Microsoft introduced the Windows key on the Microsoft Natural Keyboard back in 1994, and while sometimes it can be a bit annoying (like when you accidentally hit it while playing games), the Windows key has proven itself useful enough to find its way onto a huge number of third-party keyboards.
But now, Microsoft is considering adding another specialized function onto our keyboards with its new Office key—which would replace the Menu (or Right Alt on keyboards with more traditional layouts)—and has even been conducting surveys asking for feedback. Well, OK Microsoft, here’s my response: How about no.
Granted, Microsoft’s Menu key is kind of useless, as its main purpose is offering a different method of right-clicking on things and bringing up a contextual menu. And Right Alt is already redundant as there’s usually an Alt key on either side of the space bar, but that doesn’t mean you can just go and add new keys willy nilly.
The biggest argument against adding a dedicated Office key is the existence of the Windows key. If Microsoft just wants to give users a faster way to launch Excel or PowerPoint, all it has to do is create more keyboard shortcuts for the Windows key.
But wait, the Windows key + E command is already taken, you say (it opens up the Computer window). Why yes, it is, but Windows key + Alt + E isn’t. Same goes for Windows + Alt + O if you want a faster way to open OneNote. For the purposes of opening apps faster, we already have everything we need.
And it’s a similar situation once a specific Office program is up and running. Now I will admit that I’m not an Excel wizard, but if you’ve ever seen anyone who is, it’s downright impressive what can be done if you have deep knowledge of the existing keyboard shortcuts, and if Microsoft is thinking about changing that workflow through the introduction of a new Office key, that could create more headaches than solutions.
On the other hand, if Microsoft wants to use the Office key to make sharing documents and files easier, you could just build those features into the existing Menu key, or as detailed up above, make more shortcuts for the Windows Key.
In the end, the point I’m really hitting on is that killing the current Menu key and replacing it with a key dedicated to a single software suite that not everyone uses (or wants to pay for) doesn’t make a lot of sense. And if Microsoft wants to bully PC makers into compliance by denying Windows certification for those who refuse to follow along, there better be a damn good reason for changing the keys around. But right now, I’m not seeing it. It’s already bad enough that people have to deal with the whole Command key/Windows key divide.
Now don’t get me wrong, there will always be a need for specialized keyboard layouts and buttons, particular for people like artists and video editors who often spend their whole day using the same piece of software. The Surface Dial is a great example of that, same goes for the dedicated Photoshop keys HP puts on systems like the ZBook x2 G4. But almost nothing in Microsoft’s Office suite really deserves or needs that much extra support.
So maybe, instead of trying to create a new key relegated for use with a single software suite, why not just enhance what’s already there. If Microsoft wants to make files and projects easier to share, adding some extra options to the Menu key is a much simpler, and more straightforward solution.