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Why F1 is the default function key of the keyboard used by many applications/operative systems to show help information to the user?

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I've a feeling F1 goes back a long way to the days of mainframes. I expect someone will add more to this. –  PhillipW May 10 '13 at 19:59
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@PhillipW: Yep even back then there were "standards". F1 was amongst the first unwritten ones and got codified into the IBM CUA standard. Which may have been the first formal user interface guideline. –  Marjan Venema May 10 '13 at 20:03
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F1 as help is not used by many operating systems including Mac OS. –  JohnGB May 10 '13 at 20:36
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up vote 4 down vote accepted

From Wikipedia:

Under MS-DOS, individual programs could decide what each function key meant to them, and the command line had its own actions (e.g., F3 copied to the current command prompt words from the previous command). Following the IBM Common User Access guidelines, the F1 key gradually became universally associated with Help in most early Windows programs. To this day, Microsoft Office programs running in Windows list F1 as the key for Help in the Help menu. Internet Explorer in Windows does not list this keystroke in the help menu, but still responds with a help window.

It looks like the practice originated with the IBM CUA guidelines, as @Marjan Venema noted.

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CUA codified the practice but was not the origin of the idea. Given the importance of Lotus 1-2-3 to the adoption of the PC as a business tool, I suspect Lotus' use of F1 for Help influenced IBM's selection of F1 as the standard. –  user1757436 May 11 '13 at 12:16
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