Take a look at this picture of the keyboard on my Dell Studio 1558 laptop (shown above). Notice anything odd?
Well, where’s Number Lock? What happened to the numeric pad (usually shares keys with the 7, 8, 9, U, I, O, J, K, L and M)? These keys are typically used to type alt code combinations for characters not represented in the English keyboard. A Spanish speaker like yours truly would use them to type the letter “ñ”, accented vowels, and the “upside-down” exclamation and question marks.
The first time I tried to use alt codes with the laptop I thought: “I must be missing something. They must have come up with some hip new way to do it.” But how?
It turns out that in their infinite wisdom, computer hardware OEMs have decided to start eliminating features that customers “don’t want” (specifically, the Number Lock and Scroll Lock keys) in order to replace them with things that we just can’t live without, like the Windows key, a disk ejection key, or a right-click menu key. Fortunately, my manufacturer’s support staff offered some ‘helpful’ alternatives like using the Character Map or changing my keyboard language anytime I wish to type a non-standard character. Alternatively, they offered to return my ability to type accented characters in exchange for a ransom payment of $18.99 for a Targus USB numeric pad.
I still haven’t been able to decide if I’m more frustrated by the removal of a feature that I ‘don’t want,’ the support staff’s absurd ‘solutions’ to the problem that the removal of this feature has created, or the manufacturer’s complete lack of awareness of the message that it sends: “typing in any language other than English on your U.S.-market laptop will not be tolerated.”
So let this be a lesson: if you or your employees value the ability to type special characters quickly (whatever the reason may be), make sure you add the Number Lock Key to your list of features to consider for hardware purchases. It doesn’t come standard anymore.