The keyboard does not do what I tell it to!

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2005/02/24 02:03 -05:00, original URI:

The scene is familiar -- you are typing along and suddenly you are not seeing the letters you typed. And suddenly you imagine you are channeling your inner Homer Simpson as you say

D'oh, stupid keyboard!

But the computer has not been possessed. It may be the situation the inestimable Kate Gregory describes in Language bar have a mind of its own? :

For several months now, I've been plagued by unexpected language changes while I'm typing. I'll type one character, maybe a quote or a question mark, and I'll get a really strange character instead, say a capital E with an accent on it. I came to realize that it was the language settings, and I keep the language bar on my toolbar so I can flip back to English whenever this strange thing happens. But I didn't know why it was happening, and I found stopping what I was doing to mouse over to the bar and click back to the language I wanted very frustrating.

Well, now I know what was going on! ALT-SHIFT rotates through the languages. I'm a huge ALT-TAB user, and I ALT-SHIFT-TAB when I need to cycle backwards through that list. I also use a fair amount of other ALT-things, like ALT-A to bring up the favourites menu in IE, then arrow keys to choose an item. I really prefer the keyboard to the mouse. Well I guess every once in a while an ALT-SHIFT gets through to the language bar and flips my language. So now when I go to type a URL and see ццц I can quickly make it right.

Лфеу (er, Kate)

That's actually one very common issue. And there is no shame in at all, though I admit to curiousity in wondering if Kate really has a cyrillic keyboard in her list? :-)

Happens to me all the time!

I was once trying to repro a bug that occurred only if you have more than 50 keyboard selected, and then one never knew what one was getting when one ALT-SHIFT'ed, or how to get back where one was before. I finally found a brilliant workaround though -- I added the US English keyboard 51 times, under 51 different languages. That way no matter what I accidentally switched to the letters would look the same. At the point things only sucked in one application -- can you guess which one?

It was Word. Can you guess how? Well, Word which chooses the language to tag the text with based on the input language, causing what I thought was a brilliant workaround to be one of the most non-intuitive blocker to proper spell checking since the time my dictionary fell off my balcony back when I lived on the third floor and viciously attacked a house plant. It did manage to prove that the book is mightier than the plant, though. Much to the chagrin of my former downstairs neighbor, who was quite happy when I finally moved several buildings away.

Where was I?

Oh yes, when keyboards seem to be misbehaving. Maybe this one seems familiar to you?

I have a couple computers at the office that run Word 2000 and lately whenever I try to put an accent mark on a vowel it just inserts two accent marks instead. (Quite annoying!)

I've tried reinstalling the keyboard language and reinstalling and updating Office but to no avail.

Unfortunately, this one turned out to be the Bugbear.B worm. Luckily Symantec has a removal tool. But it is best to not ignore this sort of problem when it happens (the person who reported this particular problem admitted it had been going on for months).

One more -- similar to the last one but with a happier ending:

This has been bugging me for months. I am not sure when it started, but any time I try to put an apostrophe into a document, nothing happens. Then if I hit the key again I get two of them.

I have to hit the backspace key to get what I wanted. So it takes three keystrokes to get me what should have taken one. Is this some sort of virus? Help!

Ah, no virus this time. However, it turns out that this person had installed the "United States - International" keyboard layout. This layout has the apostrophe as a dead key for an acute accent. And as I have said before, dead keys are not intuitive. In his case either the apostrophe and a space or uninstalling the layout were both okay options. He chose the latter since he did not need the international layout....


This post brought to you by "Я" (U+042f, a.k.a. CYRILLIC CAPITAL LETTER YA)

# Simon Montagu on 24 Feb 2005 12:28 AM:

How about this one: I installed a Chinese keyboard a little while ago to debug something, and removed it when I had finished. Since then, every time I restart XP, it reappears.

# Michael Kaplan on 24 Feb 2005 6:34 AM:

Hmmm... interesting. Is it in your logon dialog, too? When you removed i, did you then click the "Apply to default" checkbox and click Apply (cf: ).

# Jeremy Davis on 24 Feb 2005 8:22 AM:

I once installed a Dvorak layout as a secondary to play around with. After I was done messing around I removed it. After that any time I tried to Remote Desktop into the machine it came up in Dvorak. Made it a real pain to type my password. :)

# Michael Kaplan on 24 Feb 2005 9:27 AM:

Think about when we beta tested MSKLC internally at Microsoft. People were creating all kinds of new keyboards and making them their defaults, to play with. Only they did not include all of the letters that they needed for their passwords!

There was a huge upswing in people calling the internal support folks asking about how to get back in their machines!:-)

# Matthew W. Jackson on 24 Feb 2005 10:30 AM:

Is there a way to disable the alt-shift? I don't like pressing modifier keys alone doing anything. It's just feels wrong. I'd prefer Window+K, actually (popup a list of installed layouts). I could do this myself (with AutoHotKey, maybe), but I'd need to be able to disable the alt-shift behavior to make it worthwhile. Otherwise I'll have to uninstall my Dvorak and US International drivers, because both are hard to use for programming.

# Michael Kaplan on 24 Feb 2005 10:37 AM:

Well, you can change what makes it happen -- go to the UI for adding keyboards and hit the "Key Settings..." button.

# Matthew W. Jackson on 24 Feb 2005 2:14 PM:

*slaps forehead*
So that's what "Key Settings" means! I don't believe that I have ever been in that dialog before. I didn't realize that had to do with the hotkeys. I don't know what I expected to be in there, though. The specific hotkeys for each keyboard layout are I only need to use the language bar when using handwriting.

It won't support the hotkey I want, but at least I can disable it. Is this a per-user or per-machine setting?

# Michael Kaplan on 24 Feb 2005 3:17 PM:

This is a per-user setting -- because everyone will have different preferences here....

Larry Osterman talked for a bit about the weird and interesting limitations about system level keystroke sequences at and I talked about it to at . Its a weird area, I'd be the first to admit....

# Matthew W. Jackson on 24 Feb 2005 6:59 PM:

Is there any way to set these keys for the log-on desktop? I know this would potentially confuse other users, but Administrator and myself are the only direct users of this machine in particular, and it's annoying when I can't type my password in because my layout has changed to Dvorak.

I checked TweakUI, but it only has "Keyboard" settings, which I think only applies to repeat rate and carat size.

# Michael Kaplan on 24 Feb 2005 7:02 PM:

Hmmm.... well, I did post about layouts and how to get them there:

It may be worth a try to see if that gets copied too (I don't think it does, but you never know).

# Matthew W. Jackson on 24 Feb 2005 9:58 PM:

I've been messing with it for about 30 minutes now. It seems that the shortcut keys and list of available layouts for the login screen isn't consistant.

Here's an example. Log in as your normal user. Set up hot keys for different my case "English (United States)," "United States-Dvorak," and "United States-International." In this case, I'm non-admin, so I can't apply these hotkeys to the login from here.

Press Window+L to fast-user switch. Go to type in a password for another account, and press a hotkey to switch layouts. Typing your password on Dvorak is an easy way to see that it switches, even though those hotkeys are not for the default user.

So the settings seem to be based on who last switched away...that seems wrong to me. Shouldn't each password box use the default user layout or the layout for the user you're actually logging in as?

# Michael Kaplan on 25 Feb 2005 2:39 AM:

I think you do have to be an admin and you have to do a full logoff to get the real story with how this would work as a feature -- since the two operations assure that you can copy settings to the real logon screen and that accuunts are truly separate....

But as for using the info of the user you are logging in as -- until you log in as them, they do no know which one that is. A UI that changed based on the name you type would be very strange -- the way it would work if it does is to have the logon dialog's behavior separate from everything else (this is how the list works, for example).

# Matthew W. Jackson on 25 Feb 2005 9:59 AM:

I guess this could be potentially confusing with multiple users of a single machine all using different keyboard layouts. I'm sure it is rare, but everyone would have to know how to type their password with everybody else's layout. However, one user on Dvorak and one on Dvorak is a perfectly good example of how this could all blow up and keep someone out of a machine.

I've had a few cases where I'd be in the login screen with Dvorak layout for whatever reason, and it would take me a while to type my password, since I'm only decent with Dvorak if I can see what I'm typing. I was also unable to use any keys to switch layouts for whatever reason (again, this differs based on whether somebody is currently logged in).

Maybe this is a good reason to get a thumb-print reader to log in. :-)

Or perhaps the language bar should be visible on the login desktop so that we can at least *SEE* what the heck is going on.

# Matthew W. Jackson on 25 Feb 2005 10:00 AM:

Typo: I meant, "one user on Dvorak and one on Qwerty"

# Michael Kaplan on 25 Feb 2005 10:42 AM:

Well, you can see the list of keyboards if you are an admin and get the list copied there. :-)

# Rosyna on 27 Feb 2005 7:59 PM:

I have to wonder, why do you say dead keys are unintuitive? I think it is better to say dead keys on Windows are unintuitive. The alternative (such as how OS X does it) is to display the diacritic and highlight it in yellow. And to make sure that dead keys are not handled by keyboard input handers.

# Michael Kaplan on 27 Feb 2005 8:09 PM:

Well, this does not seem like a particularly Mac-centric blog, does it? I think most of the technology things I talk about relate to the Micrsoft platform, Windows. :-)

I have both heard about and seen the Mac platform's handling of this, and would love to see something like it on Windows (though perhaps a little different, like the way IMEs do it; I did not care for the Mac-style highlighting <grin>).

It is just always a tough sell to update and potentially destablise code that has run for a decade with so little in the way of change....

# Rosyna on 28 Feb 2005 2:50 PM:

Perhaps this is windows centric, but no reason to declare all dead key implementations bad.

And when you say like the way IMEs do it, you mean with the black underline?

# Michael Kaplan on 28 Feb 2005 2:53 PM:

Well, I didn't. I explained the nature of limitation in the Windows DDK -- those did not apply to Mac, either. :-)

I was not being that specific about implementation, I was just imagining something that would be less gaudy than the Mac one, yet still visible. In my opinion the IME candidate windows in most IMEs fit that description.

# Sam Ferencik on 11 Oct 2007 5:10 AM:

Yours is one of the websites I came across when looking for a solution to the Alt-Shift-Tab problem described by Kate. I have found the cause now and have posted it as a comment to Kate's blog (see the link above).

Just in case anyone gets here looking for the solution...

# Maria on 28 Nov 2007 4:20 PM:

I have gone through all the comments in this bolg, still can not solve my problem. My problem is almost the same as Kate's. When I type / , it shows é, when I type ? (shift+?), it shows É. I tried that Alt + Shift many times, suddenly I got / and ?. But when I open another file, same problems come again. And the question is I don't know how I made my last time successful. I guess that was just a coincidence.

Please help me!


susan on 28 Aug 2010 5:53 PM:

How do I capitlize my letters on the flipback phone. I think Im over my head with this phone!

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referenced by

2011/04/23 Solution: The Dead Keys Conundrum: An Encyclopedia Brown Mystery

2011/04/22 The Dead Keys Conundrum: An Encyclopedia Brown Mystery

2007/11/29 If the problem is bad enough, we should probably look beyond the workaround

2007/10/27 Keyboards gone wild, or maybe just French (aka CSI: Text Input)

2007/10/15 Hitting the 'right' keys (in the 'wrong' order), looking beyond damage control

2006/05/17 Not all keyboard layouts are the same

2005/08/20 The Keyboard Convert Service

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