PC Keyboards, the Mac mini, and You

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The Mac mini has spurred large amounts of interest in the PC community. With the mini’s lack of a bundled keyboard and mouse, the natural question becomes “Can I use my existing mouse and keyboard with the Mac mini?” Given that they are USB, the answer is yes. For mice, this is largely trivial. Just plug it in and use it. Optionally install drivers if it’s a Logitech or Microsoft product.

Keyboards are a whole other can of worms because of a single section, the bottom row. On a Mac keyboard, the keys along the bottom, in order, are control, option, command, space bar, command, option, control. The topic of this article is USB keyboards, so custom layouts such as laptop keyboards are ignored. On a PC keyboard, the keys are generally control, Windows, alt, space bar, alt, Windows, context, control. It’s pretty similar save the context key.

The fact is that despite different labeling, these are essentially the same keys, serving very similar functions in that, except for the space bar, they are modifier keys. You hold the key and press another to perform some function. As such, it should come as no surprise that these keys will work. One can invoke all the available hotkeys on a Mac with a PC keyboard that one could using a Mac one.

There is a large caveat. Although one would expect that the placement of these keys would indicate equivalent function on a Mac keyboard, this isn’t true. Control is control, Windows is command, and alt is option. The last two are the difference. Ignoring the labeling on the physical keys, when a PC keyboard is attached to a Mac, the functional order of the keys is control, command, option, space bar, option, command, nothing, control. The order of option and command are reversed.

PC users unfamiliar with this traditional layout won’t be bothered by this. They will still have to know what the keys do without correct labeling. Users familiar with Macs will be bothered by this. There is a quick, easy, and cheap (free) solution. DoubleCommand is a key remapper, allowing one to effectively swap the two keys. With that, you can have a PC keyboard work perfectly on a Mac.