What The F Keys?!

Last week, I got a new computer at work. My old one was pretty old, and kept showing its age by randomly shutting itself off at inopportune times. So getting a new one should have been a giant upgrade. But I discovered a couple of dumb things about this new computer that baffle me. Thankfully, they’re conquerable dumb things, but they’re still dumb.

Thing 1. It came without an Ethernet port! Seriously, I know it’s a laptop and all portable and stuff, but wifi isn’t so universally awesome that someone would never need to hook up to the hard wire ever. My wifi is decent, but there’s a lot going on at work. Most things require me to be connected through a VPN. One of those things that requires a VPN connection is my license for JAWS, which is server-based. I have learned painfully that if the Wifi is even dreaming about choking, JAWS is the first thing to notice, and it falls over in a dishevelled heap. JAWS is my screen-reader, which I need to use for testing and using my computer in general. So…I kind of need rock-solid internet. Then add on the fact that I use Zoom and share my screen, and…Oh! JAWS is down again. Wifi isn’t going to cut it.

Thankfully, there are dongles that have Ethernet ports and additional USB ports to replace the one that needs to be stolen to plug in said dongle, but it still baffles me that they would remove something that’s still pretty common. Wifi is not that awesome.

Thing 2. The keys that used to be called f1 to f12 are given different primary functions like media playback and print screen and crap. I totally understand giving keys secondary functions to save space. But the additional functions should be secondary and the original ones should be the default functions. Last time I looked, keyboard users still need alt f4 to close windows. They still need f5 to refresh websites. They still need shift f10 to right click things if they don’t have an applications key. Yes, I know you can hold down the fn key and press the f keys to get their original f key functions back. I challenge you to hit alt fn f4 or shift fn f10 together with any kind of ease. I’ll wait.

The function keys are not so obsolete that they aren’t necessary if you don’t use a mouse. But the people who made this decision probably don’t primarily use the keyboard. It just makes me mad. Also, the most common solution to this problem is to go into the BIOS to fix it. That is something screen-reader users can’t do without sighted help. And screen reader users primarily use the keyboard.

Thankfully, there are other solutions, like if you’re lucky enough to have a computer that has the keyboard stuff in the windows mobility center you can change it there, or some keyboards have a fn lock like fn escape that will change the f keys back to their other functions, but what if you’re not that lucky? Then, just to get f keys back to their defaults, you have to get help. Or, you’re stuck doing finger gymnastics to carry out really common tasks.

I know I sound old right now. But I think I have a valid point that goes beyond “Gaaa why did they have to change stuff?” People making decisions have to think beyond their own bubble before they release something. Otherwise, some people might feel like their new machine is a downgrade. Thankfully, I think I have this one whipped into shape, but others might not be so lucky.

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