Excel 2004: About that SCRL button

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft
March 20th, 2006 • 11:35 am

With any Excel document window, you have a row of three buttons at the bottom of the window labelled “SCRL,” “CAPS,” and “NUM“:

SCRL button

There are similar buttons in Word. These buttons are supposed to reflect specific states relating to data entry via the keyboard. But in actual fact they are not buttons, i.e. you cannot click on them. The small round blob becomes green when the corresponding feature is on, otherwise it stays grey. (In the screen shot above, “NUM” is on but the other two are off.)

The “CAPS” button indicates the status of the caps lock key on the keyboard. When the caps lock key is on, the “CAPS” button becomes green. Pretty straightforward.

The “NUM” button refers to the numeric pad on extended keyboards. When the “NUM” button is on (green), it means that the numeric pad acts as an actual numeric pad, i.e. its number keys can be used to enter numbers. If the “NUM” button is off, the numeric pad ceases to work as a numeric pad and instead the numeric pad number keys can be used as cursor keys. It’s an old left-over thing from a time when this kind of thing was actually useful to some people. Needless to say, the default state of the “NUM” button is to be on.

Where it becomes interesting is in the way you turn the “NUM” button off. Normally, the key used to do that is the key in the top-left corner of the numeric pad. But if you try to press that key in Excel, it just makes the currently selected table cell editable. In order to use this key as the numeric pad switch, you actually have to hold the Shift key down at the same time.

The reason I am mentioning this is that the third button in this row, the “SCRL” one, is a bit of a mystery. It refers to a weird scrolling mode in Excel where the cursor keys, instead of going from cell to cell, actually scroll the entire document up/down/left/right within the visible area of the document window. In other words, if “SCRL” is on, pressing the cursor keys is actually equivalent to using the document window’s horizontal and vertical scroll bars.

The problem is that I have no idea how to turn this thing on or off. And, for some reason, the other day, I ended up in a situation where the “SCRL” button on my screen was on. I obviously must have pressed the keyboard shortcut that turns it on accidentally at some point. But I had no idea what that keyboard shortcut was, so I had no idea how to turn the feature back off!

I spent about 15 minutes trying to find the answer in Excel’s on-line help. Impossible. Excel’s help has a single page for all kinds of keyboard shortcuts, and that page is not searchable, which means that you can spend ages reading through that page without finding what you are looking for, especially if you don’t know exactly what the feature is called in Excel’s parlance.

Needless to say, a search for “SCRL” in Excel’s help returns nothing useful.

My next step was to try and scan through the lists of commands in the “Customize Keyboard…” feature, in the hope that I would be able to find a command with a name like “Toggle Scroll Mode” or something like that. Like the customization features in Microsoft Word, however, Excel’s lists of commands in the “Customize Keyboard…” feature are utterly unusable, because they are not in alphabetical order. I searched under “Edit,” under “View,” under “Tools,” and I couldn’t find anything. (Unlike Word, Excel doesn’t even have an “All Commands” list, so it’s rather likely that there are a bunch of Excel commands that are simply not available through this “Customize Keyboard…” feature.)

Quitting and relaunching Excel or closing document windows had no effect. The feature stays on.

Out of frustration, I ended up quitting Excel and trashing its preference file. That was the only way that I was able to get this “SCRL” button back OFF.

I still had no idea what the keyboard shortcut was. And in the process I had lost all kinds of other Excel preference settings that were stored in that same prefs file that I had to trash.


Finally, I found the answer on Google Groups this morning. The shortcut is shift-F14. So I was able to restore my trashed prefs file, and turn the feature off manually with the shortcut.

Well, you learn something every day.

Out of curiosity, I tried to assign the shift-F14 shortcut to another Excel command through the “Customize Keyboard…” feature. This can be helpful (in a roundabout sort of way) because when you try to assign a shortcut that is already in use, Excel tells you that it’s already assigned to another command and gives you the name of that other command. Unfortunately, in this case, Excel’s “Customize Keyboard…” feature says is “currently unassigned.” Which is obviously untrue. It just happens to be assigned to a command that is outside the realm of the “Customize Keyboard…” feature, has no known name, and cannot be accessed through any UI control other than the keyboard shortcut.

In conclusion, my question here is very simple: How on earth is the Excel user supposed to know that shift-F14 is the shortcut for this “SCRL” thing? It doesn’t appear as a command in Excel’s menus. It doesn’t appear as a command in the “Customize Keyboard…” dialog box. The Excel help feature might list this keyboard shortcut somewhere, but it’s pretty much impossible to found. How on earth can Microsoft justify forcing me to go through Google Groups to elucidate this particular problem?

3 Responses to “Excel 2004: About that SCRL button”

  1. ssp says:

    That’s so Microsoft!

    PC keyboards seem to have all those stupid status lights and they all have those caps, scroll and num lock buttons (with the latter often being disabled by default for reasons far beyond my comprehension).

    I think your explanation is the very first I’ve seen to actually say what scroll lock is for. No PC user I ever asked was able to answer that question. Now let’s quickly compute how long a row of superfluous LEDs we could assemble from all the unused scroll lock lights in the world.

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    Yes, it’s a very Microsoft kind of thing. (I’ve updated the post with more information, which confirms this impression.)

    I’d be curious to know which percentage of Excel users actually use this feature! I suspect it is far lower than the percentage of Excel users who have accidentally hit shift-F14 at least once in their lifetime and found themselves in the situation described above.

  3. danridley says:

    Yes, this is a relic of Excel’s Windows roots; where Num Lock, Caps Lock and Scroll Lock all exist on the keyboard (a sort of unholy triumvirate). It sounds like instead of finding a Maclike way of handling this feature, they just said, “Let’s make it Shift-F14” and cackled evilly.

    ssp: the scroll lock key is a relic, at this point, but this is exactly what it was originally used for: to modify the behavior of the arrow keys so they scrolled the viewport instead of moving the cursor. In addition some version of DOS, and current versions of Linux and possibly other Unices, use Scroll Lock to freeze screen output (like the Pause key).

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