Younger computer users don’t remember the days before the arrival of the computer mouse (in the late 1980s), because it’s just been a fixture for so long.
Compared to the original computer mouse, today’s versions are pretty high-tech electromechanical devices that use a bunch of microswitches, a wheel of some kind and a red or blue laser to track the movement of the mouse. There are numerous wired or wireless versions and variations available to suit every user’s needs.
Laptops typically have a track-pad with integrated buttons that perform all the same functions, and often more. Many Windows 10 laptops also have multi-point touch-screens that allow direct manipulation of screen elements, reducing the need to use the track-pad or a mouse.
While the mouse receives a large part of the navigational workload on most computers, the humble old keyboard actually conceals a virtual treasure-trove of navigational keyboard- shortcuts that can greatly improve speed and efficiency for many common and repetitive tasks, reducing or eliminating the number of times the user needs to move one hand to the mouse, track-pad or screen, and off the keyboard.
Beyond the standard rectangular linear keyboard, there is a variety of weird-looking ergonomically sculpted keyboards available too, but they all essentially have the same keys. Keyboards are available in both wired and wireless versions to suit every user’s needs or preferences.
Around the keyboard
In addition to the basic ABC’s and 1, 2, 3’s of the standard computer keyboard, there are also a number of specialty keys that are holdovers from the days of the mainframe computer. Many of those keys are automatically added to every keyboard, although they no longer serve their original purposes.
Most keyboards in use in the Western world are based on the “QWERTY” letter organization. The letter placement actually goes back to the early mechanical typewriter days in the 1860s when the letters were arranged this way to avoid collisions between the keyarms when typing quickly.
Most dialogue boxes on computer interfaces are designed around a workflow controlled by the TAB key, with each press advancing the cursor to the next field or button (like OK or Cancel). Using the TAB key instead of repeatedly going back to the mouse to advance to the next field or button is much faster and often more accurate, especially using a track-pad on a laptop. The little escape (ESC) button at the top left of the keyboard is an easy and fast universal cancel key.
Most people are familiar with the usual fare of specialty keys such as Shift and Shift Lock, Tab, Backspace, Delete, Enter (or Return), Home, End, Page Up and Page Down, and the four arrow keys (up, down, left and right).
Beyond that, the often unused “F” keys (F1 through F12) located above the number key row at the top of the keyboard offer a wide variety of functions that can also speed things up. They usually have four levels of functionality, alone or individually in combination with pressing the CTRL, ALT and SHIFT keys first. Some keyboards also add a function (FN) key, which adds one additional function modification to the F-keys. The Windows key also offers an astounding 48 unique shortcuts beyond just bringing up the start menu.
In the Windows world, the Control key (CTRL) unleashes a large assortment of quick and easy keyboard shortcuts that often work better and more efficiently than if using a trackpad, touch-screen or mouse.
The Shift, Tab, Alt, Home, End, Page Up and Page Down keys also all offer a great variety of shortcuts for navigating around documents and accomplishing various editing features, often in combination with another key, as well as in combination with the mouse.
For a complete current list of Windows shortcuts, visit: https://support. microsoft.com/en-ca/help/12445/windows-keyboard-shortcuts. In the Apple MacOS world there are also many similar keyboard shortcuts: https://support.apple.com/en-ca/HT201236.
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