cAPS lOCK TROUBLES? hERE'S A NIFTY CURE

May 25, 1998|By MICHAEL J. HIMOWITZ

Are you tired of reading about the Great Microsoft Lawsuit? So am I.

So today we'll discuss one of the smaller issues of personal computing. It's one of those little annoyances - a tiny pebble in the shoe of life, so to speak. But for some reason, it rubbed enough readers raw over the last few weeks to generate several requests for help. One of them began this way:

dEAR mIKE,

dO YOU KNOW SOME WAY TO TURN OF THIS CAPS LOCK KEY? aT LEAST FIVE TIMES A DAY i HIT THE DARN THING AND START TYPING LIKE THIS. wHY DID THEY PUT IT RIGHT NEXT TO THE "a" KEY WHERE THEY KNOW PEOPLE LIKE ME WILL HIT IT?

Well, if you want someone to blame, talk to the folks at IBM, who "improved" their original PC keyboard in the mid-1980s by adding 18 keys and moving a couple of others around.

One of them is labeled Caps Lock, and it does just what it says. It turns on capital letters automatically and reverses the way you normally type, which means you have to hold down the Shift key to get lowercase characters.

This certainly is a convenience if you're typing everything in uppercase characters, which is relatively common for people who enter data for a living but something the rest of us do `D maybe once or twice a year.

Hunt-and-peck typists rarely have trouble with Caps Lock, but ,, because it sits just above the Shift key, many touch typists will brush it accidentally from time to time and FIND THEMSELVES TYPING LIKE THIS.

If you're a competent typist working from hard copy, chances are good that you're not looking at the screen while you type, and you may wind up with a couple of uppercase paragraphs before you realize what happened.

I thought this would be an easy problem to solve, and if you're using Microsoft Word 97, it is (in the Auto-correct menu, check off a box that detects accidental Caps Lock). But there's no reference to the Caps Lock problem in any of the Windows 95 help files, leaving users of other programs in the lurch.

Knowledgeable colleagues weren't much help, either. My friend Steve, who keeps the computers running for a large news organization, suggested prying off the Caps Lock key with a screwdriver and sealing the cavity with duct tape. Of course, Steve's the only guy I know who keeps a chain saw in his computer tool kit.

So I tried the World Wide Web, searching the major shareware sites for a program that would disable Caps Lock. Nothing doing.

I asked the AltaVista search engine to look for "Caps Lock" and turned up a lot of fragments from newsgroup message threads. Most of these were hostile responses to postings from newcomers who had inadvertently typed in capital letters.

According to "Netiquette," using all caps is the equivalent of yelling, and most of the responses read something like this: "TURN OFF THE [expletive] CAPS LOCK KEY, YOU [expletive] MORON!!!"

This enlightened level of discourse is one of the reasons I rarely bother with newsgroups.

Eventually, I surfed over to PC Magazine's utility library, which is where I should have started. If you've never been to this corner of the Ziff-Davis publishing empire's Web site, it's a wonderful resource, with hundreds of little programs that the magazine's writers have created over the years to deal with the failings and omissions of Microsoft's operating systems. The programs are all free, by the way.

Sure enough, I found a utility called ZDKeymap, with versions for Windows 95 and Windows 3.1. When you install ZDKeymap, it modifies the keyboard applet in the Windows control panel so that you can reassign or disable any key.

Use it to disable Caps Lock and it's gone. Bye-bye. Dead. Bang on Caps Lock all you want, it won't do any harm. If you want a capital letter, you'll have to hold down the shift key.

ZDKeymap can eliminate other annoyances, too. For example, many keyboards have the critical back-slash key in odd or awkward positions.

This is the character that Windows (and DOS) has traditionally used to designate directories and folders, as in c:

windows. But because the back slash was never part of the standard typewriter repertoire, keyboard manufacturers stick it wherever they like. If you use a variety of computers, this can be aggravating. ZDKeymap will let you put the back slash on a key that's more comfortable for you.

Of course, this little piece of progress comes with an escape hatch. You can enable Caps Lock or restore the standard layout any time you want to revert to your previous level of aggravation.

To download this utility, point your browser to www.zdnet.com/ pcmag/pctech/download/ and enter ZDKeymap in the search form at the bottom of the page.

If you're a Windows 3.1 user (and there are still millions of you out there), you might want to linger in the PC Magazine library a bit longer and download another nifty utility called ButtonGo.

This little program sets up a "button bar" at the top of your Program Manager screen. You can add icons representing your favorite applications to the bar, then launch any of those programs with a single mouse click.

If you get frustrated digging through Windows 3.1 program groups looking for the software you want, this can save you an incredible number of mouse clicks. It's the most useful Windows utility I ever installed.

ButtonGo will work under Windows 95, but there's no need for it, because Win 95 lets you set up shortcut icons on the desktop to launch your favorite programs.

Send e- mail to mike.himowitzaltsun.com.

Pub Date: 5/25/98

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