17 January 2011


The news came out last month, so I'm a little late posting this, but I'm finally starting to dig into my archive of old bookmarks.  As illustrated at left, the new Google notebook computer has no Caps Lock key; in its place is a "search" button.

For those who insist on yelling in discussion groups, and for those who need allcaps for specialized text, the key will be programmable back to an allcaps function.  And, at least for the present, the change is occurring on only one device; it is not clear whether Google is setting an industrywide standard or not.  Still, this announcement offers an excuse to review the history of Caps Lock, and an article at Slate offers some perspective:
Caps Lock originated with typewriters... Uppercase letters were typed by holding down a "shift" key that would literally shift the carriage so that a different part of the type bar—the part on which a reverse uppercase letter was printed—would hit the ribbon. The problem was, it was hard to hold down the shift key for more than a few letters. So typewriter manufacturers added a "Shift Lock" button that would keep the carriage elevated until the button was released. It was a useful innovation: Typewriters didn't have options for italics or bold or underlining, so capitalization was the only way to emphasize words. ..

Caps Lock had its uses back in the olden days. Some of the earliest computers were business machines, used to input product keys and other strings of letters and numbers that often included all caps. Some of the first programming languages, like FORTRAN and Basic, were composed entirely in caps...

And, yes, Caps Lock does have its merits. There's no question that capital letters do a better job EMPHASIZING WORDS than bold or italics... Nor is Caps Lock the only key deserving of criticism. The function keys (F1 to F12) are useless to the average user...

As e-mail and texting have become primary forms of communication, expectations of proper spelling and grammar have diminished. Capital letters aren't necessary to get your point across—why bother with Shift, let alone Caps Lock?

"perhaps the day will come when caps will be out of favor and will be mere embellishments," writes former George Mason University technology professor Virginia Montecino in a caps-less e-mail. "i see an overall simplification of text...
e.e. cummings would be pleased.


  1. I am kind of surprised Apple is doing away with it entirely. I wish they would just have the shift key do it like they do on the iPad and iPhone's software keyboards. Hold for shift double tap for caps lock.

  2. Anyone who uses Photoshop intensively uses the F keys. That's one reason Macs are popular for PS- there are 76 functions on a full sized Mac keyboard, vs about 42 on most PCs.

  3. That's awesome.

    Until I get a computer without the Caps lock key, I'll do this:
    1. Control Panel | Regional and Language Options applet | Languages tab | Details button, which gets you to the "Text Services and Input Languages" dialog.
    2. On that page "Add" a second input language (you don't have to make it the default). The two (or more) I usually have installed are "English (Canada) - US" and "English (United States) - US". Once you've got more than one input language installed, the "Key Settings..." button becomes enabled: click it. That opens the "Advanced Key Settings" dialog. Right at the top you'll see:
    3. To turn off CAPS LOCK: [ ] Press the CAPS LOCK key [x] Press the SHIFT key

    Voila! Now if you have accidentally hit the CAPS LOCK key, as soon as you start typing the next sentence, which presumably starts with a capital letter, you'll cancel the CAPS LOCK immediately.
    At least it reduces the occurrences of SENTENCES LIKE THIS.
    I also would be bummed if the Function keys went away. Excel would be way less fun without F4.


  5. I've turned it off on my system for many years now (since I bought my first Mac). When I use someone else's system I realize how much I still hit (and hate) the key when I meant to just hit shift.

  6. SOME_PROGRAMMING_LANGUAGES = "use all-caps, either required or by convention, for constants" # For those languages, caps-lock is handy and would be missed.

  7. I'm not surprised that Google doesn't see a need for it. I'm typing this on the on-screen keyboard of an Android phone...no caps lock there either. To do all-caps on this I'd just tap the arrow button twice until it's underlined. I think I've used it maybe 5 times in the few months I've had this phone.

  8. This is late, so probably nobody will see this, but you could underline on old typewriters. Just backspace and use the underline key. I am sitting next to a 1930's typewriter at the moment. My old 70's typewriter was the same.


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