Trivia Tuesday: Origins of the scroll lock

I thought I would start up a little section here on Neowin, where every Tuesday I will post some sort of (hopefully) interesting piece of tech trivia or fact. Check back here every week and hopefully you will learn something new about the technology world

Scroll lock: it is without a doubt the most useless key on a keyboard, but surely at one point in the life of the keyboard the key was used for something. Surely nobody would be stupid enough to include a key that nothing actually uses.

Well at some point way back in the early 80s, the scroll lock key was invented for use on computers, unlike some keys pulled straight from a typewriter like caps lock and shift. It first appeared on the IBM PC/XT’s keyboard in 1983, which only had 83-keys, and bizarrely still remains on most current 104+ key keyboards despite having essentially no use anymore.

Originally the key did actually have a use. Back before many programs included scroll bars in their user interfaces, or people had scroll wheels on their mice, the scroll lock would enable the arrow keys to scroll text/content displayed on the screen. The scroll lock key was also used to prevent some software from automatically scrolling as new text appeared, particularly in terminals to make it easier to read the output.

Nowadays the scroll lock essentially does nothing. One notable program that still makes use of the key is Microsoft Excel: normally when you use the arrow keys it scrolls and changes the selected cell, but pressing the scroll lock keeps the same cell selected and instead just allows the arrow keys to scroll. If you want to see it in action, just launch Excel if you have it installed and you’ll see what I mean.

So there you go. Once upon a time the scroll lock had a practical use to control the scrolling behaviour of programs and the keyboard, but in modern computing times it only has use in very few applications. As it isn’t used all that often, it makes it a fantastic key to use for macros as it won’t disrupt normal functionality. Alternatively you can have a few brief moments of fun turning the keyboard light on and off, before leaving the scroll lock key to die alone once more.

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I made ScrollLock the shortcut key to activate KeyLaunch (a program I developed, back in the Windows 98 era, similar to Spotlight).
I also use the ScrollLock led in SoftLeds (a drive monitoring tool) to indicate disk drive activity (quite handy if your case is out of sight or it's simply missing a drive led).

Both those programs are quite old but, at the time, they made pretty good use of the ScrollLock key.

I actually was talking to someone about this. You can pretty much see everything in this article in Wikipedia but thanks nonetheless and yes, I like this Trivia Tuesday thing very much

I disagree, the scroll lock key keeps me employed in IT as many times I have users phoning up with Excel problems only to find they have pressed the scroll lock key by mistake.

To me this key is an unsung hero of IT and should be recognised

articuno1au said,
That's pretty cool.

+1 for an original article.


Agreed. Interesting article.

Next week you should write about the Pause/Break key. I think it may be just as useless as the Scroll Lock.

Trueblue711 said,

Agreed. Interesting article.

Next week you should write about the Pause/Break key. I think it may be just as useless as the Scroll Lock.

Not to developers it isn't.

"One notable program that still makes use of the key is Microsoft Excel: normally when you use the arrow keys it scrolls and changes the selected cell, but pressing the scroll lock keeps the same cell selected and instead just allows the arrow keys to scroll."

hey i just learn a neat tricks on excel. this is useful for checking. thanks!

+1

I had no idea about the Excel trick...and i run into the issue of needing to scroll within the cell ALL THE TIME! So this is great! Thanks!

I use scroll lock in Teamviewer sessions, but that's about it really. The most useless key for me would have to be the context menu key.

SO I DON'T HAVE FULL EXCEL FUNCTIONALITY ON MY LAPTOP BECAUSE IT DOESN'T HAVE A SCROLL-LOCK BUTTON! I'LL SUE!!

Actually, scroll lock is still used for programming, and can stop the build in Visual Studio. Surprisingly enough, I'm rather ****ed that my Dell doesn't have a scroll lock button. No really, I'm serious.

greenwizard88 said,
SO I DON'T HAVE FULL EXCEL FUNCTIONALITY ON MY LAPTOP BECAUSE IT DOESN'T HAVE A SCROLL-LOCK BUTTON! I'LL SUE!!

Actually, scroll lock is still used for programming, and can stop the build in Visual Studio. Surprisingly enough, I'm rather ****ed that my Dell doesn't have a scroll lock button. No really, I'm serious.

I didn't know that about VS! Handy tip. Are you sure your laptop doesn't have the key? Mine does, but it's one of the FN+ keys (In my case, Fn+Ins).

greenwizard88 said,
SO I DON'T HAVE FULL EXCEL FUNCTIONALITY ON MY LAPTOP BECAUSE IT DOESN'T HAVE A SCROLL-LOCK BUTTON! I'LL SUE!!

Actually, scroll lock is still used for programming, and can stop the build in Visual Studio. Surprisingly enough, I'm rather ****ed that my Dell doesn't have a scroll lock button. No really, I'm serious.

Oh, I never would've guessed Visual Studio did that. Well, thanks for the tip!

I use Scroll Lock to stop the Winamp visualisation add-in MilkDrop from changing pattern.

Also, according to wikipedia:


In Microsoft Windows 2000 and later, a registry setting can be changed to enable a debugging feature that allows the user to manually crash the system, generating a memory dump for analysis. Once set, the user can hold the Ctrl key and tap the Scroll Lock key twice to trigger a BSOD

I would say "Sys Rq" is less useful than scroll lock.

spikey_richie said,
I would say "Sys Rq" is less useful than scroll lock.

Yeah but the scroll lock is not only a useless key, it also has a useless status light that comes with it.

spikey_richie said,

I would say "Sys Rq" is less useful than scroll lock.

You find Print Screen useless? because it's on the same key as Sys Rq.

SirEvan said,

You find Print Screen useless? because it's on the same key as Sys Rq.


I was about to say the same thing. SysRq is just an alternate function to the print screen key. It isn't a key in it's own right, therefore spikey_richie's comment isn't valid.

TCLN Ryster said,

I was about to say the same thing. SysRq is just an alternate function to the print screen key. It isn't a key in it's own right, therefore spikey_richie's comment isn't valid.

Unless he has an 84 key keyboard, which is highly unlikely, but not impossible.

Enron said,

Yeah but the scroll lock is not only a useless key, it also has a useless status light that comes with it.


Yes, agreed.
And nice article btw.

SuperKid said,

There is no scroll lock on my Logitech Keyboard, poof gone

Same here, been that way with Logitechs for a few years.

Sadelwo said,

Same here, been that way with Logitechs for a few years.

I have a Logitech K120, and it has a scroll lock key, so it's clearly not like that on all their keyboards.