The CAPS LOCK key should go

On the computer keyboard, apart from the space bar and shift keys which are both used considerably, the next biggest key is the Caps Lock key which is almost never used, except by those who like to use all capitals all the time. These are probably the same people who immediately get onto the fast lane on the highway and stay there, irrespective of the level of traffic.

I myself hate the Caps Lock key. I almost never use it deliberately (how often does one need to capitalize every letter?) but I often find myself using it inadvertently. This because I do not touch type. instead using my own system that has worked well enough for me. The catch is that when typing, I am usually looking at the keyboard and not the screen. On occasion, I accidentally hit the Caps Lock key when intending to type the letter ‘a’ and when I later look at the screen, find a whole row or two of capitalized letters. I then have to change them to lower case using one of the menu options. It is not too much of a problem but is an irritation. There is also a menu option to reverse the process and change lower case to upper case that makes the Caps Lock key superfluous.

Daniel Colin James makes the case that this key has outlived its usefulness and should go and not continue to take up valuable space on the keyboard. He explains its origins.

The QWERTY keyboard debuted in 1873 on a typewriter that could only produce capital letters. A few years later came the Shift key, which toggled the typewriter’s output between lowercase and uppercase letters.

The Shift key physically shifted the internals of the typewriter, so it took some effort to press it down. Eventually, a Shift Lock key was created to hold it down. With Shift Lock engaged, letter keys produced their uppercase counterparts, but number keys produced symbols. That was a problem.

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. CAP performed the same function as Shift Lock, except it only affected the letter keys.

“CAP” became Caps Lock, which made its way onto the computer keyboard, where it has remained part of the standard layout ever since.

James says that the key nowadays is usually used accidentally (like I do). He says that that space could be used for far more useful things and gives suggestions, such as ‘search’ or ’emojis’ that some computer makers are experimenting with.

I agree.


  1. says

    You can re-map it to something more useful, or even pry the key completely off.

    I’ve done versions of both on the machine where I am right now -- remapping the right ALT key to behave the way it does on a Mac (enabling easier typing of accents and other symbols) and also yanking off the infuriating ‘context menu’ button.

  2. invivoMark says


    There is far more use to the buttons on a keyboard than typing documents into a word processor or web browser, and I wish keyboard designers would remember that. I can’t stand the number of keyboards (especially on laptops, but the trend has spread to desktop keyboards) with badly rearranged keys, smushed keys, and missing keys.

    Between entering data into spreadsheets, making graphical designs, and writing scripts, I use nearly every key on a standard 104-key keyboard, caps lock MOST DEFINITELY INCLUDED.

    The keys I don’t use are Num Lock (why is this ever not on??), Scroll Lock, that little key next to Alt with a rectangle on it on Windows keyboards, and Page Up/Down. That’s it. Every other key I use, most on a fairly regular basis.

  3. fwtbc says

    Remapping/otherwise intercepting can make the caps lock key very useful.

    Programs like AutoHotkey and EventGhost in Windows land make this key really useful again.

    On my system, caps+key combinations do various timesaving tasks.

    caps+f switches to FireFox, +V switches to VLC, +N for Notepad, +G to a game I play, +PrintScreen switches to photoshop.

    +W speaks aloud what song is currently playing in Winamp, +T speaks the current time, +H speaks aloud the weather in my current location, +U asks my RSS reader for the oldest unread article to be opened in a new browser tab, +I is like +U but for one specific feed, and there’s a couple more than adjust and set volume levels as not all keyboards have volume control keys.

    As the above might make clear, I rarely use the mouse, so don’t share the opinion of #1 regarding the context menu key. I have the right ALT key remapped to the context menu key because sadly not all 104-key keyboards keep that key and instead replace it with a function key I couldn’t care less about.

    I know some (all?) ChromeBooks have replaced the caps key with a search key. No idea if it’s the same underlying scancode.

    Screen readers like JAWS and NVDA also let you remap the caps key to be their command key. Can’t speak to JAWS, but NVDA also lets you use the numpad insert (numpad 0 key) as the command key for performing screenreader related actions.

    The worst keys on keyboards are any ATX power related ones. My first encounter with these crimes against humanity was when I accidentally dropped a CD case on my keyboard, and then moments later my computer just shut down. Whoever thought putting such a key on a keyboard should be taken out and shot.

  4. consciousness razor says

    The keys I don’t use are Num Lock (why is this ever not on??)

    I don’t find it useful very often at all. But when it’s off, the numeric keypad can be used for other things, besides numerical data entry. Consider a video game, for example. As you know and as you were arguing yourself, the keyboard is just a big complicated controller, so those controls can mean whatever users/programmers want them to mean. What you want may change sometimes, so “Num Lock” (and “Caps Lock”) is one possible way to change it, with the push of a physical button, rather than mouse clicks, picking menu items, using shortcut hotkeys, touchscreen gestures, voice activation, or various other methods.
    Anyway, with Num Lock turned on, you have this:
    [7] [8] [9]
    [4] [5] [6]
    [1] [2] [3]
    [  0  ] [.]

    But with it off, my keyboard has this other mapping written onto the actual keys, under the numerals:
    [Home] [  ↑  ] [ PgUp ]
    [  ←  ] [     ] [  →  ]
    [ End ] [  ↓  ] [ PgDn ]
    [     Ins     ] [ Del ]

    But of course, they can also mean other things, depending on what the active program is. I have no idea what the standard alternative function of the “5” key is, or if it does anything normally. I remember it doing something, in some cases … maybe like a “select this thing” type of function, since it’s right in the middle.

  5. lanir says

    Personally I almost never use caps lock. I will hit shift for a whole word, maybe two before I’ll use caps lock. This occurs so rarely I basically don’t have a need for this function to be on my keyboard.

    If you have a use for caps lock it probably isn’t to seamlessly flit between toggling it on and off. If you do, well you probably disagree with me. But if you don’t, this would make it a candidate for moving to less prime real estate. I don’t mind that the function is there any more than I angst about scroll lock, insert, or print screen (whose functionality is often relegated to some weird key combo rather than actually making a screenshot using this key). If it were a function (Fn) combo on laptop keyboards or put somewhere along the top with the other less used keys that would be ideal.

    Another option I would love to see is a hardware switch to permanently disable it. That would also work just fine by me. Having to futz with software to fix bad hardware decisions is just a pain in the butt. I guess ideally you could put the “disable caps lock” key in the same places mentioned above to relocate the caps lock key itself.

  6. says

    Capitalization is used daily in many places -- court documents, accounting, legal paperwork, identification paper and ID cards, etc. Getting rid of the key would require a new way of locking uppercase.

    What I hate and want gone are the menu keys on modern keyboards. I preferred the IBM Model M layout (101 keys) with only Control, Alt and Space on the bottom row, as well as being bucking spring keyboards.

    The gap between Ctrl and Alt let me know where my hands were without looking, saving time and resulting in fewer errors. I also drag my hands across the keys, so I get unwanted presses of menu and other keys. The first thing I do with a new keyboard is rip those menu keys off.

  7. Dunc says

    I write a lot of SQL, and the convention is that SQL keywords are capitalised. Caps lock saves me keeping a pinky on the shift key for ~75% of the time.

  8. consciousness razor says

    Capitalization is used daily in many places — court documents, accounting, legal paperwork, identification paper and ID cards, etc. Getting rid of the key would require a new way of locking uppercase.

    There already are other ways of doing that in many such programs, using some combination of the mouse and/or keyboard (besides the Caps Lock key itself).
    I often use LibreOffice for word processing and so forth. Among many, many others, it has these options for formatting text: UPPERCASE, lowercase, Cycle Case, Sentence case, Capitalize Every Word, tOGGLE CASE
    And on top of that, there are all-caps and small-caps fonts. Pushing the Caps Lock key certainly doesn’t offer all of that. And if one really wanted some (mildly) fancy functionality, one could set things up so that, in that part of the file/document (or whenever you want), that’s the style that type of text gets automatically, without the user having to do anything special, not even remembering to hit that silly key…. It could just be based on where it is (or based on applying a style, with as much flexibility as you want), because that was set up in advance as a feature of this “balance sheet” or “form letter” or “ID card” or whatever the thing is defined to be. Of course, you’d have to do the work of it setting it up, at least once, but then it would be done.
    I do get that in some official cases they want to minimize the use of anything beyond “plain text,” for the sake of uniformity and simplicity. There’s really no need for all-caps, because bold or italic text, different fonts, font sizes, indentation, and many other features/properties could be used for that purpose. Still, it’s sometimes better to limit their use, because that can definitely lead to chaos.
    But even if all-caps is what people really want in certain cases, it could easily be solved with good program design. I’m sure many agencies are using pretty old and terrible software, and that’s why much of it ought to be improved. Still, I doubt they’re actually using .txt files for any of the applications you mention, so they’re already buying into some more sophisticated system…. It’s probably more like “convoluted” (bad) than “sophisticated” (good). In any case, much of the time, the software may already have features like that, and the trouble is simply that nobody is using them.

  9. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    Responding to a comment above.
    While programming, I make much use out of the pgup and pgdown keys. ctrl+pgup and ctrl+pgdown are common shortcut keys for changing tabs, and pgup and pgdown are useful on their own for navigating large documents. ctrl+home and ctrl+end I also use frequently to go to the top or bottom of a document.

    I think I use almost all of the keys, but I suppose that many of the common mappings, including the ones I just mentioned, could easily be remapped to something else. Dunno.

  10. John McElhinny says

    In my branch of engineering (structural), industry standard is that most text on drawings is in ALL CAPS, so I use CAPS LOCK very often. I suppose the standard could change to all lowercase or to Sentence case, but the former seems unprofessional, and the later just looks wrong (to me at least…guess i’ve been doing this too long).

    I would support splitting the large CAPS LOCK key into two letter sized keys; one with the old function and one something new, as suggested above. This would add functionality to the keyboard and decrease inadvertant hits on CAPS LOCK (keep the old key on the left).

  11. Marja Erwin says

    Some input options use Caps Lock to toggle between different scripts for the same language.

    I have coordination problems. I use Sticky Keys, but without it, Caps Lock would be even more important. I also use Page Up and Page Down all the time. I’ve added them to my mouse settings too. Since scrollwheels have grown more common, scrolling accessibility has declined. Not everyone can use touchpads, scrollwheels, and so on, without mistakes, tendon injuries, and so on.

  12. file thirteen says

    @Dunc #7

    the convention is that SQL keywords are capitalised

    Much of the world long since moved on. I haven’t needed to capitalise SQL keywords this century. The Sacred Yak forbid that that should change.

    My main issue with the caps lock key is its positioning. If some still need it, couldn’t it at least be moved to somewhere less in the way?

  13. rojmiller says

    A solution in Windows to the problem of accidentally hitting Caps Lock and entering a string of capital letters is to turn on Toggle Keys (Start-->Settings-->Ease of Access-->Use Toggle Keys). When you press the Caps Lock and turn caps on, your computer makes a high pitched beep. When you turn caps off, it makes a lower pitched sound. Saves you from accidentally typing in all caps (and also lets you know when sleeping cats stretch out and turn all caps on for you…)

  14. mailliw says

    @Dunc 7

    I write a lot of SQL, and the convention is that SQL keywords are capitalised. Caps lock saves me keeping a pinky on the shift key for ~75% of the time.

    The Caps-Lock key was useful when writing COBOL in the old days, as COBOL 74 had to be in uppercase. However it is at least 20 years since I last wrote any COBOL. I write SQL uniformly in lower case nowadays.

  15. mailliw says

    The caps-lock key is an example of a mode.

    It is well established that modes should be avoided in interface design.

    The user has to be constantly aware of which mode they are in otherwise they end up doing unintended things. This is why vi is such a terrible editor, you need to think all the time about whether you are in input or command mode.

    As the late Jef Raskin pointed out in his book “The Humane Interface”, the correct solution is a “quasimode” (like the shift, control and alt keys). The mode has changed, but the user is always aware of the fact.

  16. Matt says

    I don’t have an opinion of the caps lock key, but lost in the discussion is the fact that you don’t touch type. The fact that you can produce such a high volume of writing without touch typing is unbelievably impressive to me. I learned how to touch type in middle school, and honestly it’s probably the one thing I learned while there that still has an impact to this day. Trying to do my job without it just seems impossible (and I’m most definitely NOT a writer).

  17. Marja Erwin says

    > As the late Jef Raskin pointed out in his book “The Humane Interface”, the correct solution is a “quasimode” (like the shift, control and alt keys). The mode has changed, but the user is always aware of the fact.

    Not really. They don’t have lights on the keyboard. I have coordination problems, so I have to use Sticky Keys and hope I’ve hit the key once, hard enough, and not twice. They do have indicators on the screen. But I have coordination problems, so I have to watch the keyboard while I’m typing.

  18. mailliw says

    @Marja Erwind, 18

    I think you might have misunderstood what Raskin was getting at.

    If you press down, say, the control key and then press another key you have temporarily changed mode. You are aware that you are in a different mode because you are holding down the control key, there is therefore no need for a visual cue.

    I agree that if you are disabled in some way then pressing two keys at once may be difficult.

    I’ve often wondered why computers don’t make use of foot pedals as part of the user interface. After all, it is something that we are perfectly used to from driving cars, or playing the piano.

  19. Marja Erwin says

    > You are aware that you are in a different mode because you are holding down the control key, there is therefore no need for a visual cue.

    Sometimes, if they’re close together. But if they’re far apart it’s very careful work to press them at the same time. I have to use Sticky Keys instead.

    It’s not always clear whether the computer has missed the key-press, picked up on it, or mistakenly picked up on a double-press. If it has a double press, with Sticky Keys it remains active until the next press, and there’s no indication on the keyboard. It’s all on the screen, so I don’t see it while I’m typing on the keyboard. So *this* user is not always aware of the fact.

    I have better coordination with my feet than with my hands, but I’d still probably screw up the timing with hand+foot as badly as hand+hand.

    Between my sensory and coordination issues, I can’t drive cars or play pianos either.

  20. blf says

    Apropos of nothing much, I’m using a French AZERTY labelled keyboard, mapped as an English QWERTY, to type this, with the Caps Lock disabled and also some jiggery with € (so that both the labelled key and the one I’m more accustomed to using produce the symbol). I touchtype, having learning at as a teenager using a manual typewriter.

  21. raym says

    For many years now I have simply disabled the key by modifying the registry whenever I (re)install Windows:

    Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00
    [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Keyboard Layout]
    “Scancode Map”=hex:00,00,00,00,00,00,00,00,02,00,00,00,00,00,3a,00,00,00,00,00

    I also have the inverse, i.e. to enable caps lock, but have never needed to use it.

  22. anat says

    I don’t touch-type either. In the early 90s my husband was part of a group that developed in their free time online environments for biologists, and one criticism/warning he received then was that few biologists were touch-typists, and that would limit usability of online environments for them.

  23. A. Noyd says

    I remapped the caps lock on my gaming computer to minimize input errors during close fights. But I generally have to be very flexible and attentive for typing.

    All the computers at work are Windows machines with Japanese keyboards while at home I have an American MacBook for general stuff and the aforementioned gaming computer with an American keyboard and a newer version of Windows.

    Since I do work in both English and Japanese, I have to be constantly aware of not only which keyboard, but also which OS and which input language I’m using at any given time and adjust accordingly. Caps lock is usually the least of my worries.

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