You may never have realized it, but you don’t necessarily have to settle for the default keyboard settings you get by default on your laptop: if you want different keys to trigger different actions than the default keys, it’s possible to customize them. – and that opens up a wealth of new options for you in terms of productivity and getting things done. Here’s what you need to do to customize your keyboard shortcuts on Windows laptops, MacBooks, and Chromebooks.
Microsoft’s own PowerToys is arguably the best option for key remapping on Windows, and you can download it here. In addition to keyboard customizations, there are other tools for keeping certain windows above others, splitting your desktop into custom zones, choosing colors from anywhere on your computer screen, and much more. When PowerToys launches after installation, you will see all these tools on the left.
For our purposes, you need to click on the item marked with keyboard manager† You get a short story on how it works, and if you select Open Settings you can start making changes: With the Enable keyboard manager toggle switch enabled, click Reassign a key to do that. You must specify the physical key (the actual key on your keyboard) and the assigned key (what happens when the physical key is pressed), and this is done by choosing keys from a list or typing them directly.
The utility covers everything from individual keystrokes (make the E key put a B on the screen) to hotkeys (make Ctrl+V work like Ctrl+C instead) to function keys (make the F1 key work like the F2- test). For shortcuts you should choose: Reassign a shortcut from the main screen instead of Reassign a key, but it works the same way. In both dialog boxes, click the trash can on the right side to delete a particular remap.
You have a few third-party options when it comes to remap keys and create your own custom keyboard shortcuts on Windows. AutoHotKey is a more complex and powerful scripting program, and it lets you do just about anything you want with specific keystrokes, from launching applications to filling out forms. There is also an older tool called WinHotKey that still works with modern versions of Windows, allowing you to quickly and easily set up custom keyboard shortcuts.
There is some functionality built into macOS when it comes to keyboard remaps, but this only applies to keyboard shortcuts (key combinations) rather than individual keys. Open the Apple menu, choose System Preferences and then choose Keyboard and Shortcut keys† You will come across all the keyboard shortcuts currently set up on your Mac system – they are organized by category and you can use the checkboxes to toggle them on and off individually.
To change any of these keyboard shortcuts, click the key combination on the right to enter a new one. In some cases, there is no current keyboard shortcut, so you can create a brand new one. If you try to set a keyboard shortcut that is already assigned to something else, you will see a warning in the form of a small yellow exclamation mark. To undo all your changes, click Restore Default Settings†
You can get more control over keyboard remap using a third party application. The best we’ve come across for remapping individual keys is Remap Keyboard – it’ll cost you $US7 ($10), but you can download it for free and try it out to see if it fits your needs first. To set up a new adjustment, click the † (plus button) in the lower-left corner, then tap the original key followed by the key (or shortcut) you want to link to.
For even more control over shortcuts, Alfred is a comprehensive productivity tool for Mac that includes keyboard shortcut customizations as part of its repertoire of functions – you can create some keyboard shortcuts for free, while the most advanced require the Powerpack extension (that’s £29 or approx. $US37 ($51)). Another option is Keyboard Maestro, which can create even more complicated shortcuts, link them together, and provide options like launching programs and text macros — that will cost you $36 ($50), but a free trial is available.
Chromebook keyboards have their own distinct quirks — like the way the Caps Lock button is replaced with a Launcher button — but again, you don’t have to settle for the defaults if you don’t want to. However, since this is Chrome OS, you’re stuck with the options Google has built into the OS, and you can’t download and install any third-party tools to further customize the keyboard.
Click the clock (bottom right) and then the gear icon to open the Chrome OS settings panel, then choose Device and Keyboard† You have a few different options to play with here: for example, you can set the repeat rate and change the language of the keyboard you’re using. The remap options appear at the top of the screen and are the only customization options available on the Chromebook keyboard.
Select from one of the items in the list to reassign the function of the key. For example, you can click on the item for the above launcher button and change it to the more conventional one Caps Lock, if you want. If you are not satisfied with the Ctrl and alt modifiers, then you can swap them out or disable them altogether. the devotee Assistant button can also be reassigned.
Also note the Treat top row keys as function keys toggle switch, which does exactly what the label suggests: you can use the top row of keys on your Chromebook to activate conventional function keys instead of the standard shortcuts. There is also a link on this screen to see the built-in keyboard shortcuts on your Chromebook, although they are not editable.
Editor’s Note: The release dates in this article are based in the US but will be updated with local Australian dates as soon as we know more.