Over the last few days I’ve been finding myself using a keyboard designed for Windows users on my Mac. The reason behind such a change was that my MacBook Pro’s keyboard was causing wrist pain. The shallow key travel of the MacBook’s keyboard is partly to blame.
I just so happened to have an AmazonBasics wired keyboard available thanks to my recent Hackintosh build, so I decided to use it with my Mac. Immediately, I could sense relief in my wrists, but because this was a keyboard designed for Windows and not for Mac, the switch presented a whole new problem.
Instead of the friendly ⌃, ⌥, and ⌘ keys, I was presented with Control, Windows, and Alt keys. All of the modifier keys on a Windows keyboard map 1:1 with the keys on a Mac from a functionality standpoint. For example, the Control (⌃) key does the same thing on a Mac that it does on Windows, the Option (⌥) key on Mac does the same thing as the Alt key on Windows, and the Command (⌘) key on Mac does the same thing as the Windows key.
It’s the order not the function
The problem isn’t the function of the keys, because as we discussed, from a pure functionality standpoint, the modifier keys (Control, Option, Command) all map 1:1. The problem stems from their arrangement on the keyboard.
Modifier key arrangement differences between Mac and Windows:
Macintosh: ⌃ | ⌥ | ⌘
Windows: ⌃ | ⌘ | ⌥
Such a little thing, the swapping of the Command and Option keys, can cause trouble for someone who’s been typing on a Mac for years. Fortunately, there is a dead-simple fix for this issue.
How to remap modifier keys in OS X
Step 1: Open System Preferences → Keyboard → Modifier Keys.
Step 2: Select your third-party Windows keyboard via the Select keyboard drop down box.
Step 3: For the Option (⌥) Key setting, select ⌘ Command.
Step 4: For the Command (⌘) Key setting, select (⌥) Option.
Step 5: Click OK and close System Preferences.
The bottom line is that there are plenty of great keyboards out there that are designed to be used on Windows machines. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to use a great keyboard just because it was originally designed for Windows. Take advantage of the provision to remap modifier keys inside of OS X’s System Preferences. In the end, it’ll save time, frustration, and keep you from having to retrain what may be years of muscle memory.
The AmazonBasics wired keyboard is decent for how much it costs, but I’m a fan of mechanical keyboards with Cherry MX Brown switches. These switches produce a tactile “clicky” effect without being too loud. My favorite Cherry MX Brown keyboard is from Das Keyboard. Thankfully, Das Keyboard makes versions of its keyboards for both Windows and Mac users.
For more on keyboards, be sure to have a look at Jeremy’s keyboard roundup. What type of keyboard do you use with your Mac?