The Fn key

The Fn key
Mac Tip #201/22-June-2005

If you have a Powerbook or iBook you’ll notice an fn key at the bottom left of your keyboard. If you’ve never noticed or used it before you might be surprised at what it can do. The next couple of Tips will fill you in.

First up, it affects what happens when you use the F keys which appear across the top of your keyboard. Those are the keys labelled F1 through to F12.

Try pressing the F5 and the F4 keys (not at the same time). Does your computer make a sort of putt putt putt noise, getting louder or softer? If so then F4 and F5 are volume control keys.

Now open a new email or Word or other document and hold down the fn key at the same time as you press the F4 key. Chances are that whatever you last Copied or Cut is pasted in wherever the cursor is.

The normal behaviour of F4 is to reduce the volume, but by holding down the fn key you’ve switched the behaviour to Paste.

If you often use the F keys to control volume, brightness and so on then the way you have it set up is useful. If, on the other hand, you would much more often use the F keys to copy and paste and so on then having to also hold down the fn key is a nuisance.

Open the System Preference and look for the Keyboard tab under Keyboard & Mouse. You’ll see a checkbox which lets you choose whether you need to hold down the fn key for “hardware features”.

The “hardware features” you can control are:

  • brightness: F1 and F2
  • volume: F3 (mute), F4 and F5
  • number lock: F6
  • video mirroring: F7
  • illuminate keyboard: F9 and F10 (only certain laptops)

Next week: more on the fn key.

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