Windows Keyboard Equivalents for the Mac's Special Keys

Map Windows Keyboard's Special Keys to Their Mac Equivalents

Keyboard Preference used to alter the Mac's modifier keys
You can change the function of the Mac's modifier keys within the Keyboard preference pane. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

Question

I'm using a Windows keyboard connected to my Mac. What are the equivalent keys that correspond to the Mac's special keys?

I just switched from a PC to a Mac. I'd like to use my Windows keyboard, but it seems to be missing some keys. For example, what is the command key I keep hearing about?

Answer:

Newcomers and old pros alike use Windows keyboards with Macs. Why toss a perfectly good keyboard, just because you switched platforms?

I've been using a Microsoft keyboard with my Mac for quite awhile. I just like how the keys feel better than the keyboards supplied by Apple. In fact, I'm dreading the day the Windows keyboard stops working and I have to find another. This model of the keyboard hasn't been made in years. I suppose I'll check out Microsoft, Logitech, and even Apple offerings.

The point is you're not compelled to use an Apple keyboard unless you wish to; any wired USB keyboard, or Bluetooth-based wireless keyboard, will work fine with a Mac.

In fact, Apple even sells the Mac Mini without a keyboard or mouse, allowing customers to supply their own. There's just one little problem with using a non-Apple keyboard: figuring out some of the keyboard equivalents.

There are at least five keys that may have different names or symbols on a Windows keyboard than they do on a Mac keyboard, which can make it difficult to follow Mac-related instructions.

For example, a software manual may tell you to hold down the command key ⌘, which appears to be missing from your Windows keyboard. It's there; it just looks a little different.

Here are the five most commonly used special keys on a Mac, and their Windows keyboard equivalents.

Mac key

Windows key

Control

Ctrl

Option

Alt

Command (four leaf clover)

Windows

Delete

Backspace

Return

Enter

Once you know the keyboard equivalents, you can use them to control various Mac functions, including using Mac OS X Startup Shortcuts.

Another helpful bit of information for new Mac users is to know which menu key symbols correspond to which keys on the keyboard. The symbols used in the Mac menus can be a bit strange to those new to the Mac, as well as old hands who may be more mousers than keyboard users. Say Hello to Your Mac's Keyboard Modifier Keys, will explain the symbols and how they map to your keyboard.

The Command and Option Key Swap

The last bit of trouble you may run into depends on which platform you were using before you started using a Windows keyboard with your Mac. This problem is one of finger memory. Besides Windows and Mac keyboards having slightly different names, they also swap the positions of two often-used modifier keys: the Command and Option keys.

If you’re a long-time Mac user transitioning to a Windows keyboard, the Windows key, which is equivalent to the Mac's Command key, occupies the physical position of the Option key on a Mac keyboard. Likewise, the Windows keyboard's Alt key is where you expect to find the Mac's Command key. If you're used to using the modifier keys from your old Mac keyboard, you're likely to run into trouble for a while as you relearn the key locations.

Instead of having to relearn key locations, you can use the Keyboard preference pane to reassign the modifier keys, allowing you to keep the fingering skills you already possess.

  1. Launch System Preferences by clicking its icon in the Dock, or selecting System Preferences from the Apple menu.
  2. In the System Preferences window that opens, select the Keyboard preference pane.
  3. Click the Modifier Keys button.
  4. Use the pop-up menu next to the Option and Command keys to select the action you wish the modifier keys to perform. In this example, you want the Option key (the Alt key on a Windows keyboard) to execute the Command action, and the Command key (the Windows key on a Windows keyboard) to perform the Option action.
  1. Don’t worry if this sounds a bit confusing; it will make more sense when you see the dropdown pane in front of you. Also, if things get a bit mixed up, you can just click the Restore Defaults button to put everything back the way it was.
  2. Make your changes and click the OK button.
  3. You can close the System Preferences.

With the modifier key swap issue resolved, you shouldn't have any problems using any Windows keyboard with your Mac.