Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Is Your Keyboard Driiving yoU crzy? Are You Suddenly Unable to Sign In to Your Account, or Even Your Computer?
A few years ago a client called me in a panic. She had turned on her desktop computer, but no matter how many times she tried, nor how carefully she typed it, her computer would not accept her user password. She had already tried turning the computer off and on again, which didn’t help. I had her unplug the keyboard, turn it over (so the keys pointed to the floor), and whack the sides and bottom of the keyboard a few times. Luckily, a little piece of paper fell out, and after plugging the keyboard back in again, she successfully entered her password and signed into her computer. That scrap of paper was probably preventing a key or two from working properly.
Keyboard problems can manifest in a variety of ways, including:
- You can’t enter passwords properly. You know you typed your password correctly, but it was rejected. This is especially frustrating when you can’t see what you’re typing.
- Some of what you type getts ddoubbledd, which can happen when one or more keys get stuck briefly.
- Some of wht yu typ is missing, which probably means that some keys may not be working.
- caPital leTTers appeaR ranDoMly, which can be caused by one or both of the shift keys (or even the Caps Lock key) getting partially stuck.
- What you type gets inserted at random places around your document instead of where you thought you were typing. The Home, End, Page Up, Page Down, or arrow keys getting triggered can cause this. Any of those keys will move your insertion point.
- Instead of your letters or numbers appearing when you type, strange or crazy things happen instead. Your Control key (Command key on Macintosh) may be stuck down, causing your keyboard to inadvertently issue commands (like Print, Save, Cut, Paste, etc.) instead of typing.
Many of these problems can occur intermittently, or in combination.
The minor consequences of such problems: You can’t type email messages or documents properly.
The major consequences: You can’t enter passwords properly, which can prevent you from signing into your computer on startup, or getting into important documents, programs or websites.
What causes this?
There are many possible causes of keyboard problems, including:
- Debris (like dust, lint, hair, carpet fibers, bits of paper, food, etc.) might have gotten stuck between (or under) the keys.
- Liquid might have been spilled into the keyboard.
- For a corded keyboard, its USB cable might be worn or bad, or it might be plugged into a bad USB port.
- For a cordless keyboard, its batteries might be running low, or its receiver might be plugged into a bad USB port.
- Your keyboard may be wearing out.
- A combination of some of these causes may make your keyboard randomly disconnect and re-connect to your computer, which can be especially confusing. On Microsoft Windows, assuming that your sound is turned up, you’ll hear special “Device Connect” and “Device Disconnect” sounds when a USB device connects or disconnects, which might help you recognize a problem with a USB keyboard.
A simple way to diagnose this problem
Here’s one way that you can demonstrate this problem for yourself:
- Open a blank area where you can type some text, e.g., a separate window in your word processor or text editor, or start a new message in your email program, etc.
- Carefully and methodically type simple sequences like 1234567890, abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz, qwertyuiop, etc.
- Try lowercase letters first.
- Look for missing, doubled, or unexpectedly capitalized letters.
- Then try uppercase letters and punctuation. Test each Shift key separately.
- For the spacebar, test its left side, middle, and right side separately.
If you encounter a problem, can you make it happen consistently? Is it always the same keys?
If you’re struggling to enter a password and the web page or window lets you click to reveal what you’re typing (usually a little “eyeball” icon nearby, or the word “show”), use that to see whether what you think you’re typing matches what your keyboard is actually producing.
Another way to diagnose this problem and get a temporary workaround
Windows and Macintosh computers each have a built-in program that gives you an “on-screen keyboard.”
The “OSK” program on Microsoft Windows displays a floating window that displays a keyboard layout.
- If you are holding down a modifier key (shift, alt, control, windows, caps lock, etc.) the corresponding “key” in the OSK window will be highlighted, which can also help you figure out whether any of your physical keyboard’s modifier keys are malfunctioning.
- If you hold down either shift key or turn on caps lock, the letter “keys” in the OSK window will immediately change to uppercase to show the effect of that modifier key.
- You can also use your mouse to click any “key” in the window to “type” if your physical keyboard isn’t working well.
- The other OSK “keys” (letters, numbers, punctuation, etc.) do not “light up” when you are typing.
- Starting with Windows XP, the on-screen keyboard can also be made available on the user login screen at startup; in newer versions of Windows it’s available by default.
- To open the OSK at startup under Windows 10, when you’re prompted to type in your user password, click the “Ease of Access” icon at the lower right (between the Internet/Wifi and Power icons), and then in the menu that appears, click “On-Screen Keyboard.”
- To open the OSK after signing in to Windows 10, you would go to Start->Settings->Ease of Access, scroll the left side down and click Keyboard, and then on the right under “Use the On-Screen Keyboard,” click “Off” to change it to “On.”
The “Keyboard Viewer” floating window on Macintosh is somewhat comparable:
- Its “keys” will “light up” when you press any key on your keyboard, including letters, numbers, punctuation, and modifier keys, which can also help you figure out whether any of your physical keyboard’s keys are malfunctioning.
- If you hold down one or more modifier keys, all affected “keys” in the window will immediately change to show the effect of those modifiers.
- You can also click any “key” in the window with your mouse to “type” if needed.
- To make the Keyboard Viewer available on a Mac, you would first go to System Preferences->Keyboard and turn on the “Show keyboard and emoji viewers in menu bar” checkbox (“Show Keyboard and Character Viewer in menu bar” on older systems).
- Then, to open the Keyboard Viewer window you would click the square “input menu” icon in the top right area of the menu bar, and then in the menu that appears, click “Show Keyboard Viewer.”
- Unfortunately, as of this writing the Keyboard Viewer window is not available in the Macintosh user login window at startup.
Things to try that might solve the problem, or that might point towards a solution
For a keyboard with a USB cord:
- Unplug its cord from its USB port, then turn the keyboard upside-down and whack its sides and bottom, preferably over a trash can or some newspaper to see if any debris falls out.
- Unplug it from its USB port, and plug it back in again, and repeat that 3-4 times.
- Try a different USB port.
- Examine its USB cord--Is it crimped or worn?
For a cordless keyboard with a USB receiver:
- Unplug its receiver from its USB port, then turn the keyboard upside-down and whack it.
- Unplug its receiver from its USB port, and plug it back in again, and repeat that 3-4 times.
- Try a different USB port.
- Try putting in fresh batteries.
For a Bluetooth keyboard (which are also cordless but don’t use a receiver):
- Turn it off (or take out the batteries, or turn your computer off), then turn the keyboard upside-down and whack it.
- Try putting in fresh batteries, or recharging it if the batteries are not replaceable.
If you have a laptop and you’re having trouble with its built-in keyboard:
- Shut down the computer, turn it over, and gently shake it over a trash can or some newspaper to see if any debris falls out.
- Try an external USB keyboard. If that works, look into getting your internal keyboard replaced, which may not be as difficult or expensive as you might think. Talk to someone you know and trust, or google your laptop’s model along with the words “replace keyboard.”
For any type of keyboard:
- Open the “on-screen keyboard” to see whether any of your modifier keys are “stuck down.” On Microsoft Windows, you can also open the OSK window on the user login screen at startup.
- Try cleaning your keyboard.
- Try Restarting your computer.
- Try a different keyboard.
Since most replacement keyboards are not that expensive, if you’re having problems with your keyboard it might just be simpler to buy a new one.
And even if you get your current keyboard to work properly again, it might be a good idea to buy another one to keep as a spare. You might also consider getting a spare mouse as well!
Where to go from here
How to contact me:
phone: (617) 484-6657
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Copyright (C) 2020 Kadansky Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved.
I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.
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