Why It's Time to Ditch Print Screen and Those Other Useless Keys, Forever

That space could be better used for accessibility

  • Microsoft is turning Windows 11's Print Screen key into a screenshot tool. 
  • Even laptop keyboards have useless legacy keys. 
  • Instead of adding Siri keys, we could improve accessibility.
Closeup ona computer keyboard that has a Prt Scr (Print Screen) key.

Tomasz Śmigla / Getty Images

Soon, when Windows 11 users press their computer's Print Screen key, it will actually do something useful. But what about all those other vestigial, legacy keys?

Computer keyboards, especially those meant for PCs, are full of keys we never use, and most of us probably don't even see them anymore. Print Screen is one, but how about Scroll Lock, CAPS LOCK, or Pause Break? There they sit, occupying a prime spot above the arrow block, and they are almost pointless. Almost, because at least you can remap those keys to other functions with the right software. But computer makers should just swap them out for more useful functions out of the box. 

"I believe computer makers should consider adding media keys, like Apple has done, to enhance user experience. With the rise of flexible work and remote workspaces, having easily accessible controls for video conferences, presentations, and entertainment could greatly improve productivity and user satisfaction," work-from-home expert and Genentech corporate digital experience manager Chelsea Ashbrook told Lifewire via email. 

Key Bored

So what is Microsoft remapping the Print Screen key to do? In the latest Windows 11 beta, it will snap a screenshot, which makes a lot of sense. Now, the most ridiculous legacy keys are usually only found on standalone full-sized keyboards. Laptops, thanks in part to size constraints, have already thinned the herd of old-world keys and/or replaced them with more sensible options. 

MacBooks, for example, use the top F-key row to offer controls for screen and keyboard brightness, volume, media skipping and play/pause keys, and more. But even Apple, which is (in)famous for dropping support for what it views as old tech (USB A and VGA ports, floppy disk drives, headphone jacks), still has some weird old (and weird new) keys on its laptops.

Closeup on a black keyboard that shows a Caps Lock key.

Clark_fang / Getty Images

For instance, along with those top-row media keys, you'll see a key for Exposé to show an overview of all open windows instantly. I'm sure plenty of people use that, but enough to make it a default key? And it gets worse. There's still an eject key up there, but what does it eject? Nothing! The eject key, as detailed in Apple's support documents, is mostly used for sleeping and shutting things down. 

And then there's the CAPS LOCK key, which encourages people to shout (digitally, anyway) and is almost totally pointless. If you really need caps lock, you could—like on the iPhone—double-tap a shift key to lock it. The caps lock key is also in a prime spot to be used as a modifier key, like alt, option, command, ctrl, etc.). 

But what could these keys be used for instead?

Ergonomics and Accessibility

It's no good repurposing a key if all you're going to do is turn it into a Siri key. And while I like the Do Not Disturb key on my Mac, maybe it doesn't need a dedicated key. We might think instead about improving the accessibility for all users. 

"Microsoft recently decided to deprecate their 'United States International With Dead Keys,' which is a well-known key combination that allows you to press the right Alt key ONLY and press a letter to get special characters on screen, like 'año,'" computer software engineer and strong keyboard opinion-haver Patrick D'appollonio told Lifewire via email.



To type these "special" keys usually requires more extended key combinations, or a keyboard dedicated to, in this case, Spanish. 

Perhaps the answer is not to waste keys on Siri, Exposé, and other built-in features. Maybe we just need a more robust and easier way to reassign those keys. Apple's Touch Bar, which replaced the F-keys with a touch-screen strip, was a step in the right direction, but it lost interest. How about a top row with keys that each contain a little screen? That would be a pretty neat way to let people do whatever they want. 

Overall, though, Microsoft's Print Screen deprecation is a step in the right direction. It's about time we rethought how our keyboards work. 

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