Remapping the keyboard

Posted on February 14, 2011. Filed under: Hardware, Macros & Shortcuts | Tags: , , , , |

Over the years, hardware and software vendors have come up with their own key-remapping approaches, all of which are convoluted, slow, and prone to errors. Microsoft addresses the remapping problem — to a first approximation, at least — in Windows NT, 2000, XP, and Vista by adding this Registry key (not to be confused with an actual physical key on your keyboard):

HKLM \ SYSTEM \ CurrentControlSet \ Control \ Keyboard Layout \ Scancode Map
If this Registry entry exists, Windows consults the contents of the Scancode Map every time you press a key on your keyboard and follows the value of that key as set in the Registry.

Editing the Registry is rarely easy, and the keyboard-mapping hack is more perilous than most such customizations. The Registry’s keyboard settings reek with geek, making what should be a straightforward task ridiculously Byzantine. Randy at RandyRants.com describes his descent into the nitty-gritty in a recent blog post.

Microsoft offers a free remapping tool called the Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator, but I found the program to be incomplete and very difficult to use. Fortunately, there’s a much easier — and free — alternative.

Free download automates your key remapping
My favorite keyboard remapper is SharpKeys, from the aforementioned RandyRants.com. The program makes remapping keys a breeze on almost any keyboard.

For example, to kill your Caps Lock key, follow these steps:

  • Step 1. If you run Windows XP and don’t already have the .NET Framework, download and install it. (Vista users needn’t bother because the .NET Framework is built into that OS.)
  • Step 2. Download and install SharpKeys.exe. You may need to use an account with administrator privileges or supply an administrator password for the installer to run.
  • Step 3. Before you run SharpKeys, create a System Restore point to protect against inadvertently remapping keys that are necessary for you to log on to your computer. Click Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, System Restore; choose “Create a restore point”; click Next; and then step through the rest of the wizard.If something goes wrong, reboot your PC, press the F8 key repeatedly, choose Last Known Good Configuration from the list of options that appears, reopen System Restore, and select the restore point you created previously.
  • Step 4. Run SharpKeys by clicking Start, All Programs, RandyRants.com, SharpKeys. If you use Vista and aren’t logged on to an administrator account, right-click the SharpKeys shortcut on the Start menu and choose Run as Administrator.
  • Step 5. Click the Add button. On the left, click the Type Key button. Press the Caps Lock key on your keyboard and click OK. On the right, make sure that you’ve selected the following option (which is the default, as shown in Figure 1) and click OK:— Turn Key Off (00_00)
  • Step 6. Back in the SharpKeys main window, verify that SharpKeys is ready to map the Caps Lock key to Turn Key Off. Click Write to Registry. When the warning appears, click OK.
  • Step 7. Back in the SharpKeys main window again, click Close.
  • Step 8. Log off your computer and then log back on (or restart the system). Verify that your Caps Lock key doesn’t work anymore.

AutoHotKey is for both mouse and keyboard: ”

AutoHotkey is a free, open-source utility for Windows. With it, you can:

  • Automate almost anything by sending keystrokes and mouse clicks. You can write a mouse or keyboard macro by hand or use the macro recorder.
  • Create hotkeys for keyboard, joystick, and mouse. Virtually any key, button, or combination can become a hotkey.
  • Expand abbreviations as you type them. For example, typing “btw” can automatically produce “by the way”.
  • Create custom data-entry forms, user interfaces, and menu bars. See GUI for details.
  • Remap keys and buttons on your keyboard, joystick, and mouse.
  • Respond to signals from hand-held remote controls via the WinLIRC client script.
  • Run existing AutoIt v2 scripts and enhance them with new capabilities.
  • Convert any script into an EXE file that can be run on computers that don’t have AutoHotkey installed.

Getting started might be easier than you think. Check out the quick-start tutorial.”

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