Mac Computers, Microsoft Keyboards and a Lost 3 Hours

I do my primary development at work on a Mac computer using a Microsoft Natural 4000 ergonomic keyboard. Because I’m predominantly a Microsoft .Net developer, function keys are reasonably integral to my day to day life, not just in the Visual Studio IDE but also in SqlYog, the MySQL client we use. Having to execute queries or debugging steps using menus with the mouse drives me insane. I’m no shortcut master but I know the main ones that I run into in my daily life. So when the function keys stopped working in an expected way, I pretty much had to shut down work and fix it.

For those following along at home, you can get function keys to work on a Mac by going to System Preferences -> Keyboard and then checking the “Use F1, F2, etc as standard function keys.” I had done that early on and everything worked fine. Suddenly, last Friday, those keys started opening up the Start menu in Parallels and Finder on the Mac. Not good. So I started digging around and didn’t really run into much on the interwebs. I then decided to use my extensive Twitter network and luckily, with some long distance debugging, David O’Hara got me to the right solution which was to turn off the F Lock key on the Microsoft keyboard.

Somewhere along the way, I guess that I had managed to hit that key and what that did was disable function keys from the Microsoft keyboard’s perspective. When that happened, the “Use F1, F2, etc. . .” checkbox in System Preferences disappeared because Mac OS thought the keyboard didn’t support it. Even reinstalling the keyboard software didn’t help. Once I hit that key (which is dangerously close to the Backspace key in my unbalanced UI design opinion), all bets were off.

So if you are having trouble with function keys on a Mac, try toggling the F Lock key and quietly curse whoever thought it was a good idea to have a key that changed the behavior of 12 other keys. This is terrible UI design in my opinion, you should have to work to change something like that, i.e. put this in the control panel. There are also ways to disable it should you so choose.