Difference Between Apple and PC keyboards

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

This page discuss differences between Apple Keyboard and Windows keyboard.

Apple iMac Keyboard A1243
Apple's full Keyboard. 3873×1105 image source

[see Apple Keyboards ⌨]

tomoko 104 keyboard water resistant 83176 cropped
A typical PC keyboard.

[see Xah Keyboard Guide]

Control Key

Control Key in Microsoft Windows

The Control Key in Windows is used for keyboard shortcuts. For example, Copy is 【Ctrl+c】, Paste is 【Ctrl+v】.

On the Mac, Command key is used for keyboard shortcuts. Copy is 【⌘ command+c】, Paste is 【⌘ command+v】.

Control Key in Mac OS X

The Control key under Mac is rarely used. When used, it is as a modifier in combination with other modifier keys. For example, 【Ctrl+⌘ command+z】 in iTunes will iconify the window.

Mac OS X by default supports emacs's basic keybindings. They are:

Mac OS X's default emacs keybindings
KeyAction
Ctrl+fmove forward
Ctrl+bmove backward
Ctrl+nmove down a line
Ctrl+pmove up a line
Ctrl+abeginning of line
Ctrl+eend of line
Ctrl+kdelete current position to end of line
Ctrl+ypaste

Alt/Option Key

⌥ option and Alt both send the same scancode.

Alt Key used in Microsoft Windows

The Alt key in MS Windows has 3 different uses:

Option Key used in Mac OS X

The ⌥ option key is used for:

Windows Logo Key and Apple Command Key

❖ Window and ⌘ command both send the same scancode.

Their behavior are different in Mac and Windows.

In Windows:

  1. Microsoft logo key invokes the Start menu.
  2. When pressed with letter key, it invokes a command that's meaningful system-wide. For example, 【❖ Window+d】 gets you the desktop.

[see Windows Logo Key Keyboard Shortcuts]

Under Mac, the Command key is used as a modifier key to invoke shortcuts. For example, 【⌘ command+c】 is Copy. It is similar to MS Window's use of the Ctrl key.

Menu/App Key

menu key  ms wired keyboard 600
The Menu key, to the left of Ctrl. [see Microsoft Keyboards Gallery]

The ▤ Menu key, also called Application key, is invented by Microsoft. Typically only on the right side. It is used for Context Menu. The key's function is for the same purpose as the mouse's right button, or pressing 【Shift+F10】 in most applications.

Note: press the ▤ Menu key is not equivalent to pressing the right mouse button. For example, in a browser, pressing right mouse button on a link pops up a context menu for that link. But press ▤ Menu doesn't show the same context menu. You need first to put focus on the link (by pressing Tab), then press ▤ Menu.

Mac doesn't have ▤ Menu key. If you use a PC keyboard on a Mac, the ▤ Menu key does Ctrl+p for some reason.

Main Return/Enter Key

pc keyboard2
Generic PC keyboard showing the main enter/return key.
Apple iMac Keyboard A1242-big
Apple keyboard. Apple keyboard Note the return/enter key, with dual labels.

On PC keyboard, the main enter key is labeled “Enter ↵”.

On Apple's keyboards, the main enter key is usually labeled “return” or just by a symbol “↩”.

Note: the main enter/return key is different from the Enter on number keypad. (it sends a different key signal.)

Enter/Return Key Conventions

In Microsoft Windows desktop (Explorer), when a file is selected, Enter will open the file.

In Mac desktop (Finder), when a file is selected, Enter will activate file rename. (⌘ command+o to open the file.)

Backspace Key

Backspace Insert PrtScn keys
PC keyboard's keys. The ⌫ Backspace and ⌦ Delete keys.

On PC keyboards, there is a ⌫ Backspace key on the main section.

On Apple keyboards, this key is labeled “delete”.

Backspace Key Conventions

When in text editing, the ⌫ Backspace is used the same way in both OS X and Windows. It delete texts to the left of the cursor.

In browser, Windows use ⌫ Backspace key to “go back” to a previous visited page. For some time around 2005 to 2013, Mac OS X's Safari browser also started to do the same, but removed this shortcut again when gesture with touchpad becomes popular. Use 2-finger swipe to the left to go back.

Delete/Del Key

The ⌦ Delete key is located in the Home/End key cluster. This key sometimes labeled “Del”.

On Mac, this key is labeled “delete” or .

On Windows, ⌦ Delete is often used to delete things. For example, on desktop, select a file, pressing ⌦ Delete will put the file to the “Recycle Bin”. In a text editor, the key will delete to the right of the cursor.

On the Mac, from early 1990s to 2006, the ⌦ Delete key is almost never used, even in text editors. When there is a function assigned to it, it is used to delete to the right of the cursor.

Insert Key

On PC keyboards, there is the Insert key (sometimes labeled Ins). Apple keyboards doesn't have this key.

PrtScn ScrLk Break vs F13 F14 F15

The PC has these keys: Print Screen/SysRq, Scroll Lock, Pause/Pause.

These keys have old history back to the 1980's (or earlier) and in general are not used since 1990, except on Windows the PrtScn key is for screenshot.

[see Print Screen, SysRq/ScrLk, Pause/Break Keys]

Apple's keyboards do not have these keys. On some Apple keyboards, they have F13, F14, F15 instead. “Apple Keyboard with Numeric Keypad” of 2009, has F16 to F19.

The {Print Screen Scroll Lock Break} are different keys than {F13 F14 F15}. They do not send the same signals. In any case, when either PC keyboard or Apple keyboard is plugged in on a Mac running Mac OS X 10.4, these keys have the same behavior (could be due to operating system).

Numeric Keypad Keys

keyboard number pad 1564
PC keyboard number pad

The number pad keys on PC keyboard sends different signal than the number keys at top row of the main key section.

Apple iMac Keyboard A1243-numpad
Apple extended keyboard.

Apple keyboard does not have Number Lock toggle.

back to Keyboard Shortcut and Layout Tutorial

Mac Keyboard/Mouse Topic

  1. Mac: Key Remapping and Keybinding Tools
  2. Mac: Swap Control, Caps Lock, Option, Command Keys
  3. Mac: How to Change Keybinding
  4. Mac Keyboard Viewer and Unicode
  5. Mac: How to Switch to Dvorak Keyboard Layout
  6. Mac: Hover to Switch Window
  7. Mac Keyboard Shortcuts
  8. Apple Keyboards ⌨
  9. Difference Between Apple and PC keyboards