Laptop Keyboard Mystery: The SysRq Key

Posted by: Reena Jana on July 21, 2009

Last week, I interviewed design experts at Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, IBM, and other companies and educational institutions about the most recent evolution of computer keys. This was for a short item on the subject, published in the current print edition of BusinessWeek. While I was reporting, I discovered that it was very difficult to find a clear definition of what the SysRq, or System Request key does. In fact, many sources pointed me to, of all places, Wikipedia.

I finally had a phone conversation with Tom Hardy, a former IBM designer who helped design Big Blue’s first PC. He was there when the tech giant created the first keyboard with the SysRq button. Turns out IBM installed it in early PCs to help users debug programs without interfering with other software, a concern in the 1980s.

This reporting anecdote seemed to confirm the research that Lenovo did to uncover the least-used keys on PCs -- SysRq is one of them. But it also made me wonder whether Wikipedia is becoming more accepted as a source today. Is it more accepted in the tech world, perhaps, because it's assumed that only true "geeks" would bother to research and post the definition of, say, obscure PC keys? Or, as more and more people come to accept and trust the power of crowdsourced information, e.g., customer reviews on Amazon.com, so too are they accepting Wikipedia as trusted source?

Or, maybe, all of this is only relevant in the case of the mysterious SysRq key.

Reader Comments

Barbara

July 29, 2009 2:39 AM

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Barbara

http://keyboardpiano.net

Reena Jana

July 30, 2009 10:12 AM

Thanks for the kind words. Please feel free to join the discussion. We'd love to hear from you.

kashyap

October 5, 2009 1:46 PM

yes, i also wondered by finding that there no soluction or information on internet on my compaq notebook's "sys rq" key.
all sources pointed me to, of all places, Wikipedia.
as a MCA student i also worried that till today there are no source on internet that can explain tech. question or information

Stephanie H.

November 6, 2009 5:47 PM

Reader's Digest mentioned people taking a look at the lesser used keys and considering changing keyboards.

But I have to say... leave that SysRq key alone! lol I never had a clue what SysRq even was, did, or if it even functions. BUT it's paired with Print Screen (aka screen cap aka takes an image of what is displayed on your screen). People who just use the computer for boring technical reasons or simple uses like email and bills may not have much use for this key or even know of it. However plenty of others, especially those that use graphic programs, get use out of this key.

Please please please leave it alone. Or at least leave the Print Screen function alone. : )

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