Look at any modern keyboard and at the very top are the function keys. It seems like those twelve keys hardly get used for anything. You may have heard an older relative talking about using them on older computers or something like that but are they still needed and what do they do?

Some of these keys work just by pressing them. Hit F1, it may bring up a help menu. Other keys work in conjunction with the control key or the alt key or the function key. These keyboard shortcuts can do almost anything. It can tell your computer to print the document that you have open. You can turn your wi-fi on or off. You can close a program down and lots of other things. Need to know what these shortcuts are? Go up to your menu bar and look at the menus, the keyboard shortcut will be listed next to the command.

In the days before graphical interfaces these keys (and others) were necessary. You couldn’t click on anything and a keyboard only offered so many options to do certain tasks that were specific to a program. Keyboards of yesteryear could not have additional space for special word processing keys so, by creating the control and the alt keys a whole new set of options opened up for the keyboard. This was so popular that some keyboards had up to 24 function keys!

The first keyboard to feature function keys was produced in 1965 and was intended to work as a standalone word processing system. Each of the function keys were programmable. Multi-function keyboards or inputs were used by the military in airplanes in the late 1960s and were first introduced to the general public with calculators starting in 1971. Considering that most computers at the time were fancy calculators it was no surprise that these keys expanded to the computer industry. IBM was the first to market keyboards with function keys in 1972 for their electronic typewriters.

If you remember the good ol’ days of computers when you could watch a computer boot up there were ways to access the BIOS and that was usually by hitting a function key. A user could (and still can) get to safe mode with the help of a function key. Many of the common uses for the function keys were determined by Microsoft for their use with MS-DOS. F1 would bring up a help option. F2 would be used to access a cell in a spreadsheet. F3 would be used to search a document or program and there are many more that are still used to this day. Many people became comfortable doing what they needed to do with a keyboard and even after Windows and the MacIntosh became popular for their graphical interfaces many people found that keyboard shortcuts were faster and more efficient.

That may seem far fetched but it isn’t. If you need to reload a web page it is faster to just hit F5 than it is to move your hand to the mouse and go to the menu bar. If you need undo something in a document in MS Word it is faster to hit Control and Z than it is to do the same thing with the mouse and the same goes for Alt and F4 to close a program. You probably use keyboard shortcuts and you might not even realize it and if you are not you should give it a try. It might only save a few seconds but those seconds do add up.

If you are interested in knowing what each function key does check out this link.

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