Week­end Project

Wayne Wil­liams shows you how to re­pro­gram the su­per­flu­ous but­tons on your key­board and mouse so they do use­ful new things

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Cre­ate you own key­board short­cuts

Most of us rarely give our com­puter key­boards a mo­ment’s thought. That’s be­cause al­though they pro­vide a con­ve­nient way of in­ter­act­ing with your PC, whether you’re writ­ing an email, tap­ping a web ad­dress into your browser or con­trol­ling a game, they’re not par­tic­u­larly ex­cit­ing. How­ever, you may not know that you can hack your key­board to change what the var­i­ous keys do, un­lock­ing ad­di­tional func­tion­al­ity in the process. If you never use Scroll Lock, or you’ve for­got­ten what the func­tion keys are for and you find Caps Lock to be an un­wanted an­noy­ance that serves no pur­pose other than RANDOMLY MAK­ING YOU TYPE SENTENCES ALL IN CAPS, this Week­end Project is for you.

Pro­gram your key­board us­ing the sup­plied soft­ware

Many modern key­boards come with spe­cial but­tons that let you do things like ad­just your PC’S vol­ume, bright­ness and con­trast, con­trol me­dia play­back, launch favourite programs, zoom in and out of the screen and more. If your key­board has ad­di­tional keys like these, there’s a good chance those func­tions have al­ready been as­signed to them. Press­ing the cal­cu­la­tor key, for ex­am­ple, should open the Win­dows cal­cu­la­tor, while tap­ping a vol­ume key should in­crease or re­duce its sound level. Keys of this sort should work as soon as you plug in the key­board, but there may be other keys that don’t do any­thing when you press them be­cause your com­puter doesn’t have the soft­ware they re­quire.

If your key­board came with a CD or DVD, in­stall the soft­ware that’s on it. If it didn’t (or you don’t have a CD or DVD drive), visit the man­u­fac­turer’s web­site. This project was writ­ten us­ing a Mi­crosoft Wire­less Com­fort Key­board 5000, and you can down­load an of­fi­cial Mouse and Key­board Cen­tre for this and other Mi­crosoft prod­ucts from bit.ly/wcd430. This en­ables all the ad­di­tional keys and lets you change what some of them do.

Other key­board man­u­fac­tur­ers may have some­thing sim­i­lar for their own

prod­ucts. Log­itech ( sup­port.log­itech.com), for ex­am­ple, pro­vides a cou­ple of programs, in­clud­ing Set­point, which lets you cus­tomise the Func­tion keys and hotkeys. Gaming key­boards have lots of ex­tra but­tons ready for you to remap, and you can as­sign these to do any­thing – it doesn’t have to be game-re­lated.

In our Mini Work­shop, be­low, we show you how to cus­tomise a Mi­crosoft key­board us­ing the of­fi­cial soft­ware. Even if your key­board is made by some­one else, the process will prob­a­bly be broadly sim­i­lar.

Use other soft­ware

Not ev­ery key­board has ded­i­cated cus­tomi­sa­tion soft­ware de­signed for it, es­pe­cially the built-in key­boards on lap­tops, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make changes to them. There are third-party programs avail­able that do much the same job. Ob­vi­ously, be­cause these programs aren’t de­signed for use with a par­tic­u­lar make and model of key­board, they don’t of­fer the same de­gree of flex­i­bil­ity. How­ever, they let you change the func­tion of many of the stan­dard keys.

Sharp­keys ( bit.ly/sharp430) is a sim­ple tool that lets you map one but­ton’s func­tions to another and works by mak­ing a small change to the Win­dows Registry. The de­vel­op­ers say it works with Win­dows XP, Vista and 7, but we had no trou­ble us­ing it in Win­dows 10, so we as­sume it will also run in Win­dows 8.

Sharp­keys is very easy to use, but we should is­sue a warn­ing here. This pro­gram changes al­most any key you choose, so act wisely. Cer­tain keys that you think you don’t need may ac­tu­ally serve a use­ful pur­pose. You may never touch the ‘Del’ key in day-to-day use, for ex­am­ple, but you’ll need it if you ever have to Ctrl+alt+del your way out of trou­ble. Sim­i­larly, some programs use spe­cific keys and key com­bi­na­tions to per­form par­tic­u­lar ac­tions, and chang­ing the func­tion of one of those keys could mess that up. What’s more, Sharp­keys has been de­signed with Us-based key­boards in mind, so it may not be fully com­pat­i­ble with Bri­tish key­boards, and it won’t let you remap the ded­i­cated keys on spe­cial­ist key­boards from the likes of Mi­crosoft and Log­itech. We’ll show you how to use Sharp­keys in our Mini Work­shop on page 61.

There are other programs to con­sider, too. Kbdedit ( www.kbdedit.com) is a pow­er­ful remap­ping tool that lets you re­pro­gram any key you like. It isn’t free but there are edi­tions to suit all bud­gets. The Lite ver­sion pro­vides ba­sic char­ac­terto-key map­ping func­tions and costs ¤9

Log­itech’s Set­point soft­ware lets you cus­tomise a com­pat­i­ble key­board, mouse or touch­pad

Use the third-party Keytweak soft­ware to remap the keys on any key­board, in­clud­ing some spe­cial but­tons

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