Top Ten Mac OS X Tips for Unix Geeks
Subject:   Apple Laptop Keyboards Unsuitable for Unix Users
Date:   2002-10-25 18:13:22
From:   anonymous2

Apple laptops are effectively unusable for unix users.

I am a long-time Unix user. That means I need to have the Ctrl key to the left of the A key. This is a genuine need, not merely a want; it is based upon ergonomics. The Ctrl key is heavily used in unix, and it must be easily accessable. It cannot be off in the lower left corner of the keyboard where it is difficult to get at, and where it distorts the position of your left hand such that you can't easily type other keys while holding the Ctrl key down.

Apple desktop keyboards are now all USB. They are all OK. The CapsLock key can be re-mapped into a Ctrl key.

Unfortunately, even in this modern age, all Apple laptops have built-in ADB keyboards. The ADB keyboard is broken-by-design. It is, in general, not possible to remap the CapsLock key into a Ctrl key.

There are some exceptions, but they are horrible kludges. They are horrible kludges because the original design of the ADB keyboard was a horrible kludge. The correct solution would be for Apple to re-design their laptop motherboards to use built-in USB keyboards. This hasn't happened yet. If you run Linux, use Debian's solution. For Mac OS X users, uControl works. There are no solutions (that I know of) for either NetBSD or OpenBSD. Please note once again that the "solutions" above are in fact kludges, because of the original bad design of the ADB keyboard.

Apple is (currently) ignoring Unix users! This is not merely speculation on my part. In an on-going email exchange I am having with an Apple employee (whom I won't name) in their marketing department, the Apple marketing person directly stated to me that Apple was catering to their historic Mac customers, and is purposely ignoring the Unix market. He also claimed that Apple would soon start paying more attention to the Unix market. I won't hold my breath. Apple has been ignoring Unix users for more than 12 years. I expect that trend to continue. (Also note that my Apple contact indicated that Macs would never ship with a 3-button mouse, even though Apple intended to port almost all X-window software and deliver it either on a CD/DVD or installed directly on each Mac's hard drive. How Unix friendly is a 1-button mouse with X programs that often require 3 buttons?)

Apple has now lost two opportunities to sell me hardware. I really wanted an Apple laptop for their superior battery life, and for the PowerPC with Altivec CPU. (The Altivec is vastly superior to the x86 line for DSP.) Because I can't live with the broken-by-design built-in ADB keyboard in all Apple laptops, Sony and IBM sold me laptops instead. If Apple fixes this problem, they will sell me a PowerBook next year; if they don't, I'll still be running OpenBSD on x86 hardware, and wishing I could use a Mac.

Full Threads Newest First

Showing messages 1 through 9 of 9.

  • Apple Laptop Keyboards Unsuitable for Unix Users
    2002-11-05 21:17:13  mstillwell [View]

    Can't you use uControl,
  • Apple Laptop Keyboards Unsuitable for Unix Users
    2003-06-06 10:49:23  anonymous2 [View]

    not only are there solutions for this problem, but if a caps lock key keeps you from buying the computer you want, you're pretty much an idiot, IMHO.
  • Apple Laptop Keyboards Unsuitable for Unix Users
    2003-09-28 09:26:34  anonymous2 [View]

    Dude, you're alone on an island, and you put yourself there. Lighten up...when's the last time you saw sun light?
  • Apple Laptop Keyboards Unsuitable for Unix Users
    2003-10-26 22:29:14  anonymous2 [View]

    This is so true. I bought a PowerBook 15" assuming that swapping ctrl and caps-lock would be a no-brainer but it turned out to be a real headache. I'm using uControl now, which does a decent job but it feels like a bit of a hack, since it won't let me remap caps-lock to ctrl. (caps-lock has its uses when you do a lot of programming.)

    Then there's the stupid annoyance that there's no way to make the function keys act like function keys without holding down the fn key!! uControl offers an option for this but it won't work for F5. Come on, Apple, you had to figure that this would annoy a pretty large number of people! Would an option in System Settings be so terrible?

    The worst HID nightmare, though, is the nasty mouse acceleration that Apple forces upon you. Fine mouse movements are painfully slow, while fast ones are uselessly fast. Again, how about a "Disable Mouse Acceleration" option, Apple? How hard would that be?

    I never imagined I would say this, but switching from X11 to Mac OS X has been a definite step backwards in basic comfort and usability. The hardware is slick, however, and I'm not afraid to hack the software into shape, so I'm a switcher. For now...
    • Apple Laptop Keyboards Unsuitable for Unix Users
      2003-11-18 07:23:36  anonymous2 [View]

      I agree. I bought a 12 PB and am going to sell it simply because I hate the OS X mouse acceleration. Every other OS lets you tailor this but not OS X. Maybe Apple will finally get this right some day.
      • Apple Laptop Keyboards Unsuitable for Unix Users
        2004-04-11 13:32:33  frl [View]

        Hey man, I totally agree.. the mouse acceleration sucks!
      • Apple Laptop Keyboards Unsuitable for Unix Users
        2005-09-20 19:27:24  purplie2 [View]

        To fix the mouse acceleration problem on OS X, try SteerMouse (
  • Apple Laptop Keyboards Unsuitable for Unix Users
    2004-11-28 06:58:34  23degrees [View]

    I'm using a Mac laptop with the "Control" key beside the "A" key. Its a Japanese keyboard.

  • Apple Laptop Keyboards Unsuitable for Unix Users
    2005-09-18 00:58:28  petienne [View]

    I bought a 17" powerbook at the begining of this school term thinking I'd use it to ssh into my server from classes and use Emacs as my IDE for everything shy of breathing. I Love my PowerBook. But I spend a good 60% of my computing time in Emacs. I just wanted to say thanks to Anonymous2. This has been a great resource of information for issues that have been causing some serious frustration. Fortunately, I think the kludges will eventually get me on my feet, but I understand and agree with anonymous2's assesment of Apple's approach on these issues. If running several OSes (some emulated) wasn't a priority one (usability testing), this message would have been written on an x86 machine (Had I known about the HCI / Ergonomics issues before-hand that is).