So what is this SysRq key on every single PC keyboard? The curious will press it, and nothing SysRqs.

It’s not exactly the most vexing issue of our technological times. Still, it has its moments.

So what is this SysRq key on every single PC keyboard? The curious will press it, and nothing SysRqs.

Many things die hard in computerland. In a way, SysRq is historic, a relic of the first IBM keyboard. If you haven’t already guessed, it means system request.

And what were they requesting? Back then, there were at least three PC operating systems, all different, all competing for No. 1. It was like having to run three Windows versions on one computer with none alike.

Not only that was confusing. It drove programmers nuts. They had to choose an operating system for their software. None of the others would work on it.

Result: You’d have to run three operating systems to run the most popular software of the era. It was a massive pain in the rear end.

The drill was boot up CP/M86 and run the spreadsheet. Then shut down and reboot in DOS to run Word, then shut down and reboot into UCSD for something else.

Hence SysRq. It allowed you to switch between operating systems or perhaps to a mainframe with one keystroke. For a brief period, it was the most popular command key on the keyboard.

Its fame was fleeting. Soon, system makers and programmers settled on PC-DOS for an operating system. This standardization negated the need to run multiple operating systems. SysRq then was given the job of firing off Terminate and Stay Resident programs. That didn’t last, either, as TSRs soon became automatic.

So we have an orphan key on 84-key boards. Print Screen on more modern 101-key boards combines with SysRq. Print Screen once printed anything on your screen. It too is obsolete, but it inherited another purpose.

Pressing Print Screen now takes a snapshot of whatever is on your screen and places it in your copy buffer. Then you can press Control V to paste it wherever you want it.

If you want a SysRq for some odd reason, you press Alt at the same time.

There have been various legal assaults on the preponderance of Windows, a monopoly. Judges and lawyers have attempted to break its popularity, making way for a return to the past when multiple OS’s competed. These guys obviously never touched a computer in 1983.

Perhaps Microsoft keeps the SysRq as a reminder of that mayhem, back when everybody prayed for compatibility and finally got it, thanks to our god, Bill Gates.

In that case, SysRq works, at least for me.

Contact Jim Hillibish at