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Modifier keys are named all wrong

17 Jan 2020

330 words

The option key in macOS should be called alt like on Windows, because it is used to type alternative characters, or to run alternative commands when used in conjunction with the command key. On Windows, the alt key should be called command because you use it to move focus to the menus to execute commands. Then alt gr key on Windows should become the alt key because that’s what you use to type alternative characters. The shift key should be called caps because nobody has used a typewriter in decades, and nothing is being shifted anymore. (The name isn’t perfect because you also use that key to type alternative symbols on the number row, but we already have an alt key. Maybe we could use our now alt key to type all the symbols from the number row and the number keys can produce old-style figures without caps and lining figures with — though that would require changes unicode, so that might be out of scope for this project.) The caps lock key should be dropped entirely and replaced with an escape key that functions as ctrl or command when held down, according to user preferences. On keyboards that have one, the fn key should be renamed to something like alt-ctrl because it’s usually like a ctrl or command key, but it does different things. Maybe special would work, as a nod to the old “Special” menu in Classic Mac OS.

And while we’re renaming keys, the tab key should be renamed to shift because we make tables using the “Insert table” command, not by pressing the tab key. The tab key is used to shift text to the right, or to shift focus to the next input element. (On the other hand, ctrl + tab is used to navigate between browser tabs, but that’s one bit of elegance we can probably do without. (You can still say you’re “shifting” focus to the next browser tab, so it all works out in the end.))