When you press the cursor keys, modified cursor keys (with [Shift], [Ctrl], and so on) or [Home] and [End] keys on a Windows PC, the on-screen cursor reacts in a consistent way when it’s in a block of text, no matter what application you’re using. Its behaviour is controlled at operating system level rather than individual application level, and this consistent behaviour is a sign of good user interface design.
Now I’m the last person to suggest that Windows is any kind of benchmark for good interface design – in fact one of the reasons I recently switched to a Mac was the UI horror of Windows Vista and Windows 7. And, of course, the Mac has a wonderfully consistent user interface that’s far more logical and intuitive than anything Microsoft has so far managed. Apart from its stupid cursor control.
For example, the [Home] and [End] keys on a Windows PC keyboard always – always – move the cursor to the start or end of a line. In Mac OS X, they do not (true, they are labelled with ↖ and ↘ and while this could mean jump to the start or the end of a document, they don’t do that. Well, not often).
In NeoOffice Writer on the Mac, however, those same keys move the cursor along by a word at a time. In Firefox, on the other hand, they act as Page Back/Forward buttons, even when you’re editing text in a text box – which, as you can imagine, can be quite frustrating when you’re trying to type a sizeable block of text.
Back in NeoOffice Writer, [Ctrl ]+ [↖] and [↘] keys move the cursor to the end of a line, but in Firefox, those modified keystrokes act as Page Up and Page Down – just like the separate [Page Up] and [Page Down] keys, in fact. Or the [⇞] and [⇟] keys, if you want to be pedantic.
I could go on, but I won’t, because this level inconsistency in an operating system that prides itself on user-friendliness is utterly ridiculous. And I’m not the only one to think this – the first thing anyone looking for a similar solution is likely to find is a System Preferences Pane add-in called DoubleCommand. This lets you modify the keyboard in a number of ways, including enabling ‘PC style Home and End keys’. Sounds ideal, but it doesn’t work.
Many Mac OS applications (it seems) can be tweaked to alter the way in which they react to certain keystrokes and NeoOffice is indeed one of them. Its Tools > Customize > Keyboard option doesn’t work either.
Is there a way to modify Firefox’s keyboard shortcuts? I have no idea – I’ve give up trying to find out. I’ve categorised this silly inconsistent keystroke shortcoming as one of the Mac’s foible’s and it’s either one that Apple probably denies has ever been a problem, or one that Mac users are so used to that they wouldn’t have it any other (albeit better) way.
So, the title of this post is a fib – I don’t know how to fix the Mac keyboard to work properly. But I would like to know if it’s possible. So, if you know how, please tell me. Please…