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A boss key or boss button is a special keyboard shortcut used in computer games or other programs to quickly hide the program and possibly display a special screen that appears to be a normal productivity program (such as a spreadsheet application). One of the earliest implementations was by Friendlyware, a suite of entertainment and general interest programs written in BASIC and sold with the original IBM AT and XT computers from 1982 to 1985. When activated (by pressing F10), an ASCII bar graph with generic "Productivity" and "Time" labels appeared. Pressing F10 again would return to the Friendlyware application.
In computer games
The purpose of the boss key is to make it appear to superiors and coworkers that an employee is doing his or her job, when they are actually playing games or using the Internet for non work-related tasks. This was a fairly common feature in early computer games for personal computers (discounting the Internet part, which was not then available), when most boss keys were used to show dummy DOS prompts. The use has faded somewhat as modern multitasking operating systems have evolved. However, some programs still retain a boss key feature, such as instant messaging clients or their add-ons or comic book viewers like MComix.
An early example of the boss key is in the IBM PC version of Asylum, which clears the screen when F9 is pressed. Certain games have taken the idea of the boss key and used it to comic effect. Infocom's adult-themed Leather Goddesses of Phobos (only the IBM PC version) had a boss key which would hide the game and show a screen designed to look like a Cornerstone database view. Upon closer inspection, however, the screen was not exactly boss safe, being populated with order info on rather ridiculous adult items, including an "inflatable milkman". Sierra On-Line's comedy/sci-fi adventure game Space Quest III had a so-called boss key available from the game's pulldown menu. However, when the user selected it, the screen would cut to black and inform the user that his or her boss wouldn't be happy if he or she knew how long the user had been playing the game. It then displayed the total elapsed game time. The first few games in Sierra's Leisure Suit Larry series included a boss key in the pulldown menus (shortcut usually Ctrl+B). However, when this is used, it results in an instantaneous game over with the first game saying "Sorry, but you'll have to restore your game; when you panic, I forget everything!"
In popular culture
Alternatives to the boss key
On modern operating systems, applications may be minimized or switched to the background with a keyboard shortcut. Under desktop environments with multiple workspaces, one possibility is to maintain one "boss" workspace, and switch to it when the boss is coming.
- "FriendlyWare P.C. Arcade". Retrieved 2009-10-09.
- Van Gelder, Lindsay (December 1982). "Superplayers Run The Gauntlet". PC. p. 131. Retrieved 18 January 2015.
- ""Boss Button" making it easier to watch NCAA at work". Retrieved 2014-03-21.