Why are the number pad keys different?

A few readers have asked why the numbers on the numeric keypad are different from the number keys on the top row of the keyboard?

I don’t understand why pressing a number on the main keyboard is different from the number pad (assuming you have one).  Aren’t they the same number, no matter which one you press? ”  Connie G, Zurich.

The number that appears in Word or Excel is the same but computer detects that a different key is pressed.

Each key has its own key press code which software converts into a character.

The top row keys have key press codes – 48 (Zero) to 57 (Nine) which are the same values as the ASCII system.

But the number keypad has different key press codes – 96 (Zero) to 105 (Nine).

Windows 10 from people 'in the know'

A detailed and independent look at Windows 10, especially written for the many people who use Microsoft Office.

Fully up-to-date with coverage of the Anniversary 2016 major update of Windows 10.

This 670 page book shows you important features and details for all serious Windows 10 users.

If you want to see this in action, get a utility like QiPress which displays the key press code as you type.

In most cases, the different keypress codes are converted to the same character on the screen.  In Office it doesn’t matter if you press ‘5’ on the standard keyboard (code 53) or number pad (code 101) both will appear as the same character.

But some software or features are limited to one of the keypads.  Occasionally this is a programming mistake where the developers have forgotten to allow for both key press codes.

In Office, especially Word, you can enter Symbols by holding down the Alt key then typing a number code on the number pad.  For example, type the degree symbol by holding down Alt then pressing 0 1 7 6 on the number pad.

You can use the standard ‘top row’ number keys to enter Unicode Hex code.  00B0 then Alt + X will enter the same degree symbol.

Why numeric keys for Alt codes in Office?

Why the number pad only for the decimal codes?  The answer seems to be ‘history’.  When Word was young, back in the Word for DOS days, all keyboards had a number pad.  Microsoft has maintained the ‘number pad only’ setup even though it’s become increasingly outdated.

Since the introduction of the ribbon in Office 2007, holding down the Alt key has a new meaning.  It’s the keyboard shortcut to the ribbon with numbers for the Quick Access Toolbar buttons.

This would make a change of the current Alt + number pad digits impossible.

Happily, there are other ways to enter symbols or characters not on the keyboard.