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How to Customize Your Computer Keyboard

Ever want to tweak your physical keyboard to change the function of certain keys or use them to type out special characters? All you need is a keyboard utility, or key remapper.

For example, you may remap one key to type out a foreign-language character, or you may alter what certain keys can do when combined with other keys. You can perform these feats courtesy of a free Microsoft utility called the Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator (MKLC). This software doesn't officially support client versions of Windows beyond Vista. However, I was able to get it to perform just fine in Windows 10. Here's how it works:

With MKLC, you can build a new keyboard layout from scratch or modify an existing one based on layouts for English and other languages. Download it from the Microsoft Download Center. Run the downloaded MSKLC.exe file to install the software and then open the application via its Start menu shortcut.

The MKLC displays a typical keyboard layout, highlighting the keys you can remap and the ones you cannot. Keys like Backspace, Tab, Caps, Return, Shift, Ctrl and Alt are off limits, but standard alphanumeric keys are all up for grabs.

How to Customize Your Computer Keyboard

Your best bet is to load an existing keyboard rather than start from scratch. Click on the File menu and choose Load Existing Keyboard; selecting US loads US English.

How to Customize Your Computer Keyboard

On the keyboard layout, click on the key you wish to remap, such as the "a" key. A text field appears for you to enter the replacement character. This is where the Windows Character Map can come in handy. Click on Start > Windows Accessories > Character Map. Double-click on one of the "a" keys that has an accent over it and then click on the Copy button. Return to the MKLC, paste the character in the text field, and then click OK. Do the same thing for the uppercase version of the "A" key, which you can access in MKLC by clicking on the checkbox for "Show the Caps Lock."

How to Customize Your Computer Keyboard

Continue remapping your keyboard layout until you're finished. Then you'll have to validate it. Click on the Project menu and select Validate Keyboard. If all the remapped keys work, the MKLC lets you know that the verification succeeded. If not, the program prompts you to view a log file with details on any warnings. Depending on the warnings you receive, you may need to correct or modify your layout.

You can now test your keyboard layout by typing the new keystrokes. Click on the Project menu and select Test Keyboard Layout. A blank screen appears for you to type the new keys you've created to ensure that they all work. Now you can name your revised keyboard layout. Click on the Project menu and select Properties. Type the name in the Name field, up to eight characters with no spaces.

How to Customize Your Computer Keyboard

Then save the layout by clicking the File menu and selecting Save Source File. Choose a name and location to save the .klc file. You can then load this file at any time to make further changes by clicking the File menu and choosing Load Source File.

After you've finished building the keyboard layout, it's time to create the actual installation package. Click the Project menu and select Build DLL and Setup Package.

How to Customize Your Computer Keyboard

The MKLC will build a Windows Installer package and then prompt you to view the directory's contents. You'll find subdirectories with DLL files for the various Windows platforms along with .msi files and an overall setup.exe file. Double-click on the setup.exe file to install the keyboard layout.

Reboot your computer. After you sign back into Windows, you should see the name of your current keyboard layout displayed in the System Tray. Click on that keyboard name and change the layout to the keyboard you created. You can now use your custom keyboard in any application, document, or file in Windows, and your customized keys will be accessible to you.

How to Customize Your Computer Keyboard

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