Zoom button, Dedicated Keys

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Keyboard Evolution: Zoom Button, Dedicated Keys

Xah Lee, 2011-05-12

Seems odd that zoom seems important today. For example, many keyboards have a dedicated zoom button. e.g. Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000Logitech Wave Keyboard. Also, Microsoft's 5 button mouses by default have the 5th button to toggle a mangnify window. On Apple computers, holding down Ctrl while scroll mouse wheel will zoom the whole screen.

Typically, in a browser or most apps, 【Ctrl++】 does zoom-in and 【Ctrl+-】 does zoom-out. Or, hold down Ctrl and scroll mouse wheel. These also works in Gimp and Inkscape. In apps where zoom is more frequently needed and page scroll is not needed, such as 3D apps (e.g. Second Life, Blender, Google Earth), mouse wheel itself does zoom. (See: Google Earth Mouse Navigation and KeysSecond Life Keyboard Shortcuts Cheatsheet.)

For average computer user, web browser is probably the app they spend 90% of their time on. Many of them don't know about the keyboard shortcuts. Even for those who knew, it's less convenient than a physical dedicated button or slider with a clear label of “Zoom”. (i myself find the zoom slider on the 4000 keyboard quite useful.) It is quite necessary to zoom when browsing webs, because there are so many different screen resolutions today that a site design often has text that's too small.

Today's convention of key combinations is really a pain. Each app has tens of key shortcuts. They are known as “shortcuts” because that's what they are, and are really convenient. But for many operations, such as copy, paste, undo, open, close, the keyboard shortcuts is really the primary method of operation. They should have dedicated keys. In some apps such as Emacs, Blender, Second Life, in practice you are required to memorize some 30 or more key combinations. It's ok for these professional uses, but for the ~15 operations that's common in all applications and are frequently used, such as Copy, Cut, Paste, Undo, Redo, Open, Close, New, Save, Zoom-in, Zoom-out, maximize window, prev/next Tab, prev/next window, we should have dedicated keys. See:

The fact that a physical zoom button appeared on many keyboards is interesting, because it means that it's a common need. Microsoft and Logitech keyboard designers are not dummies. There must be some strong indication that most people find it useful, and might become a “standard” extra key, just as multimedia keys, calculator key, web browser launch key, became common since the 2000s. Though, some of such keys have come and gone or may no longer relevant, such as Instant Messaging key, Mail key, Sleep, Wake, Log Off keys.

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