Broken keyboard keys seem to be quite a common occurrence these days on laptops and netbooks. Although it’s not a terrible problem if the key press still registers even without the plastic key, it is quite difficult if a common key doesn’t work at all. It’s not easy to type anything if your A or E key or even space bar doesn’t work! Maybe there’s a few keys on your keyboard you keep hitting by mistake such as Caps Lock, or would just like a certain key to be in a more convenient location. If there’s a key on your keyboard you never seem to need, why not change it to make it more useful?
Of course, the more technical minded people could turn to a Macro tool which can help you remap keys on a keyboard or even to perform more complicated tasks for you, or run a shortcut / hotkey utility. These though have the disadvantage of needing to be present in memory at all times for the effect to work. But simply mapping a broken or unused key to another key on the keyboard doesn’t have to have a process in the background for it to work. When you type a key on your keyboard it sends a special code number known as a scan code to tell Windows what key has been pressed. Since Windows 2000 there has been a key present in the system registry that allows the changing of these scan codes and you can map one key to another. Unfortunately editing this yourself isn’t very easy, but thankfully there are some tools around to do it for you.
Here’s a selection of tools that can remap keyboard keys so you don’t have to run 3rd party utilities or edit the registry yourself. Do note that these tools WILL NOT allow you to create hotkeys or multiple function macro keys such as launching programs or inputting text etc, they simply map 1 key on a keyboard to another or create different layouts of the standard keys. Also laptop Fn or Function keys cannot be mapped because they are in most cases hard coded into the keyboard and don’t actually represent a physical key press.
KeyTweak is a simple tool to remap keys on your keyboard and there are a few ways the program offers to help you do it. It has a Full Teach Mode where you click the button to begin and just press the from key and then the key you want to map to, then click the Remap #1 to #2 button. There is also a Half Teach Mode which differs from full teach by offering a drop down list of available keys for you to remap to.
The 3rd way is by using the virtual keyboard in the main window to click on the key to change and then select the new mapping from the drop down below. This also gives you the options of quickly disabling a key and making use of any special keys your keyboard has such as media or internet keys. The keyboard itself might be slightly confusing for some as it lists the scancode numbers for the keys and not the actual characters. Click Apply when you’re done and reboot or log off.
It works on Windows 2000 and above, and you can extract the setup installer with an archiver such as 7-Zip to get the portable single executable and pdf help file.
SharpKeys is quite an easy tool to use but lacks the customary keyboard interface layout which would make it easier and quicker to identify the keys you want to change. The main interface is pretty empty to start with and only the edits you have made will show up here, pressing Add will get things started for remapping a new key. Then simply select the From key in the list on the left which is the the key you want to move, and the To key on the right is where you want to map it. Do note not all entries in the list might be available on your keyboard and if you’re not sure use the Type key button and physically press the key you want to select.
Pressing Write to Registry when you’re done will commit the remapped keys to the registry and you’ll be required to log off or reboot for the changes to take effect. SharpKeys is available as a portable version or an MSI setup installer, the .NET framework 4 is required. Works on Windows 2000 and above.
MapKeyboard is a portable and tiny keyboard remapper that is under 30KB in file size and does the plain and simple job of assigning one key to another. Just start the program, and click on the key you want to remap, at the bottom left of the window it will show in the “Remap selected key to:” box. Now all you have to do is click on the drop down and select the new assignment to give the key, or select disabled to turn the key off.
Keys you have edited will turn green in the window and when you have finished click the Save layout button which will prompt you to logoff for the changes to take effect. MapKeyboard requires .NET v3 and works from Windows XP up to Windows 8.
4. Key Mapper
Key Mapper is a very easy to use and intuitive tool that can remap one key to another or disable it completely. To simply disable a key all you have to do is click on it and drag it off the program’s window, which will then turn the key a brownish color. To map one key to another click on the key and drag, then drop it onto the key you want it assigned to which will turn the newly assigned key an aqua color.
Double clicking on a key will popup a new window where any previous editing for that key can be reversed, and all the available keys that can be assigned are displayed in a number of categories which groups sets of keys together according to their function. This makes it easier to find what you want and once you select the desired key from the list, simply press the Map button to assign it to the key. There is a useful option to export all the changes made to a registry file which you can then import later or use on another machine, and the on-screen layout can be changed to exclude the keypad, have typewriter keys only or show a Mac style keyboard.
Key Mapper requires .NET version 2 and works on Windows 2000 to Windows 7.
5. Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator
The Microsoft Layout Creator allows you to create custom keyboard layouts completely from scratch or take an existing layout and edit it to your liking. It also doesn’t work by way of the registry hacking method but rather builds and creates an installer which you can then install on any machine as an additional keyboard. There are also 3 different configuration options for the key layout around the Enter key which is a useful feature for laptop keyboards etc.
Something MSKLC cannot touch is any special keys such as Enter, Shift, Control, Alt, Caps Lock, backspace and the Function keys, but the keys that can be edited can have multiple entries for the normal key press, Shift + key press, Ctrl+Alt+ key press and Ctrl+Alt+Shift+ key press. These can be shown on the main keyboard image by using the “Shift states” boxes on the left. Existing layouts can be loaded in and edited via File -> Load Existing Keyboard, and the new layout can be tested and validated before the package is built.
Microsoft Layout Creator works on windows 2000 to Windows 7 and requires the .NET framework version 2.