Defenestrating Keyboards

A close up photo of the Windows key with a negation symbol over it.

Actually, that’s not strictly accurate. I don’t want to throw a keyboard out of a window. I want to remove the Microsoft branding from my Linux laptop keyboard. I don’t think it’s really spite. Microsoft makes a decent enough set of operating systems and applications. It’s just that it reduces my cognitive dissonance to have commodity hardware be as platform neutral as possible.

For example, what do we call it? Mostly I’ve heard it called “windows key,” “win key” or, in combination with other keystrokes, “window.” I’ve read that some call it the “flag key” or “flag” but, I’ve never heard it called that way with the technicians I hang around. I’ve read that it sometimes can be referred to as “meta” but, again, never in shops that I’ve talked.

These keys, the menu and win key, are rather recent additions. Most keyboards didn’t have them in the early to middle 1990s. Some recent IBM/Lenovo laptops still don’t have them–to my great annoyance.

Linux and a several open source applications therein actually do use the win key. In Linux it’s called “super” and in addition its default settings it can be mapped to other important functions. Linux also uses the new menu key, usually in the same way that XP or Vista use it, to pop up a context menu.

The point is can we refer to it in neutral way, just like we’ve come to refer to escape, control and alt (I think “alt” used to mean “alternate” back in the 1970s.)? It doesn’t help that the key is clearly branded with the Microsoft Windows logo. Maybe we can call it “sys” for “system menu?” Calling it “super” might alienate non-Linux people.

So what about Apple keyboards? They’ve had logos and branding on their keyboards since the beginning. Apple truly is a full solution provider. They design and assemble the hardware their software runs on and they sell each gadget as a complete platform. I’m pretty sure you can swap Apple keyboards with commodity ones and have them work on Apple or commodity systems but, since Apple designed their keyboard for their systems, I have no problem with their branded keys.

Commodity systems, on the other hand, can run DOS-likes, OS2, Linux, BSD, Windows, BeOS and probably one or two other operating systems I’ve never heard about so, commodity keyboards ought to be neutral.

So what do I do in the mean time? Well, I could make a little Tux mascot in GIMP, print it out to some adhesive labels and stick them on my win keys but, doesn’t that perpetuate the platform references? If I put the Ubuntu logo on it, doesn’t that slight all the other distributions out there? Until we can agree on what to name this new key, I think I’ll just use some plastic model paint and smear the logo out.

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4 Responses to Defenestrating Keyboards

  1. Pace Arko says:

    But why? Is apple planning to sell the keyboards to users of non-apple hardware?

  2. Bakafish says:

    Actually, in a small bit of serendipity, Apple has removed the apple glyph from the “Command” key. Their new keyboard also looks very sweet:

  3. Bakafish says:

    Because the idea of an OS centric/dedicated key is stupid and they haven’t called it the Apple key or referred to it by that glyph in a long time. People have been using Mac keyboards on other OS’s for a long time, MS has included keyboard profiles for all the Apple USB keyboards since XP at least. As for the Windows key, most gamers hate it and disable it as an inadvertent key press will pop you out of full windowed mode and get you killed (in game.)

  4. Pace Arko says:

    So in other words, yes, Apple is looking to sell their keyboards to the non-Apple market. In which case, yeah, they ought to drop the system specific logos and such. It was probably just corporate inertia and legacy user support that made the change take so long.
    There really isn’t anything inherently wrong with a such a key, whatever we decide to call it, lots of systems now assign something useful to it.
    That it does that in some games is really an issue of badly designed software. Someone, either Microsoft or the game designers, should have anticipated some user accidentally hitting that key and silently discarded any stream of keystrokes beginning with it.

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