First post, by Kahenraz
Has anyone else noticed that in recent years there has been a slow extinction of the historical keyboard keys Home/End, PgUp/PgDn, and Insert/Del? In the 90s to mid 2000s it was VERY common for these keys to exist on most laptops in some form. Even many modern compact keyboards for desktops hide Home/End and PgUp/PgDn in the arrow keys. Many keyboards designed for use with bluetooth or mobile devices even have them absent entirely.
These keys were known to be extremely important in the early days of computing and have existed since the standardization of PCs with the introduction of the first IBM micro computer. Although most early word processors provided ways to quickly navigate through text through various combinations of keys, IBM was the first to provided the standard Home/End, PgUp/PgDn, and Insert/Del keys, originally available only on the numpad with the Model F PC/XT. This provided an extremely compact layout, mirroring something similar to by pocket calculators of the time, where all of the important key for navigating text were easily accessible with one hand.
IBM later refined its computer keyboard with the PC/AT and expanded it with the now famous 101-key Model M. The new key arrangement is easily recognizable and is now ubiquitous as the most common layout in the United States. Additionally, the arrows from the numpad, Home/End, PgUp/PgDn, and Insert/Del keys all gained their own dedicated place between the main QWERTY block and the numpad. This allowed letters to be typed, numerical calculations to be input quickly with the compact calculator-like layout of the numpad, and text navigation to be accessed just as easily without having to toggle the NumLock. This layout contains functional duplicates of 20 keys and necessitated a wider frame. This would have increased cost of manufacturing but the benefit of faster input and increased productivity was real and I'm sure that researchers at IBM knew it.
When portable computers debuted, mice were still uncommon and most tasks were still performed in text mode. This prompted manufacturers to include the keys important for navigating screens and text somewhere on their layouts. IBM included this group of keys at the top-right corner of their early ThinkPads with other manufacturers either copying this or diverging to the now more familiar vertical row along the right edge with Insert/Del being placed somewhere nearby although their location can vary.
These keys were present on almost every laptop during the 90s to mid 2000 when laptops were still very expensive and typically only purchased either by businesses and individuals who needed a mobile workplace. Although the these keys may still be present on some laptops today, they are much less common in anything below 14". Surprisingly many modern laptops, even larger ones with plenty of empty space on either side of keyboard, still have these keys absent.
Those manufacturers who wanted to advertise a more compact layout and wanted to avoid compressing the width of keys even further opted to move the subset, Home/End/PgUp/PgDown, as alternate functions of the arrow keys, to be accessed in combination with the "Fn" key. This form seemed to become more prevalent, in my opinion, after the increase in mindshare and copycats of mobile Apple products since the popularization of the MacBook after the return of Steve Jobs. Note that no laptop from Apple has ever had either a full numpad or the dedicated presence of any of these keys.
This change of moving to alternate functions of the arrow keys made performing certain text manipulation shortcuts more difficult with the need to hold down more keys, possibly requiring the some reorientation to avoid contortion between the now cramped area of Shift, Ctrl, and Fn. The continued push of this compact layout may have been due to manufacturers wanting to push smaller laptops, users feeling comfortable enough to use a mouse or trackpad to access the functions commonly provided by these keys, or perhaps they are meant to be used primarily for multimedia consumption with only light word processing and e-mails, or some combination thereof. Other possibilities could be schools eliminating touch-typing classes by schools, an unfamiliarity with how to use office applications optimally by the younger generation, or laptops being interacted with as though they were phones or tablets where forgiving the constraints of a limited on-screen keyboard is a necessity.
Now something interesting is happening. Laptops are now emerging without access to ANY of these keys. See the following Chromebook layout by Samsung. But what's even stranger is that there are many laptops coming out with plenty of space on around the keyboard and yet manufacturers continue to hide away Home/End/PgUp/PgDown within their arrow keys.
As someone who grew up with computers in the 90s, this is an absolute shock. I feel like modern laptops and desktop keyboards are becoming less word processor friendly and cater to a more casual user who would use it primarily for email and entertainment. I understand how keyboards from much earlier micro computers prior to the IBM PC did not have these keys as layouts were non-standard and word processing was still in its infancy but I find this modern trend to be simply incredible.
For the retro crowd, I would be interested to hear about the workflow for various word processors on these early micro computers (such as the ubiquitous Apple II series) where these keys were absent. Also, how satisfied are the rest of you, those who don't use these keys at all, with your speed and comfort in word processors, typing on forums, and writing e-mails? If you spot a mistake somewhere is your first reaction to grasp for your mouse? Do you hold your finger down on the arrow keys to move up and down or across a line? I'm still surprised by how many people I see that don't know that you can hold Ctrl in combination with the arrow keys to jump whole words instead of just holding down an arrow key to move a whole paragraph (up/down) one character (left/right) at a time.
When working with large documents I find it extremely helpful to jump pages with PgUp/PgDown as well. When doing a lot of typing, I find that I almost never have to take my hands off of the keyboard. For example, to select the current line I can hit Home, Shift+End to select it without the newline (usually for deletion) or Home, Shift+Down to select it with the newline (usually for copy/paste). Other common shortcuts are Ctrl-Home to jump to the top of the document and Ctrl-End to jump to the end. The Del (delete) key allows me to delete characters from the right side instead of cursoring all the way over just to use Backspace. To me, these are easily the most important keys on any keyboard as they allow me to easily navigate and edit text. Trying to use a keyboard without them feels alien to me and tugs harshly at the strings of my muscle memory.
I would love to hear what anyone else has to say about this subject. It's something that I've witnessed as a slow progression over the years and has always dictated my laptop purchases. But now after seeing this Chromebook my brain is doing flips. How can anyone type on this without becoming frustrated at how difficult it must be to type a long e-mail or to write some large document. It just blows me mind.