Recently my colleagues and I started to wonder why older PC keyboards have the Ctrl key next to the A key, while newer PC keyboards have Caps Lock there instead. It didn’t make sense: Ctrl is used more frequently than Caps Lock, so why is it now in a less prominent position?

The most likely reason is that the keyboards of most typewriters, like the IBM Selectric, have the Lock key in the same place. The Lock key was actually Shift Lock, not Caps Lock. As my friend Matt reminded me, pressing the Lock key also physically pressed down the Shift key as well, so it makes sense for the Lock key to be right next to the Shift key. Lock was used more frequently back then, because writing in all caps substituted for boldface or larger type, neither of which a typewriter can easily output.

When IBM released the PC in 1981, its keyboard had Ctrl next to A, which was similar to many other personal computer keyboards at the time. This resulted in messing up everyone who learned to touch-type on typewriters. So when IBM released its 101-key Enhanced Keyboard in 1986, it put the Caps Lock key back next to the A.

Unfortunately, this messed up everyone who learned how to touch-type on computers. Just in case anyone is wondering, all Apple II keyboards had Control next to A, but most Mac keyboards have had Caps Lock next to A. (In fact, the first Mac keyboard didn’t have Control.) I personally don’t mind where Caps Lock and Ctrl are now, because at this point, I’m used to it. Now I just wish laptop manufacturers would make up their minds where to put the Fn and Ctrl keys on their keyboards (I prefer Ctrl to the left of Fn).