Keyboard: What's the Use of Function Keys?

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keyboard function keys
Function Keys, your best friend.

This page shows you how to make the most use of the function keys.

Why are function keys important?

Function keys are used in many apps. Here's some almost universal keys:

If you are a programer, many IDE or Linux terminal tools use all of the function keys.

Following are tips on how you can customize the function keys for more productivity.

Switching Windows/Apps

One of the best use for function keys is switching apps. I've been using this since 1992, across {Mac, Windows, Linux}.

Normally, to switch app you have to do 【Alt+Tab ↹】 or 【⌘ Cmd+Tab ↹】, or even using Windows Flip3D or Instant Viewer or Mac's Exposé. They involve multiple keys or mouse aim. The Tab ↹ is pressed by pinky — the weakest finger. But worst is that you have to take a second to eyeball among 10 windows to look for the one you want.

For most of us, there are 3 or 4 specific apps we use everyday, and have to constantly switch to it many times every hour. Examples: {browser, desktop, photoshop, terminal}.

It's good to have F5 F6 F7 F8 for switching to the apps you use the most often.

For how to set a key to switch app, see: Keyboard Tip: One Key to Switch to {Firefox, Emacs, Terminal}.

What About App Launch Buttons?

app keys
Special App Launching buttons. These non-standard buttons are not as easy to press as F keys.

On many keyboards, they have special buttons to launch apps. But these buttons have several problems:

  1. They are harder to press than Function keys.
  2. They are in hard-to-reach places.
  3. Their positions and size are not standardized. It requires looking to press the button.

What About Windows's QucikLaunch?

On Windows, if you have pinned apps in Taskbar of Windows 7 (or Quick Launch bar in Windows Vista), the keys are 【❖ Win+1】 【❖ Win+2】 etc. 〔➤ Windows Logo Key Keyboard Shortcuts

These are not good shortcuts because:

Undo, Cut, Copy, Paste

The traditional keys for {Undo, Cut, Copy, Paste} are Z X C V, while holding Ctrl or ⌘ Cmd. That's 2 key presses. You can set F1 F2 F3 F4 to them.

Copy & Paste is by far the most used keys. Setting them to single key saves you a lot hand stress.

Here's how to:

Switching Browser Tabs, Close Tab

Often, you have 10 tabs open in a browser. The hotkey to switch to previous/next tab varies depending on browser. For example, for Next Tab, there's:

They all require multiple keys. Using a mouse is more cumbersome, because you have to take a second to aim at the right tab.

It would be very convenient to set F11 F12 for prev/next tab. Pressing one of these key can quickly fly you thru all your tabs.

By default, the key to close tab is 【Ctrl+w】.

Create a hotkey for closing the current tab. Depending on your keyboard, it can be Pause or F13.

(usually, in most browsers, you can press 【Ctrl+⇧ Shift+t】 to reopen. In Safari, it's undo 【Ctrl+z】)

Switching Workspace (aka Virtual Desktop)

On Mac and Linux, you have virtual screen called “workspace”. Typically, Linuxes lets you switch by 【Ctrl+Alt+】 , or 【Ctrl+1】, 【Ctrl+2】. That's 2 or 3 combo-keys requiring both hands.

If you use workspace heavily, then F9 F10 are perfect keys for it.

For Linux, just go to the control panel, then windows manager preference. See: Linux: Keyboard Tools for Key Layout, Keymapping, Keybinding ⌨

For Mac OS X, you can set in control panel too.

Microsoft Windows does not support virtual desktop by default.

Keyboard with Bad Function Keys

Be sure your keyboard has good, normal, function keys.

If your keyboard doesn't have quality function keys, then, it's not a good idea to put frequently used commands on them.

Avoid Continuous-Row Function Keys

bad function keys-2
Worst example of function keys. ① Continuous row, no group-gap. ② hard-to-press cheap buttons.

Avoid Function Keys as Special Buttons

Also, you should avoid keyboard that has button-styled function keys. The buttons are hard to press. Hard to know if you pressed them correctly.

Kinesis keyboard function keys
the function keys on Kinesis Contoured Keyboard are rubber buttons. BIG blunder. image source
keyboard with button keys
Imagine typing on this keyboard. That's what button-style function keys do to you.

Using Numeric Keypad as Function Keys

pc keyboard
numeric keypad

There are often not enough function keys. But, you can:

How to set Number Keypad as Function Keys for Windows, Linux, Mac

How to set Number Keypad as Function Keys {Windows, Linux, Mac}

List of Programable Keypads

List of Programable Keypads

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