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Paper Tape
Posts: 2
Registered: ‎12-01-2018
Location: US
Views: 8,810

Manifesto on Fn Ctrl key placement

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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