Thursday, June 12, 2008

Using a Windows Keyboard with Your Mac

So, for my daily driver computer, I use a Macbook Pro, but I keep a Windows XP desktop on my desk at work. I seldom use the XP box, except for times when I need to test things in IE, etc. Lately, I've been canibalizing accessories from the XP box for use with my Mac while I'm at work. The prime example of this is the wireless keyboard and mouse. Sometimes, it's nice to be able to type on a full keyboard and right-click on your Mac without having to do any funky gestures.

When I first plugged in the wireless receiver for the keyboard and mouse into my Mac, it recognized the new peripheral and I was off and running. Shortly after starting to use my new keyboard, I realized that I didn't have a Command (Apple) key! For someone who values keyboard shortcuts as much as I do, this is a catastrophe. But, after clicking through the system preferences a little bit, I found a workaround. It's a little ugly, but it works:

- Click on the Apple menu
- Click System Preferences
- Click "Keyboard and Mouse"
- Click the "Modifyer Keys" button toward the bottom
- Change the Caps Lock key to be "Command"
- Click OK

While your Mac is configured like this, the Caps Lock key on the Windows Keyboard will function as the Command key. So, for example, Caps Lock+Q would quit an application. Also, the caps lock key will no longer be in a toggle mode, you can use it just like control or command - it is only enabled while the key is depressed.

NOTE: I just used substituted caps lock for command because I *never* use caps lock. In fact, it usually just annoys me when I hit it by accident and type a whole sentence in caps before I realize what I did. You could also substitute substitute the ctrl key for the command key, if you wanted.

Here's the catch, this setting applies to both keyboards: your external Windows keyboard *and the built-in laptop keyboard.* That is, in this model, your laptop's caps lock button will become Command as well - a plus for me, given that I no longer accidentally hit caps lock.

Anyway, this was a long post to tell you how to do something simple and not-so-elegant. Hope someone finds it useful. :)



Ray said...

When you set up a windows keyboard with a mac, the default key for command is the windows key. The key that has a picture of windows on it.

There is absolutely no need to change it from windows to anything such as caps lock. Windows is the closest button to where you would find command, besides alt, which is used for necessary things.


Chris Mustazza said...


There is no need to take such a tone. The purpose of blogging and Information Technology in general is (you guessed it) to share information. Thanks to your useful (albeit unnecessarily ill-phrased comment), I've now learned something.

I guess it's lucky for me that my career does not hinge on setting up Windows keyboards on Macs.


C4NN said...

I know this post is old, but thanks for it.

As for the tool who commented above, sometimes this does not work. I have multiple windows keyboards and the new one I want to use, happens to not have this mapped. OSX won't even register the key stroke of this key.

I've never had this problem before, but I have now remapped it easily, and turned off my friggen caps lock.

Maz said...

Thanks for your help - very useful :)