People have always complained about the awkward positioning of the two Control keys on modern keyboards.1 That’s a fact! Effective Emacs usage is heavily dependent on the Control keys (yep, both of them). That’s also a fact!

A great many Emacs users remap the infrequently used CapsLock key to Control to alleviate partially the problem with the accessibility of the control keys. That, while useful, is not sufficient for the optimal typing experience, since that way you’re breaking the key symmetry on both sides of your keyboard. Also - your right pinky has to go much further than your left one, while you’re typing. Many people seem to be using only the left Control and I guess they’re not particularly bothered by this, but touch typists like me are generally quite bothered by such things.

A much better idea would be to leverage a little known capability of keyboard input systems and map the Return key to Control only when it’s held down (it will behave like a normal Return key in all other situations). This sounds a bit crazy, but please bear with me for a while.

This radical approach has several advantages. First and foremost - it’s much easier to hit Return with your right pinky than it is to hit the regular right Control (especially if you’re using a US layout keyboard - these have long single row Return keys, compared to the short 2 row Returns found on European keyboards). Second, if you’ve already remapped CapsLock to Control (like you should have done) you’re getting a pretty symmetrical mapping on the opposite side of your keyboard. Last, but not least - it’s a great option for people using compact (Apple) keyboards with no left Control key.2

Obviously you’ll need some keyboard remapping software to make this trick work. OS X users can use KeyRemap4MacBook to do that. In its settings look up the Change Return section and under it Return to Control_R (+ When you type Return only, send Return). As far as I know this remapping can be done on GNU/Linux systems with xcape (though I haven’t checked that myself), but I have no idea if it’s a viable option for Windows users.

All in all - remapping Return to Control should be a big productivity win for some (the touch typists) of you and should make your right pinky’s life easier.

Update: In 2017 I’ve published a small update on this topic.

I also wrote a couple of articles about the Linux setup - one based on xcape and another one based on dual-function-keys.

  1. If you are lucky enough to have two of them. Damn you Apple laptops! 

  2. Like your truly.