The Hardware Guide


The keyboard is one of the simplest parts of the computer to understand. This chapter goes beyond the keyboard basics, however, to show you how to do tasks such as inserting special characters or typing in another language. This chapter also looks at how to take care of your keyboard and how to take care of yourself when using it.

Understanding the Keyboard Layout

The basic function of almost every keyboard is compatible with what is called a standard 101- key keyboard. The standard keyboard is divided into four main groups of keys:

The typewriter or alphanumeric keys. These are all of the standard letters, numbers, Tab, Shift, and the spacebar arranged in the usual QWERTY order. The Return key is replaced by an Enter key, and some special computer keys (Alt and Ctrl) are added at the bottom.

The function keys. These are usually labeled F1 through F12, and have different functions in each program you use (some programs may not have any features that use them).

The cursor keys. These are the arrows and other keys that move the cursor or insertion point on the screen. In addition to the up, down, left, right keys, some keyboards add diagonal keys. This block of keys also includes Insert, Delete, Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down keys.

The numeric keypad. This has two functions. When the Num Lock light is on, this functions as a 10-key calculator. When the Num Lock light is off, this functions as another set of cursor movement keys.

Most keyboards carry a variety of additional keys, including Esc (Escape), Print Screen, Scroll Lock, and Pause. The uses of these specialty keys varies from system to system. In most systems:

Esc can be used to undo commands or actions and in keyboard combinations.

Print Screen can be used to copy the current screen contents to the Clipboard, from which you can then Paste the contents into a document for printing (see the Print Screen entry in "Troubleshooting Common Keyboard Problems" later in this chapter).

Scroll Lock changes the action of the directional arrow cursors.

Check your user manual to find the details of the specialty keys on your system's keyboard.


Using Special Characters and Symbols

Many documents include characters that don't appear on the keyboard. These special characters include letters from the Greek alphabet, scientific values, symbols for foreign currency, and copyright and registration symbols. Some applications have shortcuts for entering these special characters; Windows 95 provides its own set of special characters in its Character Map accessory. To use the character map, follow these steps:

1. Check to see what font you are using in the document to which you want to add the characters.

2. Click the Windows 95 Start button and choose Programs, Accessories, Character Map.

3. In the Character Map application font list, select the name of the font you're using in your document.

4. Find the character(s) you want to insert in the program document and double-click them. This enters the characters in the Characters to Copy box.

You can select several characters for insertion in your document--all at the same time! The characters that you double-click are shown in the Ch a racters to Copy box.

5. When you have the characters you want to use, click the Copy button.

6. Return to the program that you want to use these in and click the mouse where you want to insert them.

7. Open the Edit menu in that program and choose Paste. This pastes a copy of those characters in the document. You can then cut and copy the individual characters into their appropriate locations in your document.


Typing in Another Language

When you installed Windows, it came with a default language for the keyboard. If you bought your PC or your copy of Windows 95 in the U.S., that language is English (United States). If you need to type in another language, Windows allows you to select another language for the keyboard. To do this, follow these steps:

1. Click the Start menu; choose Settings, Control Panel.

2. Double-click the Keyboard icon in the Control Panel to open the Keyboard Properties dialog box.

NOTE: Only the CD-ROM version of Windows 95 includes multi-language support. If you installed from floppy disks, you'll need to download and install the multiple language support from Microsoft's Web site at to add another language.

3. Click the Language tab so you see the dialog box.

4. Click the Add button to open the Add Language dialog box.

5. Select the new language from the drop-down list and click OK.

This dialog box shows what languages are installed and which one is the default.

Select the language from this list. Some languages (like English) have several varieties.

6. The language is now added. By default, Windows 95 will still use the original language. The dialog box indicates that if you want to switch between languages, you press the Left Alt key and Shift at the same time. By default, Windows will also show you an indicator of which language is being used in the taskbar. When you are done adding languages, click OK.

Hold the mouse pointer over the indicator to see a ToolTip pop up with the full name of the language. Click the indicator to produce a menu with which you can switch between languages.

You can now type in Windows in the new language. But, even with multiple language support, you need to keep in mind a few limitations when selecting a new language for your system:

Some languages employ characters not used in English. The font that you use also has to have all of the available characters for that language.

Your keyboard still has the U.S. English layout and keys. The foreign language feature is designed with the assumption that users are familiar with the keyboard for the language they've chosen, and the characters are matched to that placement on your current keyboard. If you're unfamiliar with the keyboard for the language you've chosen, you'll just have to type each key and find out which keys type what characters.

Finally, not every world language is available. If the language you're seeking doesn't appear in the list, check with Microsoft Technical Support to see if they know a Windows 95-compatible source for the language.


Special Keys for Windows 95

Some keyboards have special keys that perform special tasks in Windows 95. The idea of these keyboards is to give you access to some common mouse functions on the keyboard so that you don't have to take your hands off of the keyboard to perform them. These Windows 95 keyboards usually have three special function keys bringing the total number of keys to 104. These are:

The Windows logo keys (there are usually two of these, one each just to the outside of the Alt keys), both marked by the Windows logo

The Menu key (usually located between the Windows logo key and the Ctrl key on the right side of the spacebar), marked by a stylized drop-down menu and an arrow pointer

The Windows logo key (referred to as WINDOWS in the following table) performs these actions:

Key Combination Action
WINDOWS Opens the Start menu.
WINDOWS+R Opens the Run dialog box.
WINDOWS+M Minimizes all windows.
Shift+WINDOWS+M Undoes Minimize All.
WINDOWS+F1 Opens Help.
WINDOWS+E Opens Windows Explorer.
WINDOWS+F Opens the Find: All Files dialog box.
Ctrl+WINDOWS+F Opens the Find Computer dialog box.
WINDOWS+Tab Cycles through current taskbar buttons.
WINDOWS+Break Opens System Properties dialog box.

The menu key has one simple application. Select any object and press the menu key and the same pop-up menu that appears when you right-click the mouse on that object appears.


Special Software for Keyboards

Several computer and keyboard makers have special programmable keyboards that you can make perform special tasks. For example, you can record a long set of keystrokes, and then play it back with just a few simple keystrokes (like speed dial on your phone).

If you have a programmable keyboard, you should also have received some keyboard control software and a manual explaining how to use the software. To master the use of a programmable keyboard, you'll need to read the instructions carefully. Even if you don't want to use it, it's a good idea to at least know how to take the keyboard out of "program" mode and put it back into "normal typing" mode, for those times when you accidentally trigger the program mode.


Keeping Your Keyboard Clean and Working

Never spill liquids on your keyboard. Coffee, soda, and other beverage spills can ruin your keyboard. Liquid spills on the keyboard have even been known to cause electrical damage to the PC itself. With that in mind, though you may not stop drinking coffee around your computer, you should at least get a spill-proof mug or keep the coffee on the other side of the desk.

Another enemy of keyboards is static electricity. Static electricity can have the same damaging effect on your keyboard as does liquid. If your keyboard doesn't respond properly after a strong static charge, you may just need to turn off the PC and turn it back on to reset the keyboard. In some cases, however, the static discharge can zap the keyboard and even parts of the PC. If you shuffle your feet across carpet or your PC is in a room with dry air, avoid touching the PC or the keyboard until you have touched something metal to discharge any static. If you don't have a metal desk or bookcase in your work area, consider buying an anti-static mat and keeping it where you can touch it before touching the PC.

Dust, dirt, food crumbs, and hair are other enemies of keyboards. Try to avoid eating over the keyboard and if your computer is in a dirty, dusty area, keep the keyboard covered when not in use.

Some dirt and dust is unavoidable. To keep the keyboard working well, you should occasionally clean it. Any time you clean the keyboard, turn off the PC first; then try any or all of these three techniques for cleaning the keyboard:

Turn it upside down and shake it. This should shake loose some of the crumbs and dirt that collect between the keys.

Get a can of compressed air (available for a few dollars at most PC or electronics stores) and use it to blow the dirt and dust from between the keys. Be sure to read the directions on the can before using it. If you hold the can wrong or use it incorrectly, you may blow cold liquid into the keyboard instead of air. Generally, you need to hold the can upright and tip the keyboard up at an angle so the debris will fall out when it is blown loose.

If the keys themselves are dirty or sticky, wet a cleaning rag with some rubbing alcohol or a little bit of any non-abrasive household cleaner (something like Windex or Formula 409 is fine) and use it to clean the keys. Don't spray or pour any cleaner directly on the keyboard, and don't get the rag dripping wet.


Avoiding Keyboard-Related Injuries

Carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, and other repetitive stress injuries have become serious health problems for many computer users. If you will use your computer a lot, you should know how to avoid these injuries and what the symptoms are.

First, if you feel any pain after typing or using the PC for extended periods, consult a physician immediately. Symptoms can include:

Pain in the wrists

Numbness or tingling of fingers

To avoid this type of injury, you need to use the proper posture and position of the body while typing. Always sit with your back straight. Your shoulders should be relaxed, and your upper arms should hang almost straight down.

At this point, adjust your chair and desk so that your forearms are parallel to the floor and your hands are just above the keyboard. Don't rest your wrists on the desk or the keyboard.

While typing, your knuckles, wrists, and forearms should form a straight line. While a lot of people have started using wrist pads to rest their wrists on while typing, you should know that these generally don't keep your hands and arms aligned correctly.

If you type for hours on end, you should stop and take a break for just a few seconds every few minutes. This is even more important for touch typists whose actions are probably more repetitive than those who "hunt and peck."

Beyond these issues, you may want to consider investing in a special ergonomic keyboard. The Microsoft Natural keyboard and several others like it are specially designed to reduce the risk of this type of injury. These keyboards are generally split down the middle and angled to allow your arms and wrists to rest in the proper alignment. If you think you want to try one of these keyboards, find a store with one set up in a display where you can sit down and try the keyboard. Many computer professionals who work constantly at their PCs won't use anything but one of these special keyboards.


Special Notes on Notebook Keyboards

Notebook keyboards have special configurations designed to fit all the keys into a smaller-than-standard keyboard. For those accustomed to a standard-sized keyboard, a notebook's keyboard can take some getting used to. The keys themselves are usually smaller and spaced closer together. Further, notebook keyboards almost always have fewer keys.

Notebooks rarely have a built-in numeric keypad, and they don't have duplicate Alt and Ctrl keys (as do standard keyboards). Notebook keyboards do have special function keys which you use in combination with other keys to replicate the function of a numeric keypad, or to control color, contrast, or brightness. These keys usually have another set of labels printed on them in a color other than the alphabet color on the keys. Your notebook's manual or online help feature will explain the use of these and any other special function keys.


Using a Standard Keyboard with a Notebook

Most notebooks have a plug that allows you to plug in an external keyboard. If you have a notebook and you would really prefer to use a standard keyboard, check to see that you have a keyboard with the right size connector to fit your notebook. With the notebook off, plug in the keyboard and turn on the notebook. Most notebooks will automatically detect the external keyboard and know to use it and not the built-in keyboard.

CAUTION: Don't plug in or unplug the external keyboard while the notebook power is on.

If you plan to use the notebook a lot with the external keyboard, you may want to invest in a port replicator or docking station. The notebook snaps into place in one of these and the keyboard remains attached to the replicator or docking station. This saves you the trouble of plugging the keyboard into the notebook each time you want to use it. This is even more handy if you also use an external mouse and monitor with the notebook.


Troubleshooting Common Keyboard Problems

The following tips may help you diagnose (and perhaps resolve) some of the most common keyboard problems.


Keys Type Odd Symbols or Letters

To solve this dilemma, do any of the following:

See the section "Using Special Characters and Symbols" earlier in this chapter, and be sure that the language selected in Windows 95 is English (United States) or whatever language you want the keyboard to be typing in.

Check the font selection in your application to be sure that you haven't selected a symbol font like WingDings or Symbol. Try selecting Times or Arial and see if the problem is fixed.

If the problem happens only occasionally and only with a few keys, the keyboard itself may be bad. Borrow a keyboard from a friend or buy a cheap spare at the store. Plug it in and see if it works. If you get the same problem, your problem may be in the PC itself, not the keyboard, and the PC will require professional service.


Print Screen Key Doesn't Work

In Windows 95, the Print Screen key doesn't print to the printer. What it does do is copy the screen to the Clipboard. To print a screen, press the Print Screen key to copy what you want to print. Next, click the Start menu and choose Programs, Accessories, Paint. In Paint, click the Edit menu and choose Paste. You now have a Paint picture of your screen. Click the File menu and choose Print. You can save the Paint picture if you want to save the picture of your screen.


Arrow Keys Type Numbers Instead of Moving the Cursor/Number Keys Move the Cursor

Look for the light that indicates the Num Lock on your keyboard. When this is lit, the numeric keyboard is in number mode and is used like a 10-key calculator. When the light is off, the numeric keypad is used for the arrow key movements indicated on the keys.


The Keyboard (or PC) Won't Stop Beeping

There's a key stuck somewhere. If there is an application running, look to see if the same letter or number is filling the screen. The key may be jammed, broken, or so dirty underneath that the contact is jammed shut. Try cleaning the keyboard and restarting the PC.


I Get a Message That Says Keyboard error or Keyboard missing When the PC Boots Up and Then Nothing Happens

Try any of the following:

Check first to be sure that the keyboard is plugged in correctly.

Your keyboard and mouse may have similar plugs and connectors. Check for an icon on the computer case or a description in the computer manual showing which plug is the correct one for the keyboard, and be sure it is in the right plug.

Turn off all power to the PC, waiting a few minutes, and restarting it.

Borrow a keyboard from a friend or buy a cheap spare at the store. Plug it in and see if it works. If you get the same error, your problem is in the PC itself-- not the keyboard-- and the PC will require professional service.

NOTE: Keyboards are cheap and generally not worth the trouble to fix. If something does go wrong with the keyboard and it is still under warranty, call customer service and get it replaced. If it isn't under warranty, just buy a new one. A plain no-frills keyboard costs anywhere from $10 to $30 and lasts several years under normal wear.