all windows function is one). I don’t mind the caps lock there, but will admit to the most use it gets from me being the inadvertent engagement when typing while looking at the text I am inputting and then looking back to see the entire line all caps – doh! Tom



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