Why Function Keys F1 to F12 Are Useful

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .
function keys f5 f6 f7 f8 5673
Function Keys, your best friend

What App Use Function Key Shortcuts?

Function keys are used in many apps.

Mac uses all 12 function keys to control sound volume, mute, music play/stop, screen bightness, window manager, search. [see Apple Laptop Keyboards ⌨]

For Microsoft Windows and linux, 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.

Use Function Keys to Switch Windows

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 ⌘ command+Tab, or Mac's “Mission Control”. 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.

[see Why Alt Tab is Inefficient]

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: How to Set Key to Switch to Browser .

Microsoft Windows QucikLaunch for switching Windows

On Windows, if you have pinned apps in Taskbar (or Quick Launch bar in Windows Vista), the keys are ❖ Window+1, ❖ Window+2 etc.

These are not good shortcuts because:

Use Function Keys for Undo, Cut, Copy, Paste

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

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

Here is how to:

Use Function Keys to Switch Browser Tabs

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)

Use Function Keys to Switch Virtual Desktop

On Mac, Linux, Windows 10, 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 Virtual Desktop heavily, then F9 F10 are perfect keys for it.

For Linux, just go to the control panel, then windows manager preference. See: Linux: Keyboard Software Guide

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

Keyboard with Bad Function Keys

Microsoft wireless comfort desktop 5000 keyboard 9652 s
Microsoft Wireless Comfort Desktop 5000 5180×2574 Worst example of function keys. Its function keys are in a continuous row, no group-gap, and uses hard-to-press cheap buttons.
  1. Avoid Continuous-Row Function Keys
  2. Avoid Function Keys as Special Buttons

If the function keys is not easy to press, then, it's not good to put frequently used commands to them.

Function Keys vs Special App Launch Buttons

Many keyboards have special buttons to launch apps. But these keyboard usually have badly designed buttons.

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

Function Keys