What Is the Option Key on a Windows Keyboard?

If you’ve connected your Windows keyboard to an Apple computer, you’re probably wondering why there’s no option key. Mac and Windows keyboards are built differently, but they can perform the same functions. While the keys have different names and locations, they will act identically.

What Is the Option Key on a Windows Keyboard?

This guide will discuss the option key on Windows keyboards and how you can execute commands on your Mac. We’ll also cover how to manipulate the key order to match the default Mac arrangement.

What Is the Option Key on a Windows Keyboard

On Apple computers, pressing the option key allows users to type special characters. It’s also used with other keys to execute different commands and activate numerous software features.

There are two reasons why your keyboard could be missing the option key:

  • New Mac keyboards are designed without an Option key. Instead, they have an Alt key that acts the same way and enables users to navigate their devices efficiently.
  • Perhaps you can’t spot the option keys because you’ve connected a Windows keyboard to your Mac. Although this piece of hardware has no designated Option key, it works well with Mac products, so you won’t have any trouble using your device.

Computer products from different manufacturers usually don’t pair well. But Windows keyboards are easy to use and made to fit Mac computers perfectly. Also, they’re mass-produced. When searching for a Mac keyboard in your local store, you might learn that most models are out of stock. With Windows models, that’s not usually an issue.

Windows keyboards have a familiar layout, so you don’t have to relearn where different keys and functions are. If you’ve been using the same keyboard for a year, you can probably type without looking at the keys. Reusing the old model will add this sense of familiarity to your new device and spare you from investing in a new Mac keyboard.

This is why users who have switched to a Mac device from their old Windows PC typically prefer to connect the Windows keyboard to the Mac. As most Windows keyboards are compatible with Mac products, you can link them with a USB cord or a Bluetooth connection.

Using a Windows keyboard won’t limit your Mac experience. You can still use the device and execute commands that require the option key. The Alt key acts as an option key on Windows keyboards and pressing it will trigger the software events typically done with the option key. The Alt key is usually placed next to the Space bar.

Using the Option Key on a Windows Keyboard

Once you know how to trigger the option command with the Windows Alt key, you can perform both an option-click and several keyboard shortcuts.

Performing an Option Click

When you want to option-click, tap the Alt key. The Apple computer will register this when you simultaneously hold the Alt key and press the mouse.

Performing a Keyboard Shortcut

If you want to execute a keyboard shortcut that needs an Option key, click on the Alt button. Your Mac will identify it as an option-click and act accordingly.

Performing a Keyboard Shortcut with Apple Key

Some Mac keyboard shortcuts call for both the Apple and Option key. In that case, hold down the Windows and Alt keys. Mac devices with Windows keyboards interpret the Windows key as an Apple key.

App Menu Items and the Option Key

Different Mac programs make unique use of the option key. Using it will allow you to reveal hidden menu items. Here’s how it works with a few popular apps:

  • Safari

When you press the Alt key in the Safari browser, the Close Windows option will become Close All Windows. Similarly, if you hold the Alt key when you tap a window’s x icon, all open windows will be shut down. This action is a built-in feature for all Apple computers and applies to most Mac programs.

  • Dock

Clicking on the Alt key when using Dock transforms the Quit and Hide menu options into Force Quit and Hide Others.

  • iTunes

The Alt key modifies the Create Playlist menu item into Create Smart Playlist. Additionally, holding the Option key and tapping the + icon at the top of the screen will enlarge the iTunes window.

  • iPhoto

The option key will revert your toggle preference in the iPhoto app. If your default rotating direction is set to “right,” the option key will reverse it to “left.” Any preference controls you can modify on a Mac will be inverted this way when you hold the Alt key.

Mouse Actions with the Option Key

Clicking on the Alt button and left-clicking your mouse will cause specific Mac behavior. For example, when you option-click an app that you’re not currently using, the computer will hide the program you’re in. Instead, it will take you to the option-clicked app.

Additionally, if you’re dragging a file, pressing the option key will create a copy of the file instead of transferring it to a new location.

Downloading with the Option Key

If your preferred web browser is SeaMonkey or Safari, the action key allows you to download files to your Mac. When you tap the Return option in the web address field, pressing the key will download the file tied to that URL.

When you hold the Alt key and click on a hyperlink, you will download the link target.

Downloading files usually involves choosing several options with your mouse, so the option-click method saves time when you want to save an online file.

How to Remap a Windows Keyboard on a Mac

Mac keyboards users may struggle with Windows models. While they have all the necessary keys, the order is different. Even if you remember their names, muscle memory will play tricks on you, and you’ll keep hitting the wrong buttons. However, Apple lets users customize Windows keyboards to match the Mac button arrangement. Mac devices come with a built-in remapping feature that changes the order of the keys.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Connect the Windows keyboard to your Mac.
  2. Tap the Apple icon in the top left part of the desktop.
  3. Select System Preferences from the list of available options.
  4. Choose Keyboard and click Modifier Keys.
  5. Tap the name of your Bluetooth or USB Windows keyboard in the pop-down menu bar.
  6. Navigate to the Option Key tab and select Command.
  7. Go to the Command Key tab and choose Option.
  8. Press OK button to save the changes.

The Windows keys will now act as their Mac counterparts. When you press the Alt key, it will serve as a Mac Command key. This is quite handy, especially if you’re familiar with the Mac keyboard layout.

Remapping Windows Keyboard with Third-Party Software

Mac’s built-in feature only allows you to remap up to five keys. But third-party apps like Karabiner-Elements will enable you to change the order of every keyboard button and create a user experience that caters to your needs. It’s an excellent option when you have a smaller model missing several keys. Modifying their order lets you access your most used commands more easily.

Never Limit Your Mac Options

When using Windows keyboards on Apple computers, it’s all a matter of names and placement. The buttons serve the same purpose, so you’ll have no difficulty completing actions on your device when you memorize their arrangement. Use the Alt key whenever you’re performing an action that calls for its option counterpart. If you find that you don’t like the key order on your Windows model, you can remap it through your Apple computer.

Do you use a Windows keyboard for your Mac? How often do you reach for the Alt key? Let us know in the comments section below.

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