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What are Meta, Super, and Hyper Keys?

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In the world of computing, keys play an essential role in performing various tasks. Among these keys, Meta, Super, and Hyper keys hold a unique position. This article aims to provide an in-depth understanding of these keys, their origin, and their functionality in modern computing.

Quick Answer

Meta, Super, and Hyper keys are modifier keys that originated from the Symbolics Space Cadet Keyboard. The Meta key is often emulated using other keys and is commonly used in the Emacs text editor. The Super key is equivalent to the Windows logo key or the ⌘ key on Apple keyboards, and it is used for system-level commands. The Hyper key, although not defined by default in Ubuntu, can be mapped to perform specific tasks using the xmodmap command.

Origin of Meta, Super, and Hyper Keys

The Meta, Super, and Hyper keys originated from the Symbolics Space Cadet Keyboard used on Lisp machines in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This keyboard was unique for its time, featuring a range of modifier keys that could alter the function of other keys when pressed simultaneously.

The Meta Key

The Meta key is not typically found on modern keyboards. However, its function is often emulated with other keys. On some international layouts, the AltGr key serves as the Meta key, while on others, the right Alt key assumes this function. Sun keyboards also feature a Meta key.

In the Emacs text editor, a popular tool among programmers, the Meta key is often emulated using the Esc key. This allows users to perform unique commands that are not readily available using standard keyboard keys.

The Super Key

The Super key is the equivalent of the Windows logo key on keyboards designed for Windows PCs or the ⌘ (command) key on Apple keyboards. In the Ubuntu operating system, a popular Linux distribution, the Super key is often referred to as the Windows logo key.

In terms of functionality, the Super key is used to perform system-level commands. For example, pressing the Super key on an Ubuntu system opens the Activities overview, a feature that allows users to view all open windows and applications.

The Hyper Key

The Hyper key is the fourth modifier key on the Space Cadet keyboard, following the Control key. In Ubuntu, its function is undefined by default, but it can be mapped to perform specific tasks if needed.

Mapping the Hyper key can be done using the xmodmap command in the terminal. This command allows users to modify keymaps in X, the window system used by most Unix-like operating systems. For example, the command xmodmap -e "keysym Super_L = Hyper_L" would map the left Super key to function as the Hyper key.

Understanding Modifier Keys in Modern Computing

While Meta, Super, and Hyper keys have their origins in the Space Cadet Keyboard, their usage in modern computing is not standardized. The specific meanings of these keys can vary depending on the keyboard layout, the driver, the operating system, and even the specific software being used.

In Ubuntu, for example, users can configure the behavior of the Alt and Win keys in the Keyboard Layout Options or Alt/Win key behavior menu. This allows for a high degree of customization, enabling users to tailor their keyboard layout to their specific needs.

Conclusion

In summary, the Meta, Super, and Hyper keys are modifier keys that originated from the Space Cadet Keyboard. While not typically found on modern keyboards, their functions can be emulated using other keys. The specific meanings of these keys can vary widely depending on various factors, including the keyboard layout and the operating system. By understanding these keys and their functions, users can gain a deeper understanding of keyboard layouts and potentially unlock new levels of productivity.

What is a modifier key?

A modifier key is a key on a keyboard that, when pressed in combination with other keys, modifies the function or output of those keys. Examples of modifier keys include Shift, Ctrl, Alt, and the Meta, Super, and Hyper keys.

How can I emulate the Meta key on my keyboard?

The Meta key is not typically found on modern keyboards, but its function can be emulated using other keys. On some international layouts, the AltGr key serves as the Meta key, while on others, the right Alt key assumes this function. In the Emacs text editor, the Esc key is often used to emulate the Meta key.

What is the Super key used for?

The Super key, also known as the Windows logo key or the ⌘ (command) key on Apple keyboards, is used to perform system-level commands. Its specific functionality can vary depending on the operating system and software being used.

How can I map the Hyper key on Ubuntu?

By default, the Hyper key on Ubuntu is undefined. However, it can be mapped to perform specific tasks using the xmodmap command in the terminal. For example, the command xmodmap -e "keysym Super_L = Hyper_L" would map the left Super key to function as the Hyper key.

Are the meanings of Meta, Super, and Hyper keys standardized?

No, the meanings of these keys are not standardized. Their specific functions can vary depending on the keyboard layout, the driver, the operating system, and even the specific software being used. Users can often customize the behavior of these keys to suit their needs.

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