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It's funny.  Laugh. Hardware

What's A 'Scroll Lock' And Why Is It On My Keyboard? 866

Posted by timothy
from the mysteries-of-the-ancients dept.
Jeff Bauer writes "Today's article in The Straight Dope explains all the weird keys that come with standard PC keyboards. Now if someone could just explain what the 'Alt Graph' key does on my Sun keyboard, enlightement would be at hand ..."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

What's A 'Scroll Lock' And Why Is It On My Keyboard?

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  • by Wakkow (52585) * on Tuesday October 07, 2003 @09:49PM (#7159122) Homepage
    How you know it's TRUE Straight Dope:

    "In command-line environments such as DOS, the pipe symbol can add functionality to a DOS command. The way I most frequently use it is when doing a directory listing (DIR) on a large directory with hundreds of files. Say I type "DIR" at the command prompt like so:

    C:\Una\Lesbian Porn>DIR

    . . . then the 22,000 files in that directory scroll past so fast I can't see their names. However, if I apply the pipe function at the command prompt like this:

    C:\Una\Lesbian Porn>DIR | more

    . . . then the display will show me one screen of files at a time, with a "More" at the bottom. To display the next screen of files, I hit any key to continue, until all of the files in the directory have been listed (or I break, by pressing Ctrl-C). This is similar to using the "/p" modifier, such as "DIR /p," to display directory information a page at a time."

    Not only do they explain it, but give a real life situation where it'd be useful! It's always hard to sort through 22,000 lesbian porn pics.
  • Windows Key (Score:5, Funny)

    by Empty_One (90408) * <> on Tuesday October 07, 2003 @09:50PM (#7159125)
    I've been wondering the same thing about my windows key.
    • Yeah my Linux box does nothing when I press it. What's with that? Yet the obscure SysRq key works a treat. ;-)
      • Re:Windows Key (Score:4, Informative)

        by redhog (15207) on Wednesday October 08, 2003 @02:37AM (#7160818) Homepage
        All the mysterious keys are there for you to remap using xmodmap! And having a spare one left over is allways good if a key fails (as a result of piping tea through yourr keyboard). And of course, the windows-key is in the correct place of a meta key, so you could be a better emacs-user in just minutes! And when talking about SysReq, it really is a request to the system, if you gave Magique SysReq compiled in in your Linux-kernel - then press Alt-SysReq-key where key is b to reboot, s to sync disks and r to remount all disks read-only. And this works even if some user-space program fucks up your screen and keyboard...
    • by CognitiveFusion (602570) on Tuesday October 07, 2003 @11:11PM (#7159780) Homepage
      We have a old programmer at work that uses keyboard macros, and frequently uses the windows key to access the start menu and use the key macros (win + e: explorer; win + r: run prompt; etc.) One day another co-worker snuck into his office during lunch and remapped the windows key to reboot every time he hit it. This had the unfortunate side effect of producing a loud explitive every 10-15 minutes.
  • An old one (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 07, 2003 @09:50PM (#7159131)
    <> !*''#
    %*<> ~#4

    Waka waka bang splat tick tick hash,
    Caret quote back-tick dollar dollar dash,
    Bang splat equal at dollar under-score,
    Percent splat waka waka tilde number four,
    Ampersand bracket bracket dot dot slash,
    Vertical-bar curly-bracket comma comma CRASH.
  • by ArkiMage (578981) on Tuesday October 07, 2003 @09:51PM (#7159138) Homepage
    Very handy key.. I press it twice and my Linksys KVM switches to the other system. Does it do something else?
    • by dekashizl (663505) on Wednesday October 08, 2003 @05:42AM (#7161303) Journal
      "Does it do something else?" It PAINS me to hear this ignorant question, but recognizing the lack of spiritual context in our society now, allow me to educate our loyal readership a bit, and perhaps open some eyes up to THE TRUTH.

      Many thousands of years ago, a new technology brought forth rampant unapproved duplication of holy scrolls. Fearing their power was slipping out of their grip, the religious leadership began a campaign of identifying and stoning to death the worst offenders.

      When this campaign backfired, causing people to buy even less scrolls than before, they changed their approach by embedding actual physical protection on scrolls they sold, in an attempt to reduce the illegal duplication and maintain control over distribution.

      These "scroll locks" were placed on all scrolls manufactured, and indeed served to protect their power for several decades. But, eventually they were cracked, for it was only a matter of time, and scrolls and their content became free.

      The world changed for the better, and people vowed never to let anything like that happen again. As we say now "when pigs fly", they too saw the improbability of ever allowing such a thing to happen again. "Yeah, maybe 2000 years after the Son of God walks the earth, then we'll let this happen again, but not before that!" laughed Haramud Ha'abbahakbar.

      And so it was inscribed in many religious texts (rough translation) "And bind upon your keyboards always a key named 'Scroll Lock' so that you may be reminded daily of the plight caused by this wretched behavior of control, and that you may take your child upon your lap and tell him of the horrors forced upon his ancestors in the time when individual men were treated as slaves."

      It saddens me that this history is forgotten, and all we can think about is scrolling a spreadsheet or switching monitors. To think that people actually would remove this key frightens me and foretells of a coming apocalypse, as people have foresaken their history and are doomed to repeat it.
  • by gotr00t (563828) on Tuesday October 07, 2003 @09:51PM (#7159139) Journal
    When using a TTY terminal in Linux, the scroll lock is an extremely useful key so that you can pause the output in order to read it. In most BIOS's, you can also press it to pause the info that it is giving you as well.

    Many people think that scroll lock is now useless, except in Microsoft Excel, but it does have a much more useful purpose, at least in Linux and perhaps BSD.

  • Props! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 07, 2003 @09:51PM (#7159143)
    Whenever my lab partner does something good, I hit the props key. Sun machines are cool like that.
  • The Light (Score:5, Funny)

    by metadatay (632373) on Tuesday October 07, 2003 @09:51PM (#7159146)
    Something has to turn the Scroll Lock light on and off.
  • ... how long Enlightment has existed for Sun machines? :)
  • by Humba (112745) * on Tuesday October 07, 2003 @09:53PM (#7159164)
    It's always bugged me that Scroll Lock doesn't work in MS Word or in Visual Studio. (I know, I know.)

    I'll be reading a document using the scroll wheel on my mouse, get tired of that particular method then switch to using the arrow key, which then jumps the view to the current cursor position, which is by now miles away from where I was reading.

    Not exactly sure I'd remember to turn on Scroll Lock in the first place, but for read-only documents it might be a good default.

  • by eb4x (528402) on Tuesday October 07, 2003 @09:53PM (#7159165) Journal
    Who's the smartass that switched "Caps Lock" and "Ctrl" keys?
    • Then switch it back (I do on all my computers).

      FreeBSD : Run sysinstall and you can select a keymap with caps as a ctrl.

      Linux : you can do it at the "KDE" level, or level of X, but the most reliable method is to just use
      echo 'keycode 58 = Control' | loadkeys
      at bootup

      Win 9x : I believe you can just use they keymap util with powertools

      Win2k (xp?) : you have to fuck with the registry. I can't recall how I did it, but I got it to work and I just run a regestry import now (you can find articles on how to do
  • Mad Props (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Marc2k (221814) on Tuesday October 07, 2003 @09:53PM (#7159167) Homepage Journal
    Sweet Jesus tell me what the 'Props' key does on Sun keyboards, for me it just beeps.
  • key combinations.

    a+scroll lock = mutt
    s+scroll lock = (insert x app here)

    ifyou know how to remap your keyboard, using something like bbkeys, or whatever there is for gnome/kde is obsolete.
  • by Hektor_Troy (262592) on Tuesday October 07, 2003 @09:55PM (#7159195)
    The Danish keymap is the same on all PC's (and Sun Boxen as well), and we need Alt Graph to access the following characters:

    Not sure about the US keymap, but I sure as hell wouldn't want to go without Alt Graph.
    • by NaturePhotog (317732) on Wednesday October 08, 2003 @12:02AM (#7160078) Homepage

      On keyboards in general, most keys generates two characters. This is fine for English, not using any letters besides A-Z or any accents as far as ASCII is concerned.

      However, for many European languages, there are additional characters, like a+ring (U+0035) in Swedish, and accented characters, like e+acute (U+00E9) in French. Since back in the days of XTs, there were only 83/84 keys to go around, they made some keys produce a third and sometimes fourth character. These were accessed by pressing Ctrl and Alt for the third char and Ctrl, Alt and Shift for the fourth char and then the key.

      At some point, it was (rightfully) decided this was unnecessarily clunky. Keyboard BIOSes/drivers were changed to support the Mac-style input of accent + character to generate that character accented. That still left the 'standard' for older keyboards to be backward compatible with, and other chars that didn't fit that pattern.

      So when the 101/102 key keyboards came out, for European languages that changed the right Alt key to Alt Gr, or alternate graphic. (For some languages it had a different abbreviation, like Alt Car). This allowed typing Alt Gr plus one of the 3- or 4-character keys to access the 3rd (and with Shift, the 4th) character. Still a pain, but less so than a 3 or 4 finger salute to get a single character.

    • by Captain_Chaos (103843) on Wednesday October 08, 2003 @05:42AM (#7161301)

      Most PC keyboards outside of the US have the Alt Graph (or Alt Gr) key. It's used to access all kinds of international characters. On my keyboard (I'm in the Netherlands), I can type the following characters with it: 1/41/23/4''xaae(R)uuiooaBdoae(C)nc

      When I typed it, there were 36 special characters (accented characters, the Euro sign and other currency signs, international alphabet and punctuation characters, etc.) following that colon, I'm curious to see how many of them will survive Slashdot's US-centric character handling code...

  • The ` key (Score:3, Informative)

    by vanza (125693) on Tuesday October 07, 2003 @09:58PM (#7159221)
    You know, it's not just a LISP or Python operator... some of us use it to write in our languages. Tres frequemment, sometimes. (I'm not French, but, similarly to French, my native language uses the grave accent - just not as often.)
  • by nomel (244635) <> on Tuesday October 07, 2003 @09:58PM (#7159224) Homepage Journal
    Such as Message Notification [] for Trillian and nice blinky light plugin [] for music in winamp.

    Like I'll believe it has a use other than those...pfft.
  • Uses for AltGr (Score:4, Interesting)

    by red_dragon (1761) on Tuesday October 07, 2003 @10:03PM (#7159260) Homepage

    AltGr ("alternate graphic," although it should really be "alternate glyph") is used for entering extended characters beyond what the standard keyboard layout supports. It's equivalent to the X keysym Mode_switch. When you use the "US International" keyboard layout in Windows, the right Alt key becomes AltGr, which when pressed along with other keys produces various extended characters, including accented letters, special punctuation marks, and other fancy stuff without having to type in the ASCII value on the numeric keypad while holding the Alt key. On non-US keyboards, like the ISO Spanish keyboard on my Mac, some keys have extra characters printed on the key caps, indicating which character they generate while pressing AltGr.

  • Wrong! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sakusha (441986) on Tuesday October 07, 2003 @10:06PM (#7159287)
    Scroll lock is not what "una" says it is. The function she describes wasn't used in that manner. The IBM PC used the standard Control-S and Control-Q to stop and start screen scrolling.
    The Scroll Lock key was a vestige of the old IBM word processor systems. It was used to lock the cursor in place, and the up and down arrow keys scrolled the entire screen, leaving the cursor locked. It should have been called "cursor lock."
    The article is riddled with errors. For example, una says the Macintosh extended keyboards have a scroll lock key. It does not.
    • Re:Wrong! (Score:5, Informative)

      by Trogre (513942) on Tuesday October 07, 2003 @10:17PM (#7159379) Homepage
      For example, una says the Macintosh extended keyboards have a scroll lock key. It does not.

      Yes it does. It shares the same keycap as F14.

    • Re:Wrong! (Score:5, Informative)

      by silvaran (214334) on Tuesday October 07, 2003 @11:23PM (#7159882)
      It was used to lock the cursor in place, and the up and down arrow keys scrolled the entire screen, leaving the cursor locked.

      I'm not entirely certain what article you thought you read, but according to Una:

      The main intent of the Scroll Lock key was to allow scrolling of screen text up, down and presumably sideways using the arrow keys in the days before large displays and graphical scroll bars.

      According to you, it sounds like Una got it right at the start.

  • by OldTome (89259) <slashdot AT uberstink DOT com> on Tuesday October 07, 2003 @10:06PM (#7159288)
    for a cutting edge super user friendly OS: Make the Print Screen key actually work and PRINT THE FREAKIN' SCREEN!
  • Alt Graph.... (Score:4, Informative)

    by jdreed1024 (443938) on Tuesday October 07, 2003 @10:08PM (#7159306)
    Alt Graph is a modifier key, like Shift, Control, Meta, etc. It existed on the PC platform too. If you look at non-US keyboard maps in the old IBM DOS manuals (like version 3.30), you'll see the that one of the "Alt" keys was labelled "AltGr" (guess what the "Gr" is an abbreviation for). You had to use the AltGr key to get things like accents and stuff if you used a non-US code page in DOS.

    ISTR that AltGraph+Help did something on older Sun machines, but I can't recall what.

  • by fermion (181285) on Tuesday October 07, 2003 @10:08PM (#7159308) Homepage Journal
    Some one tell me how we ended up three control keys. On Windows machines we have the window key, the control key, and the alt key. On Macs we have the Apple/Command/Flower key, the option/alt key and the control key. Of course, on most machines we have a ESC key, which is really there to escape out of, or switch, modes, but has been given other weird functions such as escaping out of application or whatever.

    In fact the alt/option key is really just a replacement for the escape key, except one has to be dexterous enough to hold two keys down at once to use it.

    And lets not even get started with delete/backspace key and the del key.

    Just looking at my keyboard, which has as nearly as many function/command keys as character keys, I wonder if bloat stated with the keyboard and expanded into the software. I mean it looks cool and hi tech and all, but who needs to look hi tech in the 21st century?

  • by StandardDeviant (122674) on Tuesday October 07, 2003 @10:11PM (#7159335) Homepage Journal
    Alt-Gr, useful when that regular "Grrrrrrrr!" just isn't enough.

    (Alt-Gr key example [] (in this case being illustrated as part of a key combo to produce the Euro symbol))
  • by jdreed1024 (443938) on Tuesday October 07, 2003 @10:14PM (#7159349)
    [reading screen] "To Start Press Any Key". Where's the ANY key? I see Esk ["ESC"], Catarl ["CTRL"], and Pig-Up ["PGUP"]. There doesn't seem to be any ANY key. Woo! All this computer hacking is making me thirsty. I think I'll order a TAB. [presses TAB key] time for that now, the computer's starting.

    Blatanly stolen from Simpsons episode 3f05.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 07, 2003 @10:14PM (#7159352)
    The registration key. All my software keeps asking me for it...
  • by kobukson (712873) on Tuesday October 07, 2003 @10:21PM (#7159415)
    at my lab, we administer cisco routers using a console connection to a pc via hyperterminal. what you see in the screen is a scrolling-text, command prompt environment. sometimes, the keyboard gets bumped around and the scroll-lock button gets accidently pressed.

    my co-worker, in all the years that he's been working here, never seems to learn this.

    i'd be sitting at my desk, trying to do more important stuff (like reading /.), when i'd hear him yell out:

    "there's something wrong with this router! come check it out..."

    me: "is the scroll-lock on?"

    few seconds later...

  • Alt-GR (Score:3, Informative)

    by (102718) on Wednesday October 08, 2003 @12:50AM (#7160339) Homepage
    The "Alt Gr" key is used for us foreigners to reach seldomly used charatcers like @$ (Alt-Gr 2, 3 and 4 respectively), or {[]} (Alt-Gr 7890) or | (alt-GR `) or \ (alt-GR ). And more important, Alt-Gr e is the Euro character. You know, the european dollar, way stonger than the US dollar.

    On the other hand, we get often used charatcers like aeoa as primary keys, and have access "# with Shift + 2, 3 and 4.

    This is all based on a danish keyboard. Some people have grown beyond US-ASCII (7-bit crap)
  • True story (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tmoertel (38456) on Wednesday October 08, 2003 @02:20AM (#7160753) Homepage Journal
    About fifteen years ago while working for a defense contractor, I happened to be present while a DEC service technician was inspecting one of the many on-site Vaxen as part of a "preventative-maintenance" contract. This particular machine was running Ultrix, DEC's then-favored flavor of Unix, and the sysadmin and I were standing by while the inspection took place.

    At one point in the inspection, the technician had to monitor the machine from a boot-up state, and so he rebooted the machine. The only problem was, the machine didn't come back up. Instead, it hung early in the boot process, leaving the distinct impression on the observers that the technician had hosed up a perfectly good -- and very expensive -- minicomputer.

    Apparently, the same impression was left on the technician, because he started sweating. A lot. He tried rebooting the machine again, obviously unsure of what the hell he had done to land in his present, miserable condition and just as obviously wanting desperately to be released from it. The machine hung up again. More sweat. Another attempt. Same thing: Hang. Then he opened the case and peered inside. He was clearly grasping at straws. The sweat started to bead on his forehead.

    Eventually, after about fifteen minutes of increasingly distressing diagnostic procedures, consulting the LEDs, and hand wringing, he gave up: "You've got a bad motherboard. I'll have to call in for a swap." He half ran away from the uncomfortable scene to make his phone call.

    While he was gone, the sysadmin busted out laughing. Then he pointed at the keyboard on the console VT320. The Scroll Lock LED was lit. The sysadmin said that the technician must have hit it earlier and never took it off before rebooting. When the kernel tried to send boot-up messages to the console, the console wouldn't accept them, and so the kernel blocked, waiting for the Scroll Lock to be released!

    A few minutes later, the technician returned, looking only a bit less nervous. In his best it's-under-control voice: "Yeah, we'll have that new board out right away. No problem." The sysadmin's reply: "Great! I'm sure glad we have the preventative-maintenance contract, because I bet those boards are plenty expensive. I'd hate to pick up the tab for one of them." After a few precious moments of letting that thought sink in, the sysadmin "noticed" the scroll-lock situation: "Hey, isn't the scroll lock on? Let's just see what happens if I ..." He then tapped the keyboard.

    And the Vax booted right up.


    • Re:True story (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pe1chl (90186)
      Yes, this is a very weak link in that system. I have seen it on other mini systems as well. When the console is off or defective, or Ctrl-S or scroll lock is hit, the whole system stops (after a while) or won't boot.
      We have had our AIX box hanging during a weekly nightly reboot because someone switched off the console terminal.
      Indeed it can leave you puzzled for a while, especially as this console is rarely used, and operators normally use network connections to access the machine.
  • Missing some info (Score:4, Informative)

    by Jack Schitt (649756) on Wednesday October 08, 2003 @03:13AM (#7160914)
    The Scroll Lock was also used by a DOS TSR known as ANSI. When loaded, it allowed scrolling of the entire screen history when the Scroll Lock was on. When you dir a huge folder, you could hit scroll lock and use the arrow keys to navigate the entire list of files. More useful than dir /p...

    The Print Screen/SysRq key was used in Dos to send the current screen of text directly to lpt1: (your printer), hence the name "Print Screen". In Windows (all the way back to Windows 3.x), Print Screen executes a screen capture (without the mouse cursor) and puts it on the clipboard. Alt+PrintScreen copies just the current window.

    In addition to what was said in the article about Pause/Break, pressing it _during_ a dir or other scrolling text operation will halt the screen. (This includes during booting before the OS loads.) Press any key to continue.

    As for the `/~ key? Still haven't found a useful function for it other than typing a ` or a ~.

    And the |? That one serves just about the same purpose to me as the "Context Menu" button on many newer keyboards, which is to say, none.
  • What's Alt Gr for? (Score:4, Informative)

    by jonbryce (703250) on Wednesday October 08, 2003 @05:08AM (#7161202) Homepage
    For people who don't speak english, Alt Gr is pretty useful, as it lets you type accented characters. In EU countries, it is also used to let you type the Euro symbol - Alt-Gr+4 on UK and Irish Keyboards, Alt-Gr+E on most others.

Always try to do things in chronological order; it's less confusing that way.