28 April 2006

press F1 to continue.

Two decades ago, the XT introduced a novelty to their keyboard - 10 function keys. Then a few years later with the AT (circa IBM's failed 186) the 102 keyboard came out sporting not 10, but 12 function keys. This was kind of cool back then when dos applications had extended functionality that forced users to wrap their hands in inhuman ways (I'm looking at you borland ... and you wordperfect). But even then the function keys were hacks and therefore hard to write a program that used these keys - function keys did not have a unique scan code but instead had a double byte scan code (0 + value) which made it difficult to use efficiently.

Fast forward to the current day: keyboard use has mostly been relegated to typing and those extra features are now the domain of the mouse. However, Windows has maintained use of function keys in order to support backward compatibility to Windows 2.0 (remember that glorified file manager?). But for the average user, unless they are using Autocad or the unusable TextEdit, the function keys are left to collect dust.

Unfortunately function keys are here to stay. In fact if you have a modern keyboard you get all 12 function keys and a host of "media" keys to confuse you with. So in order to help you use these keys more efficiently, I've compiled a list of the most common uses in windows. Can anyone help me fill in the gaps?

  • F1 - help
  • F2 - rename
  • F3 - find next
  • F4 - close a window (^-F4) or close an application (@-F4)
  • F5 - refresh
  • F6 - cycle through open MDI windows (^-F6)
  • F7 - ??
  • F8 - ??
  • F9 - ??
  • F10 - activate the file menu
  • F11 - ??
  • F12 - ??