Friday, September 26, 2008

Top 10 Linux FOSS Keys

Linux and FOSS "top whatever" lists are all the rage these days on the blogoweb, so I figured I might as well cash in.

I've been using Linux and Free Open Source Software for many years now, and have developed my own set of preferences and tastes in this regard that work well for me. I thought I'd share some of them in hopes of helping out newbies or perhaps even inspiring some of the old-timers.

Specifically, I'd like to talk about some of the keys available on Linux. I realize that many of these keys might also be available on other operating systems, and I should also note that I haven't used every single key -- so if I miss an important one, let me know.

  1. The A key.

    Not the most important key, surely, but a big dog no less. The king of the alphabet. The first letter of "Alphanumeric" and "A-Team". When used in conjunction with the CTRL key it will Select All in most of your favorite FOSS programs. Without the A key, there's no way you could view processes belonging to All users using `ps aux`, or see All sockets using `netstat -a` -- hell, you couldn't even spell netstat.

    The A key. With it we can achieve the center, the essence, the heart of `man`.

  2. The Semicolon (;) key.

    Ah the semicolon, a personal favorite of mine. With the semicolon key I can look grammatically smart to people more stupider than I; of whom are many. Without the semicolon key getting a C or Java program to compile would be a miserable experience, and you can forget about your cute little PHP app with the Javascript front-end.

    The semicolon key -- keeping FOSS lovers' right pinkies in shape for over 30 years. Or more, or less. I dunno, how old are keys?

  3. The Backtick key.

    Oh! the anguished, misunderstood, misrepresented backtick key. Ask a typical Windows user to press the backtick key and you'll have a good reason to chuckle arrogantly to yourself, just loudly enough so that they'll see it. "Why would I ever use that", they'll ask, full of stupid.

    Often overshadowed by the tilde who found fame in mathematics, the backtick waits patiently on your FOSS keyboard, just above the Tab and just to the left of 1 -- waiting for you to need to exec something in your scripting language. Or waiting, perhaps, to be used covertly in a parameter sent to your poorly-written PHP script... but let's not generalize, not all backticks are bad just because most of them are.

    Oh backtick, you kick so much ass!

  4. The Backspace key.

    The cleaner. The remover of bad. Where would be without the backspace key? We'd be arrowing around and using the delete key, that's where we'd be. What a nightmare! The delete key is one of the most overrated, poorly conceived keys on your FOSS keyboard, yet somehow it has historically taken precedence over backspace, who in some circumstances is reduced to coughing out a bunch of useless ^H^H^H characters.

    Without the backspace key I wouldn't be able to remove the mistake I'm about to make.

  5. The Spacebar.

    Perhaps the spacebar should have been at the #1 spot on my list. After all, it's freakin GIGANTIC! It's so god damned enormous that it's not even called a key -- it's called a BAR. And it's a bar because it's so dang useful. Here's how your code might look without the spacebar:


    Compile THAT! Ha!

    And what a perfect name, rich with double meaning. When future earthly entrepreneurs start opening merry little establishments on space stations around the universe, you can bet there will be more than a small shake of cool joints called "The Space Bar."

  6. The ellameno keys.

    Reduced to a single letter in the minds of many by an unfortunate, cruel children's song, the l, m, n, and o keys deserve a mention. Thanks for the ls, the more, the nslookup, and the almost-middle letter of the acronym FOSS.

  7. The Print Screen key.

    A dumping ground for homeless functions, the Print Screen key has remained a part of FOSS-compatible keyboards since its early beginnings when it would actually "print the screen." Now nobody really knows what to make of it. It might take a screenshot, sure, that's cool. On some non-FOSS keyboards it might INSERT, causing your cursor to type over everything in front of it, and I guess that's manageable. But what if it SysRqs???? What the hell is that? What if it SysRqs whiles taking a screenshot of your cursor changing behavior!?

    Typically located near the Scroll Lock and Pause / Break keys, the Print Screen key is made even more ominous by the unsavory company it keeps. They're there, they're proud, and it's best if you just leave them the hell alone. But if you get yourself in with this selective crowd, they might just open up a whole new level of functionality that you never knew existed. But I dunno, I don't push on them.

  8. The Esc key.

    Let's face it, the escape key is losing relevance. Rarely does the esc key actually perform any useful function -- just what does it mean to "escape" in a modern operating system anyhow? Richard Stallman completely redefined the key when he wrote Emacs, turning into some kind of freakishly meta bastard, and nobody even noticed! Nobody stopped to think, "hey, if I press M-c, an awesome feature to capitalize the first letter of a word, won't it cause me to 'escape' from Emacs?" No, no it won't.

    Look, the esc key might not have any functional relevance when it comes to your FOSS software, but it does have one very important function in the physical world. It gives you something to beat on when your FOSS programs that aren't supposed to crash suddenly stop responding. As if it were the controls to a time machine, we beat the hell out of the escape key every time something goes wrong. It is the avenue through which we allow our abusive tendencies to escape.

    Escape key, I salute thee.

  9. The Arrow keys.

    "Hey, we're hear to stay, so just use us already!!"

    Poor arrow keys. Everyone always hijacking other letters or even the number pad to perform the function that the arrow keys were specifically designed for. Twenty years ago it wasn't a given that a keyboard would have arrow keys, but now-a-days I challenge you to find one without. So knock it off with this Num Lock crap and forget about your WASD and HJKL. We're never going to convince our proprietary brothers and sisters to make the switch to FOSS if we can't even reduce ourselves to using keys with arrows on them to move things in directions.

    Arrow keys. Easy is good.

  10. The Windows key SUCKS.

    In blog-style top-ten FOSS fashion, I completely bail when I run out of ideas and add something completely irrelevant. Open-Apple and Closed-Apple are stupid too.

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