Plus 20 shortcuts for PC keyboards, Mac keyboards, and Linux keyboards.
PC, Mac, and Linux keyboards share similarities, such as the QWERTY letter layout, but they also have distinct differences in appearance and behavior that can make switching to a newer keyboard challenging. The differences between PC keyboards, Mac keyboards, and Linux keyboards are detailed below, including unique keys and shortcuts, so you know what to expect when switching.
A Word About Linux Keyboards
Not only do manufacturers make keyboards for Linux, but many PC keyboards are compatible with Linux. Unlike Max and Windows (PC), Linux has multiple distributions, so it doesn’t have a common keyboard layout. Mac keyboards are not compatible with Linux out of the box, but Mac keyboards can be mapped to work with Linux. Therefore, this article assumes that the Windows and Linux keyboards are the same.
If you’re a Linux lover, you can order custom keycaps to replace the branded Windows keys on your keyboard. For example, you can replace the Windows key with a key with Tux (Linux Penguin). It is called a super key on Linux deployments such as Ubuntu.
PC and Linux Compatible Keyboards vs Mac Keyboards: Key Differences
Windows and Mac keyboards
The most notable differences between PC (and Linux) keyboards and Mac keyboards are the Control, Command, Alt, Option, and Windows keys (the Windows key is the Das keyboard icon in the left image above). Below is a breakdown of their visible and functional differences.
Control (Ctrl) key on a PC keyboard
On PC and Linux, the Control (Ctrl) key is used for keyboard shortcuts. For example, you can press Ctrl + C to copy the selection.
On Mac keyboards, the Control (Ctrl) key is a modifier key that generates shortcuts, but it is not equivalent to the PC control key. For example, Ctrl + Cmd + Space opens the character viewer where you can find emoji and symbols. This key also opens a right-click menu if you hold down the key while left-clicking the mouse. This feature is helpful for single-button Mac mice that don’t have a right-click.
Command (Cmd) key on a Mac keyboard
Mac keyboards have two command (Cmd) keys, one on each side of the space bar. They are used for keyboard shortcuts, similar to how the Control (Ctrl) key works on Linux and PC keyboards.
In many cases, you can swap command and control to achieve the same effect. For example, on a PC keyboard, Ctrl + C copies the selection. On a Mac keyboard, Cmd + C does the same thing.
PC and Linux keyboards do not have command keys.
Alt and Option keys on a PC keyboard
PC and Linux keyboards have an Alt key, usually on either side of the space bar. Macs have the Option key next to the Command key. The Alt and Option keys have similar (but not identical) functions, which is why some Mac keyboards label the keys with both “Option” and “Alt”.
On PC keyboards, the Alt key allows you to:
Execute shortcut commands. For example, Alt + Tab switches between open applications. Alt + Control + Delete lets you open Task Manager, switch users, or log out.
Insert special characters. For example, press Alt + 3 on the numeric keypad to type the heart symbol.
Navigation menu. For example, if you press Alt in Microsoft Word, the program overrides key-based shortcuts so you can navigate its menus without a mouse.
On Mac keyboards, the Option key allows you to:
Execute shortcut commands. For example, Option + Cmd + T shows and hides the toolbar.
Control your cursor. For example, Option + Right Arrow moves the cursor to the end of the next word. Option + Left Arrow moves the cursor to the beginning of the previous word.
Insert special characters. For example, you can type the copyright symbol by pressing Option + G.
Windows key on a PC keyboard
Found only on PC and Linux-compatible PC keyboards, the Windows key opens the start menu. It is also used to access shortcuts.
For example, Windows + D minimizes all open windows. Note that if you’re using a PC keyboard on a Mac computer, the Windows key is used as the Command key.
Other key differences between PC keyboards, Linux keyboards, and Mac keyboards
Other differences between Mac and PC and Linux-compatible keyboards include:
Enter and Return keys: The Enter key on a PC keyboard is equivalent to the Return key on a Mac keyboard. They have the same function but different labels (although Mac keyboards have an Enter key on the number pad).
Backspace and Delete keys: On an alpha keyboard, the Backspace (PC and Linux) and Delete (Mac) keys function the same.
Insert key: PC and Linux compatible keyboards have an Insert (Ins) key, but Mac keyboards do not. The Insert key usually switches to overlay mode, although it is also used for some shortcuts.
Print Screen, Scroll Lock, and Pause: PC and Linux keyboards often include hotkeys for screenshots (PrtSc), arrow-based scrolling (ScrLk), and pausing processes (Pause). Mac keyboards do not have these keys, whereas on Das Keyboard 4 Professional for Mac, these keys are used for the F13 key, the dim screen brightness key, and the screen brightness increase key.
Numeric keypad: PC and Linux numeric keypads usually have a Num Lock (NumLK) key that toggles between input modes (for example, the number 4 becomes the left arrow key). Mac numeric keypads do not have a number lock, but they do have a clear key that deletes the selected input. In some cases, the Add, Subtract, Multiply, and Divide key layouts differ between PC and Mac, and some Mac keyboards have Equal keys that don’t exist on PC keyboards.
Function (Fn) keys: Function keys vary by operating system and keyboard manufacturer, so it’s helpful to know that there are no general differences between function keys on PC, Linux, or Mac keyboards.
Top 20 Keyboard Shortcuts for PC, Linux and Mac Keyboards
Productivity professionals and gamers rely on keyboard shortcuts to quickly activate useful commands.
The differences between PC, Linux, and Mac keyboards may seem small, but they can profoundly impact performance and productivity. Switching from one type of keyboard to another can be challenging until you’re comfortable with the layout and behavior of the new keyboard.
That said, you can customize many keyboards so that they behave the way you like. For example, you can map a PC keyboard to a Mac and vice versa. Keep in mind that companies don’t just make keyboards for Linux, so if you’re running that operating system, you’ll probably need a compatible PC keyboard.
Ultimately, choose a keyboard that offers advanced accuracy, comfort, and customization so you can perform at your best, whether you’re beating an enemy in Call of Duty or typing a 5,000-word white paper. The keyboard you choose is critical to your success, so consider purchasing a high-performance mechanical keyboard compatible with your PC, Linux or Mac operating system.