The redemption of the Home windows key

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The time is the ’90s. The place: My dad’s new keyboard, arrived contemporary with our thrilling state-of-the-art Pentium tower operating Home windows 95. Our new keyboard had a key I might by no means seen earlier than, with just a little Home windows icon on it. It was nearly as massive a deal because the Begin Menu itself, which might revolutionize how we used our laptop. Besides the Begin Menu was good, and the Home windows key, uncomfortably jammed between age-old mainstays Ctrl and Alt, was harmful. Again then, the Home windows key was a straight up unhealthy dude.

Right this moment issues are totally different—the Home windows secret is considered one of my most-used keys, a princely shortcut to fast utility launches and system menus that used to take a dozen clicks to succeed in. However within the ’90s, the Home windows key terrorized me, coldly destroying my gaming adventures time and time once more. It is a reformed monster, now dwelling comfortably among the many different keys.

What I am saying is, the Home windows secret is principally Vegeta.

My first scarring by the hands of the Home windows key got here in 1997, when my dad got here house from a enterprise journey with a replica of Tomb Raider in its weird-ass trapezoid field. It is a kind of few electrified-with-excitement moments I keep in mind from my childhood, upon getting a brand new recreation that appeared too cool to be actual. We booted it up, and I pressed F1 to vary the graphics to high-res mode. Impulsively Lara’s mannequin was a lot extra detailed. The darkish, snowy cave was sharper. Her face! Was this photorealism?

Enjoying Tomb Raider at that age was a problem: 3D platforming was model new, and jumps typically required precision timing, leaping from a ledge on the final second with Alt after which urgent Ctrl to seize maintain and hold on for expensive life. Once I missed hitting Ctrl, Lara would plunge into an abyss or get swept away by a waterfall and break her neck on the rocks beneath. However that was nonetheless higher than by accident hitting the Home windows key, as a result of it crashed my recreation. Each. Single. Time.

Right this moment’s PC video games default to borderless windowed mode, a minor miracle that makes it trivial to Alt+Tab to totally different functions and again into the sport. Fullscreen video games do not take so kindly to being minimized, however as of late, they nonetheless normally deal with it gracefully. Possibly you get a black display screen for a number of seconds as the sport masses again in; perhaps your framerate takes a short lived hit. It was not swish on Home windows 95. Possibly it was the quantity of reminiscence the typical PC had, perhaps it was the novelty of DirectX, which debuted on Home windows 95, or perhaps it was simply Home windows itself, which had an actual tendency to crash and throw out a Blue Display of Demise. Regardless of the trigger, urgent the Home windows key was a ticket to crashville.

It was horrible, each time. The three most-used keys in Tomb Raider have been spacebar for taking pictures, Alt for leaping, and Ctrl for “motion.” Each leap, lever pull, and ledge seize required getting dangerously near the Home windows key, and after I pressed it—inevitably, with out having saved for half a degree—I might watch the display screen go black, the desktop seem, and the Begin menu eagerly pop open. Generally Tomb Raider would crash proper then and there, however different occasions I may click on its still-running icon on the taskbar, hoping it might re-open.


I hated that keyboard. Who put that rattling key there? As a child who largely wished to play video games like Tomb Raider and Warcraft 2 on our household PC, it appeared utterly ineffective. Why did I want a key for the Begin Menu, anyway? That is why I had a mouse! 

This concern wasn’t remoted to Tomb Raider, in fact. Here is an alt.window95 Newsgroup put up from 1996, complaining about this very concern in “hi-res” video games operating at 640×480.

The Home windows key didn’t cease being a scumbag when Home windows moved onto 98, or 2000. Here is one other newsgroup put up from 2001. Shout-out to Collin J. Davidson, who simply wished to play Diablo 2 with out “the silly home windows emblem key” ruining his day. 

Different posters within the thread chime in to say that video games do not crash for them in Home windows 2000, however it is nonetheless a ache to instantly be on the desktop. The really helpful workaround, WinKey Killer, remains to be on the market to be downloaded. The Home windows key was, no less than for avid gamers, a giant drawback.

My favourite workaround, really helpful on this thread, is to jam up the important thing: 

“this is a low-tech answer. Take a matchbook, rip off the duvet, fold it up so it slides below the win95 key, be sure the motion on the bottom line is good and stiff, and tape the paper in place. it really works.


The Home windows key sucked so utterly, it could be the one addition within the historical past of the keyboard that prompted the creation of one other key simply to disable it (admittedly there might be a darkish, scandalous historical past behind Scroll Lock I am not acquainted with). So far as I can inform, Logitech was the primary firm to introduce a Home windows lock swap in 2005, with its G15 “gaming” keyboard, a novelty on the time. Flick that little swap, and impulsively the Home windows key was defanged. No extra unintentional alt-tab disasters. It is such an ideal characteristic, it makes up for the hideous plastic that outlined the PC gaming aesthetic of the next decade. Over time different gaming keyboards adopted go well with, and right this moment a “recreation mode” toggle is as ubiquitous as RGB lighting.

The Home windows key sucked so utterly, it could be the one addition within the historical past of the keyboard that prompted the creation of one other key simply to disable it.

Through the years, although, as a few of us acquired keyboards that would shut down the Home windows key, it began on the lengthy highway to redemption. It is nonetheless in the identical place, however we have slowly gotten used to its presence, making unintentional presses a bit much less frequent. And I admit this can be a generalization, however I really feel just like the Alt key is not as broadly utilized in video games right this moment because it was 20 years in the past. However the two extra necessary issues which have occurred are, 1) Home windows has gotten manner higher at dealing with fullscreen packages switching to the desktop, and a pair of) Microsoft discovered how one can make the Home windows key tremendous helpful.

Our resident skilled Jarred Walton gave me some perception into that first bit: 

“Home windows 95/98/ME weren’t totally preemptive multi-tasking OSes. They type of trusted the apps to behave correctly. So a recreation may principally take all of the assets and trigger the remainder of the OS to change into unresponsive. Home windows 2000/XP modified all that for the higher.

So our fashionable Home windows OS is constructed on the foundations of what was solely a server/workstation OS. Which means it’s much more strong (but additionally wants extra assets). The second issue is that recreation software program devs have change into much more cognizant of the truth that a PC isn’t simply operating a recreation. Individuals made a stink about crashing while you alt+tabbed and so the ‘unhealthy’ programmers needed to study to do issues the fitting manner. Which might be additionally extra useful resource intensive, however finally higher.”

(Picture credit score: Logitech)

Jarred additionally identified that is just far more highly effective now, and multi-core CPUs are a lot better at multitasking. Home windows is constructed to benefit from these capabilities. And beginning with Home windows Vista in 2007, after a decade of pointlessly ruining video games, the Home windows key began serving an actual objective. Press it and begin typing, and you would search your laptop for a file. Begin Search has gotten higher with every subsequent model of Home windows, and whereas it nonetheless has bother discovering the occasional program, it is by far the quickest technique to launch nearly something in Home windows right this moment. Exterior of some fundamentals I maintain pinned on the taskbar, I launch nearly the whole lot by hitting the Home windows key and typing a pair letters, then smashing Enter. 

And that is simply its most simple performance. Over time Microsoft has designed an increasing number of handy shortcuts that use the Home windows key. Maintain it and an arrow key to snap a window to 1 aspect of the display screen. Home windows + Tab zooms out to a pleasant view of the whole lot open in your PC. Home windows + M minimizes all of it to dig right down to the desktop. For energy customers, it is a godsend.

The design of the keyboard has been largely static all through laptop historical past. Aesthetics have modified; swap designs have modified; you will get tenkeyless boards, compact keyboards, or alternate layouts like Dvorak. However for probably the most half, your common keyboard hasn’t modified a lot. The addition of the Home windows key, in hindsight, was a giant deal. It took a timeless object, and made it worse. However 20 years later, I can not think about life with out it.


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