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2 Posts

12-01-2018

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Manifesto on Fn Ctrl key placement

2018-12-01, 11:23 AM

The placement of the Fn Ctrl keys has been a longstanding contentious issue, with some vocal existing Thinkpad users in one base, and the rest of the world in the other.

 

Upfront, I want to point out that it is a matter of habit, on both sides, of whether the Fn Ctrl or the Ctrl Fn placement is ideal. On habit alone, there is little to judge what is right, but in our software engineering world there exists a concept of best practice. Our desktop keyboards that we often had to transit our work to, has the Ctrl key in the bottom left corner. Laptops from all other PC manufacturers have the Ctrl key in the bottom left corner. Even Lenovo's own Ideapad line and all Lenovo's other computing products, except Thinkpad, has the Ctrl key in the bottom left corner.

 

And all these other keyboards place Ctrl key in the bottom left corner for good reason. Ctrl key is a much more heavily used key than Fn, and positioning it at the corner gives it greater ergonomic advantage. Having Thinkpad somehow be different from the rest of the world feels unnecessarily proprietary minded and breaks usage compability (brand internal, even). Looking at the consensus at large, the Ctrl Fn arrangement is justifiably the best practice, and choosing Fn Ctrl is just a bad habit. I implore the Thinkpad design team to actually listen to what users are saying, not only defer to the echo chamber that endorses their deep personal attachments, and take the actual courage to break bad habits.

 

To those who accuse this idea of sacrilegious, I point to what the Thinkpad team has already taken away - 7-row keyboards, Thinklight, Hinged Lids. All these with no hindrance to actual use had been taken away, yet the archaic and newcomer-hostile Fn Ctrl arrangement stayed.

 

Thinkpad did a major keyboard change which had the Ctrl key at the bottom left in the X1 Carbon 2nd Gen (2014) and it faced major backlash. However, it needs to be pointed out that the heavy criticism is due to the rest of the quirky key arrangement and the confusing Touch Bar. The keyboard was rightly criticised because the rest of the keys were so non-standard. The Fn key was put next to the Caps Lock which I think was totally uncalled for. I had a glimmer of hope that Thinkpad when reverted to a non Touch Bar keyboard, could use this break to finally keep the Ctrl key in its right standard place, but that did not happen. Intimidated by the backlash that was completely not related to the then rightly placed Ctrl key, the design team went back to the Fn Ctrl original to play it safe.

 

Havin the BIOS option to change the Fn and Ctrl mapping had been available since 2011. It means since 2011, Thinkpad designers knew the demand for the Ctrl and Fn key placement. That option to do a BIOS change is not a satisfactory answer to this design contention. The key sizes would be wrong, and the labelling would still be wrong. No correctly sized key caps replacement was provided then, and with the current island style backlit keyboards, correctly sized key caps replacement is not even possible.

 

Instead of pandering to the smaller user base that is just used to Fn Ctrl, I call for the Thinkpad design team to rectify the physical layout with the Ctrl Fn arrangement. Of course, the BIOS option should still be available for personal preference, and those who say that it is an "acceptable" alternative. But at least, the layout of the keyboard will finally be logical and not needlessly anachronistic. It will finally be friendly to new users discovering the better usability of Thinkpads in all other areas. It will finally be in industry best practice.

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102 Posts

04-05-2010

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Re: Manifesto on Fn Ctrl key placement

2018-12-02, 15:19 PM

Sounds similar to the debate that railed on for years after IBM changed the standard computer keyboard in the 1980's moving the Ctrl key from the left of the A key to the bottom and put the CapsLock there. I suppose IBM's rationale (during their very brief dominance over the PC standard (remember "IBM compatible"?) was to make it match TYPEWRITERS (IBM Selectric's) at the time. I'm still angry about it, though for 30+ years, I've used key swap programs to make it Ctrl/Shift/Alt in the vertical column and the CapsLock where the Alt key was. How many use the caps lock these days?


. . . . . Zeke . . . . . X1 Carbon G6 - Win10 (current), P50 - Win10 (2 yrs), T510 - Win7 (previous 6 yrs)
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1 Posts

02-07-2019

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Re: Manifesto on Fn Ctrl key placement

2019-02-07, 4:08 AM

@zekeblue, I can see your point on the Caps Lock sentiment. Going back to the concern of the OP though, I believe it is also an ergonomics issue. I think I can empathise and even appreciate your preference of the Ctrl key taking the Caps Lock position, as I see it close to the left pinky in the home position and it can be very natural and smooth for executing the Ctrl shortcut commands.

 

However, the current Thinkpad situation where the Fn key take the prominent left bottom corner makes no ergonomic sense. The Ctrl is overwhelming pertinent for general use, and I can't believe this bad design has been stuck there for so long.

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102 Posts

04-05-2010

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Re: Manifesto on Fn Ctrl key placement

2019-02-07, 4:14 AM

Am I imagining it or is there a setting to swap Fn and Ctrl keys in the BIOS?  If so, that should work, though the keys would be labeled incorrectly.  Most wouldn't care.  What I use for Ctrl and Alt are labeled CapsLock and Ctrl, respectively.  I hardly look though.


. . . . . Zeke . . . . . X1 Carbon G6 - Win10 (current), P50 - Win10 (2 yrs), T510 - Win7 (previous 6 yrs)
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1 Posts

02-17-2019

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Re: Manifesto on Fn Ctrl key placement

2019-02-17, 17:51 PM

There is a setting to swap Fn and Ctrl keys in the BIOS indeed, but not only will the keys be labeled incorrectly, the key sizes will be different. If you want to use the BIOS swap as an argument, then the default placement should be Ctrl then Fn, as what most people will want to use, and let the esoteric minority use the BIOS swap option.

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1 Posts

02-17-2019

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  • Message 6 of 28

Re: Manifesto on Fn Ctrl key placement

2019-02-17, 19:20 PM

Also Lenovo should sell key cap replacements given that the keys are different sizes. It truly is annoying that Thinkpads are nonstandard (and ergonomically worse at that) for ctrl and fn. Not annoying enough to get a different laptop but why be so annoying to your customers?

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1 Posts

02-27-2019

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Re: Manifesto on Fn Ctrl key placement

2019-02-27, 17:43 PM

Key cap replacement is not possible because all the laptops nowadays are island-style keyboards. They have a fixed cutout where the keys have to fit through. It might work for the old style keyboard like in the 25th anniversary Thinkpad T25, but not for any other Thinkpads nowadays.

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51 Posts

07-13-2018

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Re: Manifesto on Fn Ctrl key placement

2019-02-28, 3:27 AM
IIRC, the X120e (on which the Fn and Ctrl keys were the same size) allowed for swapping the keycaps. You could make the change in the BIOS and then swap the caps and all would be well.
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1 Posts

03-08-2019

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Re: Manifesto on Fn Ctrl key placement

2019-03-08, 18:01 PM

@AM-S That was way back, I don't think any thinkpad now has those keys the same size anymore. But it could be a point of ponder for thinkpad's design team.

 

For me personally though, I will prefer the Ctrl key to be bigger, and I feel this is something most of the people, whichever the preference for the Ctrl Fn arrangement, will agree on.

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1 Posts

03-22-2019

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  • Message 10 of 28

Re: Manifesto on Fn Ctrl key placement

2019-03-22, 9:06 AM

@jDoreen

I think if it finally allows the physical Ctrl and Fn key to be swapped, the same key size idea can be implemented. The Ctrl key size should not be reduced much even if it shares a bit with the Fn key. It is a good compromise for an everybody wins situation

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