Why different laptops are like a herd of cats…

By | April 18, 2016
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Since I need to keep myself up to date with different kit, I tend to use a variety of computers and gadgets and so on.

At work I use a desktop PC running Windows 7 – at home we have a small laptop with Windows 10 on it. And I make sure I use a variety of other computers and gadgets from time to time.

And switching between a couple of different laptops has reminded me of something that could potentially be confusing if you didn’t know about it – especially if you use a laptop and borrow someone else’s or replace it with a new one.

It’s all about the “F” keys – F for function. They’re the ones along the top of the keyboard – F1, F2, F3 and so on. Pressing one doesn’t type “F2” or whatever – what it does depends on what program you’re in.

For example in most programs pressing F1 will bring up some help (which depending on how well that program is designed may or may not actually be helpful).

If you’re on the web, pressing F5 will refresh the current webpage – download it again. That can be useful if it didn’t download properly the first time or just if you’re on a news site of some kind that’s changing quickly and you want to check if there’s anything new on it since you first brought it up. (Though some webpages do that automatically nowadays.)

But on most laptops, these keys tend to have extra functions as well. Usually one also has a little symbol for volume up, one for volume down and one will have a mute symbol on it. Often there are ones for adjusting the brightness, too.

How does it work, though, if you have that as well as the “normal” F key on the same button? Well, usually the extra symbols are in a different colour. And you also have a button marked Fn, usually in the same colour and with a little box drawn around it. It’s often to the bottom left of the keyboard.

You press and hold down the Fn key, then tap the button with the picture of the volume up symbol on it, then let go of the Fn key.

It’s easier than it sounds – it’s one of those things that’s a little tricky to describe but if you try it, it’s fairly straightforward.

Here’s where it gets confusing. Some laptop manufacturers do it the other way round – so you get the volume up (or down or whatever) by pressing the button without holding down Fn. To get the F3 or F5 or whatever button on these laptops, you need to hold down the Fn. So it’s the opposite way round from most laptops.

The thing is, it doesn’t really matter which way round they do it but it’d be really helpful if they’d all do it the same way round. Sadly getting computer manufacturers to agree on things like this is a bit like getting a herd of cats to agree on a route for a walk…

Anyway, if you’re using a different laptop from usual and you’re having trouble getting the keys along the top to work, try it both with and without the Fn key – the one with the box round it near the bottom left of the keyboard. One way or the other should work, but it might not be the way you expected!

Google Chrome and Windows XP
I’ve been saying for a while that I wouldn’t recommend using Windows XP on the internet any more. It just doesn’t have proper support for security updates. I suppose if you never shop online, don’t bank online or put any other important information on the computer, you could take the view that you haven’t got much to lose if it does get hacked, but if you ever buy anything, put any personal information on it or anything like that, I really wouldn’t recommend it.

But now Google have announced they not going to be updating Google Chrome on Windows XP. In theory you could still use the last version they did produce for it, but if you are using XP and use Google Chrome as your web browser, it’s another reason to think about switching to something better protected.

10 thoughts on “Why different laptops are like a herd of cats…

  1. Ron.

    I am a 66 old man don’t know much about computers .got a laptop four years ago,did not know till read your email today .whats the F1 F2 and so on, what they were there for. Thanks mr Tim Wakerling.

    1. susan tideswell

      I, too, am old and quite ignorant about all things tech, so it would be great to have a list of the meanings of all those F buttons!

      Also, rather differently, I have a new laptop with windows 10, and found that getting old wps documents to open was impossible. Googling gave me a suggestion of downloading microsoft works 6-9, but that wouldn’t work either. Eventually, I have had to pay for a version of microsoft works to be downloaded. Has anyone else had this problem?

  2. Alastair Lindsay

    I use Windows Vista and have been getting simililar messages from Google about no more updates , Should I go to another Web Browser and if so which one?

  3. Alastair Lindsay

    I use Vista what browser should I use rather than Google

  4. Lizzie Searls

    I also have been using Windows Vista through Internet Explorer but cannot access this any longer. Have switched to Google Chrome, which apparently also will no longer be supported. My laptop is now 8 years old, and my dilemma is whether to try and download either windows 8 or 10 to my existing machine, or whether to go the ‘whole hog’ and buy a newer more up-to-date machine with Windows 8 or 8 already installed. Any advice out there?

    1. Tim Post author

      Hmm – you could just switch to using Firefox as your web browser (see below) and carry on using Vista for another year or so. Personally, though, I’ve never rated Vista and think pretty much any of the more recent versions of Windows were easier to use.
      If your PC is running reasonably quickly generally, it’ll probably be powerful enough to get by on Windows 10, but the snag is there’s no free upgrade to Windows 10 from Vista, so you’d have to pay for it. I would probably be tempted to get a new PC with Windows 10 already on as it’ll be smoother running (and avoid the work of installing Windows in the first place).
      If you have a desktop PC and you’re happy with your monitor, you can save money by only replacing the main box and keeping the monitor – well worth knowing!

  5. Charles Waring

    Thanks Tim for information on what some of the `F– Buttons’ are used for, would it be possible to shed some light onto what the other ones can do?

  6. Diana Kolbe

    On a different topic! I have just received an email from Morrisons supermarket , we have one of their match and more cards. Email said I could have won £500, I was suspicious so clicked a link to find out more about this. I have McAfee installed and McAfee advised against opening this. I checked with Morrisons and they confirmed it was a scam coming from USA and they were aware of it! Take care everyone it did look genuine.

  7. Tim Post author

    Thanks for the replies!
    Good question about what the other function keys do – so I’m going to write about it in next Monday’s newsletter as I think other people will be interested too!
    On the question about what browser to use if you have Windows Vista – the only mainstream one still properly supported is Firefox. It’s a pretty good browser and not that different to use from IE or Chrome, so if you have Vista, that’s probably what I’d use. You can download it here: https://www.mozilla.org/en-GB/firefox/new/
    You can also use Opera, but it’s not as well known so fewer people can help with it.
    Hope that helps.

  8. Vic Avery

    Very useful stuff Tim. Thank you.
    Is there an easy way of printing just PARTS of your tips, to keep for easy reference, rather than printing all of the replies etc?
    (I have Windows 10 on ‘phone, tablet, laptop & PC. )


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