July 2, 2011

Let Me Tell Ye: That’s Not a Broken Caps Lock Key, That’s a Feature!

I call this: mac,tech — Posted by KP @ 1:29 pm

I learned something today. I don’t know when it happened, but I feel like I don’t take the time to have my finger on the pulse of the computing world anymore. This one slipped by me at least a year ago, probably much longer.

If you own a Mac, you may be familiar with how the eject key requires a longer keypress than a normal key to eject your media. When this feature was introduced, it was disturbing at first, but I quickly grew to be OK with it, since ejecting media isn’t that common compared to pressing other keys, and is kind of a big commitment that will take at least several seconds to rectify if you do it without meaning to. A slightly more purposeful press of the key isn’t that hard.

When I upgraded from a 2007 to 2010 MacBook Pro, I thought there was something wrong with my caps lock key. Sometimes it just wouldn’t activate until after several presses. It happened often enough that I knew it wasn’t just my imagination, so I got this nagging feeling that there’s something wrong with my computer. Not something big enough to be worth fixing, but I started thinking, “What if my keyboard is defective? What if the problem starts to affect other keys? I can deal with having to hit caps lock more than once and make sure the green light comes on, but what if it happens to the ‘A’ key? Is it serious enough that I should get it repaired rather than suffer with a defective keyboard for years?”

Well today, as I said, I learned something.

Let me tell ye: this is a feature.

Yes, your caps lock key is designed not to activate when you press it. I don’t know exactly how many milliseconds you’re supposed to press it for. Based on my non-scientific method of pressing it for different periods of time, I’d say that if you tap it the way you would tap a normal key in the process of typing, it won’t activate, but if you give it a determined press (less than a second, for sure), it will work.

I’m not so much angry about this design choice (which might actually be a good one) as I am annoyed that I’ve spent over a year with this machine thinking it’s broken. I don’t know how I was supposed to know about this unusual feature, but if I knew about it, I might have saved myself a lot of time by learning to press the caps lock key more firmly rather than failing to activate it, having to delete what I’ve typed, then spending a good 30 seconds testing the key to make sure it works, and wondering whether the computer needs to be repaired.

I don’t know when this feature was introduced, obviously sometime between my last two laptops, and I don’t know if the current desktop keyboards support it, but I’ll bet they do. Anyway, I’m mostly blogging this not to rant, but as a public service announcement, if anybody else is as perplexed by their caps lock key as I was. Had I not read a blog comment that mentioned it in passing, I’d have never known.