Escape Key Uses

By Rianne Hill Soriano

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The "Escape" key, often labeled as the "ESC" key, is a standard key in computer keyboards. Traditionally, this key is located at the top left of the keyboard for both laptops and desktop computers. It has a variety of uses, depending on the software and computer-based functions utilized by the user. Pressing it in combination with other keys may also result in other, more specific, functions, which are typically software- or computer type-dependent as well.

Canceling a Command

The "ESC" key is primarily used to stop, cancel or abort a command in the computer. It works as a shortcut for such operations as "No," "Quit," "Exit," "Cancel" or "Abort." It can also close a menu mistakenly clicked open. These uses of the "ESC" key are identical in Mac, PC and Linux platforms. In Mac systems, this key is used to completely erase what is typed in the "Spotlight" search field instead of tediously deleting each character at a time. It is also a popular shortcut key for the "Stop" button in a number of web browsers.

Pausing a Game or Ending a Playback or Presentation

Pressing the "ESC" key in Powerpoint, Keynote and other presentation programs stops the running of a slideshow. It also allows the stopping of the playback of animations in web pages. When utilizing the full screen mode of many video-playing programs, like Netflix, YouTube or QuickTime Player, pressing this key can either stop the playback or return the page back to the playback window's normal screen size. In most computer games, this key is the shortcut used to "Pause" the game or bring up the in-game menu.

Hiding the Browser Cursor

When the mouse cursor becomes an annoying distraction when viewing or reading something on a web page, pressing the "ESC" key makes the cursor instantly disappear from the viewing screen. Getting back the cursor on screen simply requires the moving of the mouse, trackpad, trackball or pen tablet, depending on what is currently used with the computer. This function works in popular web browsers such as Apple's Safari and Mozilla Firefox in both Mac and PC platforms.

Saving Changes or Exiting Programs and Menus

For Windows-based computers, pressing the "ESC" key allows the reader to conveniently leave the BIOS menu to save changes and exit the system. The BIOS lets the user make system changes in the computer, such as the administrative password and the order of booting the computer's drives. This key also allows the user to quickly save changes or exit some programs in Windows, Mac and Linux without having to use the mouse, trackpad, trackball, pen tablet or any extra key on the keyboard. Ideally, after pressing the "ESC" key, a dialog box appears with choices for saving before exiting, exiting without saving or even canceling the command.