Difference Between Apple and Microsoft keyboards

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

Apple and Microsoft keyboards

This page discuss differences between Apple Keyboard and Windows keyboard.

Windows 10 onscreen keyboard 2024-05-05
Windows 10 onscreen keyboard 2024-05-05
Apple keyboard layout 2020-06-19 xw5m4
Apple keyboard layout 2020-06-19 xw5m4

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, in Safari (as of 2018-05-01) Ctrl+⌘ command+1 show bookmarks sidebar.

Mac OS X by default supports emacs basic cursor movement keybindings. You can try it in TextEdit. They are:

Mac OS X's default emacs keybindings:

Move forward
Move backward
Move down a line
Move up a line
Beginning of line
End of line
Delete current position to end of line

Alt/Option Key

⌥ option on Apple keyboard and Alt on PC keyboards both send the same USB scancode.

Alt Key Use in Microsoft Windows

The Alt key in MS Windows has several different uses:

Option Key Use in macOS

The ⌥ option key is used for:

macOS 10.15.5 keyboard viewer 2020-07
MacOS Keyboard Viewer. macOS 10.15.5, 2020-07-25. Hold ⌥ option down to type Unicode symbols. Those colored orange are prefix keys, allowing you to type accented characters such as é ü ô. You can make it insert emoji. [see Mac: Create Custom Keyboard Layout]

Windows Logo Key and Apple Command Key

❖ Window and ⌘ command both send the same USB scancode.

Their behaviors are different in Mac and Windows.

In Windows:

[see Windows: 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 Key

menu key 78f06
the ▤ Menu key, left of Ctrl

[see Microsoft Keyboards ⌨]

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 similar to the mouse's right button, or pressing Shift+F10 in most applications.

[see Keyboard Menu Key]

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

[see Mac: Keyboard Software Guide]

Main Return/Enter Key

Apple iMac Keyboard A1242 return
Apple keyboard A1242. Year 2009 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. (To rename the file, press F2.)

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

Backspace Key

MS Digital Media Keyboard 3000 backspace
Backspace key Microsoft Digital Media Keyboard 3000 (2008)

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: PrintScreen/SysRq, ScrollLock, 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 {PrintScreen ScrollLock 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

havit keyboard 20210307 s50 numpad
Windows keyboard numerical keypad
Apple iMac Keyboard A1243-numpad
Apple extended keyboard.

The numerical keypad keys send different USB scancode than the same keys at top row of the main key section.

However, on macOS, the number pad keys are remapped to be the same as the number keys on the main section of keyboard.

The difference between PC and Mac keyboard's number pad are: