Windows XP ships with default keyboard settings that work tolerably well for many people. But to get the best results from your keyboard, you may need to configure it.
Windows XP supports three different types of configuration settings:
Basic keyboard settings You can configure the speed and delay for repeating characters , and the speed at which the cursor (the insertion point) blinks.
Keyboard layouts You can change the logical layout of your physical keyboard to one of a number of alternative layouts.
Accessibility features You can use special accessibility features that Windows XP offers to make your keyboard easier to use.
If these three types of configuration settings don t give you the results you need, you may want to get a different keyboard. I discuss your options in the appendix.
Your first option is to change the rate at which the cursor blinks and the rate at which Windows XP repeats characters when you keep a key pressed down. To configure these options, choose Start Control Panel Printers and Other Hardware Keyboard, and work in the Keyboard Properties dialog box (Figure 1-4).
If you re using Classic view of Control Panel rather than Category view, choose Start Control Panel, and then double-click the Keyboard icon. To switch between Category view and Classic view, click the Switch to Classic View link or the Switch to Category View link in the Control Panel task pane.
If you find it difficult to press key combinations consistently, you may be able to improve matters by using Windows keyboard accessibility features. These features are designed to help Windows users who have mild to moderate disabilities , but no disability is required ”if you re able bodied, and you find an accessibility feature useful, go ahead and use it. It s not like parking in a Disabled space.
Choose Start Control Panel to open a Control Panel window, and then click the Accessibility Options icon to display the Accessibility Options screen. Click the Accessibility Options icon again to display the Accessibility Options dialog box. If the Keyboard tab (Figure 1-5) isn t displayed, click the tab to display its controls.
The Keyboard tab offers three keyboard enhancements: StickyKeys, FilterKeys, and ToggleKeys. You can turn these enhancements on or off by selecting or clearing the Use StickyKeys check box, the Use FilterKeys check box, and the Use ToggleKeys check box on the Keyboard tab of the Accessibility Options dialog box. Each of the enhancements has configuration options that you can set by clicking the Settings button in its area and working in the resulting Settings dialog box. Most of the Settings dialog boxes offer a test area so that you can see how the current settings suit you.
StickyKeys enables you to stick the modifier keys on so that you can press them one at a time (for example, [Alt] , then [Shift] , then [F1] ) instead of having to press them all together. To turn StickyKeys on, you press [Shift] five times in succession. To turn StickyKeys off, double-click the StickyKeys icon in the notification area to display the Accessibility Options dialog box, clear the Use StickyKeys check box, and then click the OK button. (If you turn off the StickyKeys notification area icon, display the Accessibility Options dialog box from Control Panel.)
StickyKeys offers the following configuration options in its Settings for StickyKeys dialog box (Figure 1-6):
Use Shortcut check box Controls whether you can turn StickyKeys on by pressing [Shift] five times in succession.
Press Modifier Key Twice to Lock check box Controls whether Windows locks the modifier key on when you press it twice in succession. For example, press [Ctrl] twice to lock it on so that you can invoke two or more [Ctrl] keyboard shortcuts without pressing [Ctrl] . Press the same modifier key again to unlock it.
Turn StickyKeys Off if Two Keys Are Pressed at Once check box Controls whether Windows turns StickyKeys off when someone presses two keys together ”in other words, when someone invokes a keyboard shortcut the normal way. This option, which is turned on by default, is intended to make StickyKeys turn off when someone who doesn t need StickyKeys starts using the computer. If you don t know that a computer is using StickyKeys, you may think it s acting very strangely.
Make Sounds When Modifier Key Is Pressed check box Controls whether Windows plays a sound when you press a modifier key. This aural feedback can be helpful if you have trouble pressing keys accurately.
Show StickyKeys Status on Screen check box Controls whether StickyKeys displays a notification-area icon to indicate that it is running. This check box is selected by default, and the reminder icon is usually helpful.
Figure 1-6: Configure StickyKeys behavior in the Settings for StickyKeys dialog box.
FilterKeys analyzes the keystrokes that Windows experiences and tries to determine which of them are unintentional ”for example, if you ve entered multiple instances of the same letter in sequence by holding down a key longer than you needed to, or if you blipped the corner of a key while trying to strike another key.
FilterKeys offers the following configuration options in its Settings for FilterKeys dialog box (shown on the left in Figure 1-7):
Use Shortcut check box Controls whether you can turn on FilterKeys by holding down [Shift] for eight seconds.
Filter Options area Select the Ignore Repeated Keystrokes option button or the Ignore Quick Keystrokes and Slow Down the Repeat Rate option button, as appropriate. If you select the Ignore Repeated Keystrokes option button, click the Settings button and specify the minimum keystroke interval (from 0.5 second to 2 seconds) in the Advanced Settings for FilterKeys dialog box. If you select the Ignore Quick Keystrokes and Slow Down the Repeat Rate option button, click the Settings button and choose RepeatKeys (repeating keys) and SlowKeys (minimum-length keypresses) in the Advanced Settings for FilterKeys dialog box (shown on the right in Figure 1-7).
Figure 1-7: FilterKeys (left) filters out repeated and misstruck keystrokes from your typing. Use the Advanced Settings for FilterKeys dialog box (right) to configure settings for ignoring quick keystrokes and slowing down the keyboard repeat rate.
Notification area By default, both the Beep When Keys Pressed or Accepted check box and the Show FilterKey Status on Screen check box are selected. Clear these check boxes if you don t find the feedback helpful. As with StickyKeys, a visual reminder tends to be useful because a computer with FilterKeys active can appear to be acting very strangely ”for example, you can type whole sentences and not register a single key if you re not holding down the keys long enough for SlowKeys.
ToggleKeys makes Windows play tones when you press [CapsLock] , [NumLock] , or [ScrollLock] . ToggleKeys can be useful even for full-speed typists who may strike these keys by accident as they go for other keys. Some advanced keyboards also play warning tones to let you know that you ve pressed these keys.
The only configuration option for ToggleKeys is the Use Shortcut check box, which controls whether you can turn ToggleKeys on from the keyboard by holding down [NumLock] for five seconds.
If you want to use your keyboard as much as possible, another accessibility option to try is MouseKeys, which lets you control the mouse by using the arrow keys on your keyboard. MouseKeys don t suit everybody: some people find them too slow and clumsy to be worth using. To turn on MouseKeys, choose Start Control Panel, click the Accessibility Options link on the first screen, and then click the Accessibility Options link on the second screen to display the Accessibility Options dialog box. On the Mouse tab, select the Use MouseKeys check box. You can tune the MouseKeys settings by clicking the Settings button and working in the Settings for MouseKeys dialog box.
The standard layout of keys on a keyboard, as you ll know from glancing at your keyboard every day, has the letters QWERTYUIOP across the top row and is generally known by the acronym QWERTY. The QWERTY layout is used almost universally in the English-typing world but isn t the most efficient or comfortable layout for extended typing.
QWERTY was designed in the 1870s by Christopher Latham Sholes, the leading inventor of the first typewriter produced in commercial quantities . The prime consideration influencing the layout was the need to prevent the keybars from jamming when the user was typing fast, but commercial considerations were also involved: Sholes included all the letters for the word typewriter in the top line so that his salesmen could type it more easily when demonstrating the typewriter. The result was that only about 36 percent of the letters you type on a QWERTY keyboard are on the home row, so your fingers have to move frequently to the other rows of keys.
As you ll probably agree from your experience of learning to type, the QWERTY layout isn t easy to learn; if you use it extensively, you may also agree that it s not efficient to use either. But because it became the standard layout relatively quickly after its introduction, and because it has remained the standard layout in the English-typing world, QWERTY has such a lock on the market that no alternative keyboard layout has gained much traction. Not surprisingly, few people want to learn to type again, and QWERTY works well enough once you ve learned it, so it seems likely to be with us to stay.
The keyboard layout is hard-coded into a typewriter, so to change the letter that a key delivered, you d need to saw the keybar off and weld on a different one. With computers, making changes is much easier. The physical layout of the keyboard is hard-coded, although with some keyboards, you can pop off the key caps (the caps that constitute the physical keys) and slide them back on in different places if you choose. (This works only for standard keyboards.) But the logical layout can be changed either on the keyboard or on the computer with minimal effort. Should you want to try a different keyboard layout, you need only tell your keyboard or your computer so.
At this point, you re probably not too excited about the possibilities of logical layouts unless you have a particular logical layout in mind. After all, to use a different layout, you either need to buy a keyboard that has that layout, physically customize your keyboard to show that layout (for example, by rearranging the key caps or pasting stickers over the letters on them), or touch-type on a keyboard whose keys show different letters than they deliver. (You should be touch-typing in any case, because doing so saves you a huge amount of time and effort over looking for the keys. But even so, having each key produce a different letter than it bears can be disconcerting, especially when you re trying to type passwords and can t see on screen which letters you re getting.)
For most people, the primary alternative is one of the implementations of the Dvorak keyboard layout ”for example, the United States-Dvorak layout that comes built into Windows XP. Unlike QWERTY, the Dvorak layout was designed for efficient typing in English, and in typical use, about 74 percent of keystrokes are on the home row, so your fingers needn t move nearly as far as with QWERTY. August Dvorak, the inventor of the Dvorak layout, also laid out the keys to use as much as possible the hand s natural drumming rhythm from pinkie to index finger.
The Dvorak layout has many enthusiasts (full disclosure: I m one) but has barely scratched the surface of the mainstream typing market because QWERTY, as the default keyboard format, has the market pretty thoroughly sewn up. You can buy keyboards with Dvorak layouts from specialist keyboard retailers, but the easiest way to get started is to download a Dvorak key chart from the Internet, apply the Windows XP United States-Dvorak keyboard layout (using the technique discussed next ), and learn to touch-type with it.
Dvorak s far from the only option: Windows XP supports an impressive array of different keyboard layouts, as you can see in the Add Input Language dialog box (which you ll meet in a moment). But unless you learned to type on a particular keyboard layout, or a layout offers better key placement for particular keys you find difficult to press, you won t usually have a strong reason for choosing it over your existing keyboard layout.
To apply a different keyboard layout, follow these steps:
Choose Start Control Panel to display Control Panel.
Click the Date, Time, Language, and Regional Options item to display the Date, Time, Language, and Regional Options screen.
Click the Regional and Language Options item to display the Regional and Language Options dialog box.
Click the Languages tab to display its contents.
In the Text Services and Input Languages group box, click the Details button to display the Text Services and Input Languages dialog box.
Click the Add button to display the Add Input Language dialog box:
In the Input Language drop-down list, select the input language if necessary. (For some keyboard layouts, you can simply leave your current input language selected.)
In the Keyboard Layout/IME drop-down list, select the keyboard layout you want to use. For example, select the United States-Dvorak layout to use the Dvorak layout with a standard U.S. keyboard.
Click the OK button to close the Add Input Language dialog box and add the layout to the list in the Installed Services list box.
Add further layouts as necessary by repeating steps 6 through 9.
Click the OK button to close the Text Services and Input Languages dialog box.
Click the OK button to close the Regional and Language Options dialog box.
Click the close button (the button) to close the Date, Time, Language, and Regional Options dialog box.
When you add a second keyboard layout to Windows XP, Windows XP automatically displays the Language bar so that you can easily switch from one layout to another. Depending on your settings, the Language bar may appear either as a free-floating bar over your applications or on the taskbar just to the left of the notification area. Either way, you can switch from one layout to another by clicking the Keyboard icon and choosing the layout from the resulting menu.
Given that we re talking about keyboard shortcuts in this book, you may prefer to switch among keyboard layouts by using keyboard shortcuts rather than the mouse. To set your computer up to do so, follow these steps:
Right-click the Language bar or the taskbar icon, and choose Settings from the shortcut menu to display the Text Services and Input Languages dialog box. When you display the dialog box this way, it contains only the Settings tab, but otherwise it s the same as shown in Figure 1-8, earlier in this chapter.
Click the Key Settings button to display the Advanced Key Settings dialog box:
In the Hot Keys for Input Languages group box, select the item for which you want to set the key sequence:
This group box contains a Switch Between Input Languages item that switches to the next keyboard layout, and a Switch To item for each input language and keyboard layout ”for example, Switch to English (United States) - United States-Dvorak for the United States-Dvorak keyboard layout using U.S. English.
The Switch Between Input Languages item is set by default to [LeftAlt] - [Shift] . Note that [LeftAlt] is [Alt] on the left of the keyboard, not 1 - [Alt] .
Click the Change Key Sequence button to display the Change Key Sequence dialog box:
Select the Enable Key Sequence check box if it s not already selected.
Select the Ctrl option button to create a keyboard shortcut using [Ctrl] - [Shift] or the Alt option button to create a shortcut using [Alt] - [Shift] .
In the Key drop-down list, select the number key to use for the keyboard shortcut. You can also select the tilde key (~) or the grave accent key (`) if you prefer.
Click the OK button to close the Change Key Sequence dialog box. Windows XP adds the new keyboard shortcut to the list in the Advanced Key Settings dialog box.
Repeat steps 3 through 8 to create keyboard shortcuts for as many of your other keyboard layouts as you want.
Click the OK button to close the Advanced Key Settings dialog box.
Click the OK button to close the Text Services and Input Languages dialog box.
You can then switch to a different keyboard layout by pressing the keyboard shortcut you chose for it. Alternatively, press the Switch Between Input Languages keyboard shortcut to cycle through your keyboard layouts.
To dock the Language bar from its free-floating state, right-click it and choose Minimize from the shortcut menu. Windows XP displays a Language bar message box to make sure you know what you ve done. Select the Don t Show Me This Message Again check box, and click the OK button to close the message box.
To undock the Language bar, right-click it and choose Restore the Language Bar from the shortcut menu.
To configure how the Language bar appears, or to turn it off, follow these steps:
Right-click the Language bar or the taskbar icon and choose Settings from the shortcut menu to display the Text Services and Input Languages dialog box.
Click the Language Bar button to display the Language Bar Settings dialog box:
Choose settings as appropriate:
Select the Show the Language Bar on the Desktop check box to display the Language bar.
Select the Show the Language Bar as Transparent When Inactive check box if you want Windows to make the Language bar transparent when you re not actively using it. This check box is available only when the Language bar is floating, not when it is docked on the taskbar.
Select the Show Additional Language Bar Icons in the Notification Area check box if you want to display all the Language bar icons in the taskbar. (Depending on your configuration of Windows XP and Office, this check box may be called Show Additional Language Bar Icons in the Taskbar. )
Select the Show Text Labels on the Language Bar check box if you want to display text labels as well as icons on the Language bar. Text labels make the buttons more comprehensible, but they take up more space. This check box is available only when the Language bar is floating, not when it is docked on the taskbar.
Select or clear the Turn Off Advanced Text Services check box to control whether text services such as speech recognition and handwriting recognition are turned on or off. If you re not using these features, clear this check box.
Click the OK button to close the Language Bar Settings dialog box.
Click the OK button to clear the Text Services and Input Languages dialog box.