Swapping keys on the Eee PC

— 5:00 PM on November 13, 2008

Not too long ago, I got in on the netbook revolution and picked up an Eee PC 1000HA. It's a great little system, particularly for those with larger hands who might feel a little cramped on the Aspire One's smaller keyboard. The Eee's keyboard isn't perfect, though; in an attempt to preserve the traditional inverted-T directional pad, Asus put the up arrow key where the right shift key is supposed to be. That might not seem like a big deal, but whenever I'm touch-typing at speed, I invariably hit the up arrow when reaching for right shift. This isn't the sort of typo that lends itself to easy recovery, which makes it all the more frustrating. Fortunately, there's a solution: swap the keys. And it's easier than you might think.

The first step in the process is the physical key swap, which brings us to a requisite disclaimer. TR is in no way responsible for any damange your netbook might incur should you attempt to emulate this little hack. Right, now back to the keyboard.

Removing the key caps is easy enough—I've seen forum posts suggest using a putty knife or screwdriver to pry the keys off from their left edge, but I found that gently lifting the top-left corner of the keys works best. Once the offending key caps have been removed, you can rearrange them as you see fit. Popping them back into place is a snap, too, provided you secure the left edge first.

As you can see, I've actually moved four keys around. In addition to swapping the up arrow with the right shift, I also attempted to give my directional keys some semblance of a logical layout by switching the left and down arrows. But thus far we've just juggled key caps, and that does't change what they actually do in Windows. Enter AutoHotkey, a free keyboard programming tool that neatly takes care of remapping. AutoHotkey relies on scripting to remap key functions, and with the following code I had my Eee PC's new keys behaving as they should in Windows.

^RShift::Send {PgUp}
^Right::Send {PgUp}

The first four lines take care of remapping basic key functions. However, the Eee's up and down arrows also perform page up and page down functions when combined with the netbook's Fn modifier key. Page up and page down are handy to have when you're dealing with only 600 vertical pixels, so that's not something I wanted to lose. AutoHotkey won't let you easily bind commands to Fn key combinations, but it will let you define Ctrl key combos, which is what I've used here. Once your script is complete, it can be compiled to an executable that sits in your startup folder. And you're finished.

It only took me about 15 minutes to swap keys and hack up my little AutoHotkey script, and already, I'm having a much easier time writing on the Eee. The revised directional layout will no doubt take some getting used to, but it's a trade-off I'm more than happy to make.

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