Keyboard Evolution: Zoom Button, Dedicated Keys

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .
Logitech Wave Keyboard zoom button
Zoom rocker button on Logitech Wave Keyboard

Seems odd that zoom seem important today. For example, many keyboards have a dedicated zoom button. For example, Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000Logitech Wave Keyboard. Also, Microsoft's 5 button mouses by default have the 5th button do magnify. On Apple computers (~2010), holding down Ctrl while scroll mouse wheel will zoom (magnify) the entire screen.

Typically, in a browser or most apps, Ctrl++ does zoom-in and Ctrl+- does zoom-out. Or, hold down Ctrl and scroll mouse wheel. These also works in Gimp and Inkscape. In apps where zoom is more frequently needed and page scroll is not needed, such as 3D apps (e.g. Second Life, Blender, Google Earth), mouse wheel itself does zoom. (See: Google Earth Mouse Navigation and KeysSecond Life Keyboard Shortcuts Cheatsheet.)

ms n4000 keyboard zoom slider
The Zoom Slider on Microsoft 4000. Buy at amazon image source

For average computer user, web browser is probably the app they spend 90% of their time on. Many of them don't know about the keyboard shortcuts. Even for those who knew, it's less convenient than a physical dedicated button or slider with a clear label of “Zoom”. (i myself find the zoom slider on the Microsoft 4000 keyboard quite useful.) It is quite necessary to zoom when browsing webs, because there are so many different screen resolutions today that a website's design often has text that's too small.

Today's convention of key combinations is really a pain. Each app has tens of key shortcuts. They are known as “shortcuts” because that's what they are from the perspective of a average computer user, and are really convenient. But for many operations, such as copy, paste, undo, open, close, the keyboard shortcuts is really the primary method of operation. They should have dedicated keys. In some apps such as { Emacs, Blender, Second Life}, in practice you are required to memorize some 30 or more key combinations. It's ok for these professional uses, but for the ~15 operations that's common in all applications and are frequently used, such as {Copy, Cut, Paste, Undo, Redo, Open, Close, New, Save, Zoom-in, Zoom-out, maximize window, prev/next Tab, prev/next window}, we should have dedicated keys. See: Keyboard Shortcut vs Launch Buttons .

The fact that a physical zoom button appeared on many keyboards is interesting, because it means that it is a common need. Microsoft and Logitech keyboard designers are not dummies. There must be some strong indication that most people find it useful, and might become a “standard” extra key, just as multimedia keys, calculator key, web browser launch key, became common since the 2000s. Though, some of such keys have come and gone or may no longer relevant, such as Instant Messaging key, Mail key, Power management keys (Sleep, Wake, Log Off).