DEATH TO caps lock: the new frontline in online manners

For its ability to turn a simple e-mail into a shrieked command, this single key has become the subject of a fierce online campaign. Rhodri Marsden reports

It seems an unlikely target for vitriol, but the "caps lock" key has caused a brouhaha in the online community. It started a week ago, when a Brussels-based programmer named Pieter Hintjens pondered the drawbacks of the seemingly innocuous button, and decided to launch a blog ( and a website ( to kick-start a movement that might persuade manufacturers to banish the superfluous plastic lump forthwith.

The case against the key hinges on the tendency for caps lock to cause unnecessary friction. Its unintended engagement can, for instance, inflame already-fragile office relationships, turning simple e-mailed requests into salvos of exasperated impatience, as in: "WOULD YOU PLEASE SEND ME THE PROVISIONAL BUDGET."

The same applies to blogging, as those unfamiliar with "netiquette" unwittingly take to "shouting" their messages. But caps lock causes other problems. Engaged by accident, it can lead us to type line upon line of upper-case text without noticing, or incorrectly enter case-sensitive passwords. Most significantly, Hintjens feels that its prominence on the keyboard is totally out of proportion to its value.

The response from the online community has been immediate and overwhelming. "I always rip caps lock off all my keyboards," comments one user, leading Hintjens to ponder: "Maybe it's time to encourage people to remove their caps lock keys and send them to us. How many would we collect? Would anyone care?" Some clearly would; those resistant to change began firing off expletives at Hintjens to show their devotion to the generic Qwerty lay-out - including programmers who need it to tap out upper-case code. But Hintjens is unrepentant. "Caps lock is like a small pebble in your shoe... it's so annoying that there's a whole sub-industry in software programs to remap the thing [assign a different function to it]."

As the discussion went on, it became clear that the majority agreed with him, and were brimming with ideas for revamping a keyboard layout that is nearly 130 years old, and inherited from the typewriter.

Christopher Sholes, creator of the Qwerty keyboard, might be considered lucky that his invention became a cultural standard; many have pointed out its weaknesses, but its employment on the first typewriter and all subsequent models assured its ubiquity. It was designed to keep frequently used pairs of letters apart so the typebars wouldn't collide and stick together. Challenges to its dominance by such layouts as the Dvorak have fallen by the wayside. Generations of keyboard users have been perfectly happy with their sedate word-per-minute rates, lazily tapped out by three or four fingers, and were happy to let the Qwerty keyboard continue into the modern era. The shift key, which on typewriters caused the entire carriage to jolt with an alarming thud, and the shift-lock key, which wedged it in position, were both retained by IBM's first computer keyboards, because they needed a "supershift" option to enter upper-case letters into mainframe applications. No one thought to question its pride of place on the "home row" of the keyboard. Until now.

Hintjens has shown a willingness to compromise; he's happy to have caps lock moved, rather than obliterated altogether, and perhaps replaced with a key that's more commonly used these days, such as a volume control or a button to eject CDs - or any of the other controls that are appearing on the latest extended multimedia keyboards, which are steadily getting bigger to accommodate all the required keys.

Such is the standard of internet debate, however, that his suggestion was met with cries of "hypocritical jackass" by his critics. One can only imagine the fury that might be unleashed if Hintjens dared to criticise some of them for that other irritating habit: failing to use any capital letters whatsoever.

The best of the new keyboard generation

By David Phelan

Logitech diNovo media desktop laser, £120

The number pad of this cordless flat keyboard can be used as a calculator when the computer is off. An LCD screen tells you who's sent an e-mail, and it can be used to control music playback, too.

01753 870 900;

Microsoft wireless laser desktop 6000, £49.99

Has Media Centre keys for playing music, a zoom slider and keys that connect you to common photo tools.

08706 010 100;

Logitech cordless desktop S530 Mac, £59.99

A keyboard for the Mac with the @ and " where you find them on PC keyboards. Extra keys include buttons for iPhoto and iTunes. Other keys brighten or dim your screen, and eject DVDs.

01753 870 900;

Zboard Merc gaming keyboard, £29.99

One for gamers: dedicated keys are labelled Crouch, Walk and so on, plus "weapon" keys and direction buttons are together on a large gamepad.

Half keyboard, £295

Type with one hand, so the other is free to move the mouse. You'll have to practise to get up to speed - you get the missing letters by holding down the space bar - but converts claim they can type at up to 88 per cent of their usual typing speed.

ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

(Junior) IT Systems Administrator / Infrastructure Analyst

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly ...

Software Developer with SQL and .Net skills

£27000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable and dynamic softw...

SQL Data Migration Specialist / Architect

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice