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