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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | Keyboards | Keyboard Key Groupings ]

Other Keys

Many specialty keyboards have extra keys or buttons, above and beyond the keys normally found on "standard" keyboards. These are becoming increasingly popular as companies look to provide convenience features on the keyboard, and possibly differentiate their offerings from those of competitors. (Of course, their competitors typically copy any new ideas within a few months anyway!) Fancy keyboards dubbed "Internet keyboards" or "multimedia keyboards" usually have at least some of these extras.

These special keys are usually provided in addition to the regular 104 keys of a standard Windows keyboard, squeezed in along the top of the keyboard or on the right-hand side. They of course differ by keyboard type, however, they commonly fall into a few sub-categories. Here are the most common ones:

  • Internet Shortcuts: A series of buttons to implement common Internet functions, such as connecting to the 'net, or opening a web browser or email software.
  • Audio Controls: Buttons that let you raise or lower your PC's sound volume, mute the sound, and so on. Some also include buttons that implement standard CD player functions: start/stop, pause, next, previous and such. Some include a rotary volume control.
  • Mouse Controls: Buttons that simulate movement of the mouse, or mouse clicks.

This Hewlett-Packard keyboard (sold with HP systems, not standalone) is just packed
with extra buttons and features. These include numerous Internet buttons, audio controls,
CD player controls, and a rotary volume control (visible in the upper right hand corner).
(Thanks to Staples for letting me take this photograph in one of their stores.)

Frankly, I think most of these are not much more than gimmicks (though others may disagree of course). They are useful, and I certainly think that if your keyboard already has an extra button to launch your Web browser, obviously go ahead and use it. But it's pretty hard to argue that it is worth buying a keyboard for such features, since most of the time they save you a matter of a second or two. Also, you can assign regular keystroke sequences to open any Windows application using a regular keyboard. For example, on my PC, I have set Windows to open Notepad if I press <Ctrl>+<Shift>+N.

Tip: To assign a key sequence to start an application, open the Windows Explorer. Go to the Windows folder, and within it, find the "Start Menu" folder. Open "Programs" and then find the application of interest. Right-click on its icon, then select "Properties". Then click the "Shortcut" tab. Click in the "Shortcut key" box, and then press the appropriate key combination and click "OK". (Yes, this is cumbersome, but you only have to do it once per application.)

Programmable keyboards also typically have extra keys, which are used to enable programming modes. See the section on programmable keyboards for more. Also, some foreign-language keyboards have additional keys corresponding to special characters required for those languages.

Since "extra" keys are non-standard and differ for each keyboard, special drivers or software are required to enable the special functions. Otherwise, the operating system won't know what to do with the unexpected, non-standard scan codes, and will probably just ignore them. More popular keyboards may have support built into Windows, and some foreign-language keyboards may also have native support. Otherwise you will need driver software from the maker of the keyboard.

Next: Keyboard Layouts

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