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Windows 7 - How to Make and Install a Custom Keyboard Layout

Windows 7 provides keyboard layouts for hundreds of different languages and you can add as many of them to your computer as you like, regardless of which version of Windows you're using. However, there may also be situations where you want to create your own keyboard layout. Creating your own keyboard layout allows you to map any keys you want (except for function keys) to any character in the Character Map. This is ideal if you regularly type in a language not supported by Windows 7, or you want to have your own customized keyboard layout for any other reason.

To create customized keyboard layouts, you'll need a tool called "Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator." Available from Microsoft's website for all versions of Windows XP to Windows 7, MSKLC is also free. It allows you to create keyboard layout packages for both 32- and 64-bit systems. Download and install the program before continuing.

Run MSKLC. You can either create a new keyboard layout from scratch, or you can load up an existing one, customize it and then save it as a new keyboard layout. If you're creating a keyboard layout which is similar to an existing one, then choosing the latter will save you a lot of time. For example, if you want to type in the Manx language, you'll probably want to make a customized keyboard based on the standard English one since Manx only has one extra letter (รง).

Mapping each key is easy enough. All you need to do is click on the key you want to map and enter a character. If you want to enter a special character, copy and paste one from the Character Map. You can access the Character Map by typing "charmap" into the start menu search box and pressing Enter. If you're starting from a blank set of keys, moving the mouse over one of them will tell you what the default mapping is. To the left, you'll be able to check shift states for various boxes. Since you'll probably want to map both lowercase and uppercase versions of each letter you add, you should check the box beside "Shift" before mapping the capital letter. "AltGr" and "Ctrl" shift states can also be mapped, allowing you to map characters to the keyboard when these buttons are being held down.

MSKLC also allows you to map multiple characters to a single key. For example, you can map the "#" key to type "Hello" whenever you press it.

Once you've mapped your keys, open the "Project" menu and click properties. Enter the details for your custom keyboard layout and ensure that the name and description are not in use already. MSKLC will warn you if they are. Choosing the language is also important since this will associate the keyboard layout with that language. This should ideally be your primary input language. Whenever you use this language, you can change its keyboard layout to your custom one by pressing Control and Shift on your keyboard.

You can test your new keyboard layout by opening the project menu and clicking "Test Keyboard Layout." When you're satisfied, save your creation by opening the "File" menu and clicking "Save Source File As."

You will now need to build the keyboard layout package so that you can install the layout on your computer or on any other computer. To do this, open the project menu and click "Build DLL and Setup Package." MSKLC will build the keyboard layout packages and save them to a subfolder with the same name as your keyboard layout in your documents folder. In this folder, there will be three different setup files. Use either the "amd64" version or the "i386" version for 64-bit and 32-bit systems respectively. You can ignore the remaining setup file.

When you select the language that you chose for the keyboard layout, you'll see a small keyboard icon appear in the language tray of the taskbar. Click on this keyboard to choose your custom layout or press Control and Shift to cycle through the available keyboard layouts for that language.


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