The Differences Between a PC Keyboard, Mac Keyboard, and Linux Keyboard

PC, Mac, and Linux keyboards all use the QWERTY layout for their alphabetic keys, but they have distinct differences in their design and functionality that can make transitioning between them difficult. Below are the specific differences between PC, Mac, and Linux keyboards, including unique keys and shortcuts, to help you understand what to expect when switching from one to another.


A Note on Linux Keyboards

Manufacturers don’t produce keyboards specifically for Linux, but many PC keyboards are compatible with Linux systems. Unlike Mac and Windows (PC), Linux has various distributions, resulting in no single universal keyboard layout. While Mac keyboards aren’t inherently compatible with Linux, they can be configured to work with it. Therefore, this article treats Windows and Linux keyboards as equivalent.

If you’re a Linux enthusiast, you can customize your keyboard by ordering keycaps to replace the Windows-branded keys. For instance, you might swap the Windows key for one featuring Tux, the Linux penguin, which is often called the Super key in Linux distributions like Ubuntu.

PC and Linux-Compatible Keyboards VS Mac Keyboards: Key Differences

The most significant differences between PC (and Linux) keyboards and Mac keyboards are found in the Control, Command, Alt, Option, and Windows keys. Here is an overview of their visual and functional differences.

Control (Ctrl) Keys on PC Keyboards

On PC and Linux keyboards, the Control (Ctrl) key is used for keyboard shortcuts, such as pressing Ctrl + C to copy a selection.

On Mac keyboards, the Control (Ctrl) key also functions as a modifier for shortcuts but operates differently from the PC Control key. For instance, Ctrl + Cmd + Space opens the Character Viewer for emojis and symbols. Additionally, holding down the Ctrl key while left-clicking opens a right-click menu, which is useful for Mac mice with a single button that lack a dedicated right-click.

Command (Cmd) Keys on Mac Keyboards

Mac keyboards have two Command (Cmd) keys, located on either side of the Space Bar. These keys are used for keyboard shortcuts, similar to the Control (Ctrl) key on PC and Linux keyboards.

In many instances, you can swap the functions of the Command and Control keys to achieve the same result. For example, on a PC keyboard, Ctrl + C copies a selection, while on a Mac keyboard, Cmd + C performs the same action.

PC and Linux keyboards do not have Command keys.

Alt and Option Keys on PC Keyboards

PC and Linux keyboards have Alt keys typically located on either side of the Space Bar, while Macs have Option keys positioned next to the Command keys. The Alt and Option keys serve similar but not identical functions, which is why some Mac keyboards are labeled with both “Option” and “Alt.”

On a PC keyboard, the Alt key allows you to:

  • Execute shortcut commands, such as Alt + Tab to switch between open applications or Alt + Ctrl + Delete to open the Task Manager, switch users, or log out.
  • Insert special characters, for instance, pressing Alt + 3 on the numeric keypad types a heart symbol.
  • Navigate menus, such as pressing Alt in Microsoft Word to overlay key-based shortcuts for menu navigation without a mouse.

On a Mac keyboard, the Option key allows you to:

  • Execute shortcut commands, like Option + Cmd + T to show or hide toolbars.
  • Control the cursor, for example, Option + Right Arrow moves the cursor to the end of the next word, and Option + Left Arrow moves it to the beginning of the previous word.
  • Insert special characters, such as pressing Option + G to type a copyright symbol.

Windows Key on PC Keyboards

Exclusively found on PC and Linux-compatible keyboards, the Windows key opens the start menu and provides access to shortcuts.

For instance, pressing Windows + D minimizes all open windows. When using a PC keyboard with a Mac, the Windows key functions as the Command key.

Other Key Differences Between PC Keyboards, Linux Keyboards, and Mac Keyboards

Other differences between Mac and PC/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. Both have the same function but are labeled differently. However, Mac keyboards also feature an Enter key on the numeric keypad.
  • Backspace and Delete keys: The Backspace key on PC and Linux keyboards and the Delete key on Mac keyboards serve the same function.
  • Insert key: PC and Linux keyboards include an Insert (Ins) key, which typically toggles overwrite mode and is used for some shortcuts. Mac keyboards do not have an Insert key.
  • Print Screen, Scroll Lock, and Pause: PC and Linux keyboards often have hotkeys for taking screenshots (PrtSc), scrolling (ScrLk), and pausing processes (Pause). Mac keyboards lack these keys; on the Das Keyboard 4 Professional for Mac, these are replaced by the F13 key, the dim screen brightness key, and the increase screen brightness key.
  • Numeric keypads: PC and Linux numeric keypads usually include a Number Lock (NumLK) key to switch input modes (e.g., turning the number 4 into a left arrow key). Mac numeric keypads lack a Number Lock but have a Clear key to delete the selected input. The layout of the Add, Subtract, Multiply, and Divide keys may differ, and some Mac keyboards include an Equal key not found on PC keyboards.
  • Function (Fn) keys: Function keys differ between operating systems and keyboard manufacturers, so there isn’t a universal difference between function keys on PC, Linux, or Mac keyboards.




Top 20 Shortcuts for PC Keyboards, Linux Keyboards, and Mac Keyboards

Productivity professionals and gamers depend on keyboard shortcuts to swiftly execute useful commands. Below are the different key combinations for 20 of the most essential keyboard shortcuts on PC, Linux, and Mac keyboards.

1. Select all

Selects all the text in an open window or application.

  • Windows: Ctrl + A
  • Linux: Ctrl + A
  • Mac: Cmd + A

2. Copy

Copies selected text.

  • Windows: Ctrl + C
  • Linux: Ctrl + C
  • Mac: Cmd + C

3. Cut

Cuts selected text from a document.

  • Windows: Ctrl + X
  • Linux: Ctrl + X
  • Mac: Cmd + X

4. Paste

Pastes text you just copied or cut.

  • Windows: Ctrl + V
  • Linux: Ctrl + V
  • Mac: Cmd + V

5. Undo

Undoes your most recent action.

  • Windows: Ctrl + Z
  • Linux: Ctrl + Z
  • Mac: Cmd + Z

6. Redo

Redoes the action you just undid.

  • Windows: Ctrl + Y OR Ctrl + Shift + Z
  • Linux: Ctrl + Y OR Ctrl + Shift + Z
  • Mac: Cmd + Shift + Z

7. Bold

Bolds selected text.

  • Windows: Ctrl + B
  • Linux: Ctrl + B
  • Mac: Cmd + B

8. Italics

Italicizes selected text.

  • Windows: Ctrl + I
  • Linux: Ctrl + I
  • Mac: Cmd + I

9. Underline

Underlines selected text.

  • Windows: Ctrl + U
  • Linux: Ctrl + U
  • Mac: Cmd + U

10. All Caps

Capitalizes selected text.

  • Windows: Ctrl + Shift + A
  • Linux: Ctrl + Shift + A
  • Mac: Cmd + Shift + A

11. Increase text size

Increases the size of on-screen text.

  • Windows: Ctrl + Plus (+)
  • Linux: Ctrl + Plus (+)
  • Mac: Cmd + Plus (+)

12. Decrease text size

Decreases the size of on-screen text.

  • Windows: Ctrl + Minus (-)
  • Linux: Ctrl + Minus (-)
  • Mac: Cmd + Minus (-)

13. Save

Saves your current file.

  • Windows: Ctrl + S
  • Linux: Ctrl + S
  • Mac: Cmd + S

14. Print

Prints the current active file.

  • Windows: Ctrl + P
  • Linux: Ctrl + P
  • Mac: Cmd + P

15. Toggle open apps

Quickly switch between apps.

  • Windows: Alt + Tab
  • Linux: Alt + Tab
  • Mac: Cmd + Tab

16. Find

Search for a term within an open window.

  • Windows: Ctrl + F
  • Linux: Ctrl + F
  • Mac: Cmd + F

17. New tab

Opens a new tab in your web browser.

  • Windows: Ctrl + T
  • Linux: Ctrl + T
  • Mac: Cmd + T

18. Refresh

Reload the current web page.

  • Windows: Ctrl + R
  • Linux: Ctrl + R
  • Mac: Cmd + R

19. Open

Opens a selected file.

  • Windows: Ctrl + O
  • Linux: Ctrl + O
  • Mac: Cmd + O

20. Quit

Closes the active application.

  • Windows: Alt + F4
  • Linux: Alt + F4
  • Mac: Cmd + Q


While the disparities between PC, Linux, and Mac keyboards may appear trivial, they can significantly impact efficiency and productivity. Transitioning between different keyboard types can be challenging until you become familiar with the layout and functionality of the new keyboard.

However, many keyboards offer customization options, allowing you to tailor them to your preferences. For example, you can remap a PC keyboard to function like a Mac keyboard, and vice versa. It’s important to note that keyboards specifically designed for Linux are rare, so if you use this operating system, you’ll likely need a compatible PC keyboard.

Ultimately, opt for a keyboard that provides precise input, ergonomic comfort, and the ability to customize settings to suit your needs. Whether you’re engaged in intense gaming sessions or writing lengthy documents, your choice of keyboard significantly influences your performance. Consider investing in a high-quality mechanical keyboard that is compatible with PC, Linux, or Mac operating systems.


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