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Remap Your Modifier Keys

TMO Quick Tip - Remap Your Modifier Keys

by , 7:30 AM EST, March 13th, 2006

Your Mac's keyboard includes several keys called modifiers, or the Caps Lock, Control, Option and Command keys. Each one is necessary, otherwise you wouldn't be able to take advantage of keyboard short cuts like Command-S to save a file, or Command-Option-Escape to force quit applications that stop responding. If Apple's default modifier key locations just don't work for you, it's time to rearrange them to meet your needs.

If you are using Tiger, or Mac OS X 10.4, Apple makes the task easy. Here's how:

  • Launch System Preferences by choosing Apple Menu > System Preferences.
  • Click Keyboard & Mouse.
  • Click the Keyboard tab.
  • Click the Modifier Keys button.
  • Use the pop-up menus to change each modifier key. For example, you can swap the Command and Control keys by choosing Command from the Control Key pop-up menu, and Control from the Command Key pop-up menu.


Use the pop-up menus in Tiger's Keyboard & Mouse Preference Pane to remap your modifier keys.

The iBook and PowerBook Enter Key
If you are like me, the Enter key to the right of the Space Bar never gets used. If you are left handed and use a single-button mouse, that Enter key sure would be more useful as a Control or Option key. Here's how to remap the extra Enter key:

Panther
uControl is a Panther-only utility that lets you remap the Enter key, along with the other modifier keys. It gives you amazing control over your keyboard, and even adds trackpad scrolling to older iBooks and PowerBooks. uControl is free, but it hasn't been maintained or updated since Tiger was released.

Tiger
Since uControl doesn't work in Tiger, take a look at fKeys. fKeys 0.0.5 changes your Caps Lock into a Control key, the Enter key on your 'Book becomes an option key, and the right Control key on an external keyboard works like a Command key. If you only want to change the Enter key to Option, use fKeys 0.0.6 instead. fKeys is free, but it is in the early stages of development, so it may not always perform as advertised.

If you want to convert your 'Book's Enter key to something other than Option, it's time to get a little more daring and modify one of your system's plist files. Okay... this is a lot more daring.

Here's the disclaimer: This is a system hack. It may render your Mac unusable, requiring you to reinstall the operating system. Also, it works only if your 'Book uses ADB internally for the keyboard connection. That means that if your Mac supports trackpad scrolling, the hack probably won't work. If you aren't sure if your Mac uses ADB for the keyboard interface, don't try this hack.

For the intrepid soles ready to dig deeper into their operating system, The Hunting of the Snark Web site lists the steps required for the hack. Be sure to read the instructions in full before attempting the hack.

Whether your Mac is a tool to accomplish your job, a communication portal, or an artistic platform, it's still an extension of who you are. Take control over how your Mac functions and make it work for you.

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