Ever since Google changed the default behavior of the Caps Lock key on the traditional keyboard layout when it released Chromebooks, it’s caused a lot of controversy within the computing community. Caps Lock has been around since the days of the typewriter, and while it was largely seen as a less vital function after the introduction of the Shift key, it’s nonetheless become a staple in our modern age.
Chrome OS didn’t stop there though – it’s recently changed forward delete from Ctrl + Backspace to the Everything button + backspace, which enraged many. Then, the developers went on a warpath to eradicate all use cases for the Alt key and in its place, they’ve employed the ‘Everything button’ or launcher key to do overtime there as well (Read: the used-to-be-caps-lock-key). While Google did opt to notify users of these changes via a message in their Chromebook shelf, I’ve heard a lot of feedback from early adopters regarding how frustrating it’s been to adapt to the radical upheaval of their long-held understandings of how a laptop keyboard should operate.
With all of that being said, I don’t blame them. You can temporarily roll back the Alt key changes, and you can turn the ‘Everything button’ into Caps Lock via the Chromebook settings, with additional keymapping options headed to the Stable channel soon via the shortcut customization app that’s in early testing, but that’s still more work on the user’s plate. However, I’d like to propose something controversial (as I always do) – I prefer the new keyboard layout and functionality, and I dare say it’s already rewired my brain to the point that using my Windows PC keyboard has become frustrating instead!
The very DNA of computing has radically transformed over the past decade, largely thanks to Chromebooks, and in the process, search has become core to our lives. Having it baked directly into the keyboard in place of an antiquated Caps Lock key makes so much sense to me, and while Google took a gamble at implementing this so quickly years back, I believe it was the right move. It’s still given users the option to swap things back to normal with the Caps Lock, but outside of a few industries that require it constantly (certainly not antiquated to these folks!) the majority of casual users, the users that Google has traditionally targeted with Chromebooks (i.e. home and school use) were raised to hold down the Shift key to capitalize one letter before letting it go to write the rest in lower case (Camel casing).
When I worked in the retail space, many customers I had held a belief that the Caps Lock key was more valuable to them than it truly was. They had not been taught to use Shift to camel case a word, and instead pressed Caps Lock, typed out the first letter of the word, and then turned Caps Lock off to write the rest of the sentence. I was shocked to see how common this was!
Anyway, I’ve quickly adapted to all of the new changes Google has made to the keyboard layout, even though I complained first. I dare say that the ‘Everything button’ is becoming more comfortable for me to use for its vast array of functions than I first expected. It’s so easy for my pinky to reach over and press and hold it down while my right-hand presses something else, and it’s less work for my brain than the way things used to be, even though they had become second nature. This will be an unpopular opinion, but I feel that embracing a new keyboard standard that is focused on the future and the present state of computing is better than clinging to one that is focused on the past, despite the fact that it’s ingrained in our society.
I understand that the issue with my view is that constantly modifying the keyboard to accommodate changes in technology is a recipe for disaster as millions of users would have to adapt and keep up-to-date with these alterations and make them a part of their lifestyle each time, but the changes that Google is making with Search and combining functionalities into one singular keyboard key as the base for many shortcuts feels like a natural evolution of something that has remained stagnant and defiant to adaptation for decades.
I have no doubt that despite the commonly held belief that Google throws things at the wall to see if they stick (and they certainly do), the company likely did years of research and testing on the psychology and usefulness of the traditional keyboard. I imagine they looked at it long and hard and realized that several things that we know and love about it are useless or have use-cases that are much different than they started out. While I think it’s best to allow the keyboard to continue naturally evolving based on the user’s input, I also think that a nudge from a think tank certainly couldn’t hurt once every few decades. That’s how the Caps Lock came along to begin with – someone saw a need and filled it, and I see Google doing exactly that.
Doug Kerr was a telephone engineer working at Bell Labs in the 1960s. He watched his boss’s secretary repeatedly get frustrated after accidentally typing things like “$%^&” instead of “4567” in addresses because of Shift Lock. So he did something about it. Doug Kerr invented the “CAP” key.It’s Time for Caps Lock to Die – Medium
Ever since I boot up my Windows PC and installed the Windows 11 Insider Preview, I’ve found myself constantly frustrated with how the keyboard works. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pressed the Caps Lock key and when I didn’t get a search bar, I’ve had to toggle it back off lest all of my words look as though I’m screaming. The truth is, I was nearly screaming at the fact that Search was not built into the core of the hardware! Not only that, but I’ve also been using Caps Lock + backspace to forward delete, as I now do on my Chromebook with the Everything button, and I’ve had to do a double-take when I realized that It didn’t do the same thing on Windows.
I’m not saying that you should be happy about all of this change because change is usually difficult and unwelcome when the alternative is that things remain the same. What I am saying is that I’ve come to love the new way forward, and it makes practical sense to me. I’ve put my gripes aside and embraced Google’s take on what a keyboard ought to be, and in doing so, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much I’ve fallen in love with it. If you can find it within yourself, at least for personal use to do the same, I think you’ll also come out realizing that change can be a good thing, and even a little fun. But hey, that’s just the millennial in me speaking.