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The Windows logo key—also known as the Windows key, the start key or the flag key (sometimes shortened to flag)—is a keyboard key which was originally introduced on the Microsoft Natural keyboard before the release of Windows 95. This key became a standard key on PC keyboards. On keyboards lacking a Windows key, Ctrl+Esc can be used instead in Windows, though some functionality is lacking. When using Windows, tapping this key without pressing any other keys toggles the Start menu or Start screen.
Historically, the addition of two Windows keys and a menu key marked the change from the 101/102-key to 104/105-key layout for PC keyboards: compared to the former layout, a Windows key was placed between the left Ctrl and the left Alt; another Windows key and—immediately to its right—a menu key were placed between the AltGr (or right Alt key on keyboards that lack AltGr) and the right control key. In laptop and other compact keyboards it is common to have just one Windows key (usually on the left). Also, on Microsoft's Entertainment Desktop sets (designed for Windows Vista), the Windows key is in the middle of the keyboard, below all other keys (where the user's thumbs rest).
Left Windows key has keycode 115 (0x73) and the right Windows key has keycode 116 (0x74).
Microsoft regulates the appearance of the Windows key logo picture with a specially crafted license for keyboard manufacturers ("Microsoft Windows Logo Key Logo License Agreement for Keyboard Manufacturers"). With the introduction of a new Microsoft Windows logo, first used with Windows XP, the agreement was updated to require that the new design be adopted for all keyboards manufactured after September 1, 2003. However, with the release of Windows Vista, Microsoft published guidelines for a new Windows Logo key that incorporates the Windows logo recessed in a chamfered lowered circle with a contrast ratio of at least 3:1 with respect to background that the key is applied to.
On Windows 8 tablet computers, hardware certification requirements dictate that the Windows key is centered on the bezel below the screen, except on a convertible laptop, where the button is allowed to be off-center in a tablet configuration.
Pressing the key in combination with other keys allows invoking many common functions through the keyboard. What Windows key combinations ("shortcuts") are available and active in a given Windows session depends on many factors, such as accessibility options, the type of the session (regular or Terminal Services), the Windows version, the presence of specific software such as IntelliType and Group Policy if applicable.
Below is a list of notable shortcuts.
The following shortcuts are valid in Windows XP:
Windows Vista adds the following shortcuts:
Windows 7 introduces the following:
Windows 8 introduces the following:
The Windows key can also be used under other operating systems.
The X window system usually treats this key as modifier MOD4.
Desktop environments such as KDE and GNOME usually support the key, though it may be necessary to configure its functionality after installation. GNOME Shell uses it as its default keyboard shortcut for bringing up the Activities Overview.
In the Compiz window manager the Windows key can by default be used in conjunction with the scroll wheel to zoom in or out of any part of the desktop.
Apple's Mac OS X uses the Windows key as a replacement for the Command key if a third-party keyboard is used that does not include the latter. This sometimes leads to placement issues for users used to Apple keyboards however, as the Command key is usually placed where the Alt key is on most keyboards (next to the Space bar)
When using a keyboard on the Xbox 360 console, pressing the Windows key performs the same action as the Guide button on the Xbox 360 controller or remote controls, opening the Xbox Guide in game play. Additionally, holding down the Windows key and pressing M opens a pop up conversation window over game play if an Instant Message conversation is in progress.