Cool Things You Can Do With Unused Keyboard Keys

Computer keyboardMost computer keyboards have one or more keys that see next to no use in day-to-day work. The standard 104-key Windows keyboard has a whole bunch of them – ScrollLock, Pause/Break, CapsLock, the Menu key. Depending on your typing style, even more keys – like the extra Alt and Ctrl keys to the right of the Space bar – might go unused.

Here’s a way to make them do something useful (and maybe even cool) : AutoHotkey. AutoHotkey is a free macro utility that lets you create scripted hotkeys for any key or key combination. With this utility, you can make the previously useless keys launch your favorite applications, control your media player, simplify copy/pasting, and more. I’ve included a small selection of handy hotkey scripts below, but you can find thousands more in the Script Showcase and the AutoHotkey forums.

Okay, lets move on to the actual scripts.

Hot Hotkeys

Show desktop

As you might know, you can hide/restore all open windows by pressing the Windows key and the D key together. With AutoHotkey, you can assign the same function to a single key – say, CapsLock. Here’s the AHK script :


Open or focus the browser

If you’re like me, you probably tend Alt-Tab to the web browser every five minutes to run a Google search, read some online documentation or check for new emails. This can be simplified by creating a hotkey that, when pressed, brings the browser window to the front (or launches the browser if it isn’t already running). This script by Niels Teglsbo does just that :

; Function to run a program or activate an already running instance
RunOrActivateProgram(Program, WorkingDir="", WindowSize=""){
    SplitPath Program, ExeFile
    Process, Exist, %ExeFile%
    PID = %ErrorLevel%
    if (PID = 0) {
        Run, %Program%, %WorkingDir%, %WindowSize%
        WinActivate, ahk_pid %PID%
; Make CapsLock run or activate Internet Explorer
CapsLock::RunOrActivateProgram("c:\Program Files\Internet Explorer\iexplore.exe")

The example above uses Internet Explorer, but you can easily substitute it with your own favourite browser by editing the file path.

Disable CapsLock

Although CapsLock can be modified to become a useful hotkey, some people would rather just get rid of it because it’s too easy to press it accidentally. Well, all it takes is a single line script :

SetCapsLockState, AlwaysOff

Alternatively, you could remap CapsLock to act as Ctrl. This way it can both be useful and still remain harmless when accidentally pressed :


Single-key Cut/Copy/Paste

This script will make the right-side Alt, Windows and Menu keys function like Cut, Copy and Paste :

RAlt::^x 	; Right Alt as Ctrl-X (Cut)
RWin::^c 	; Right Windows key as Ctrl-C (Copy)
AppsKey::^v	; Menu/Apps key as Ctrl-V (Paste)

You can find an alternative setup that uses only the CapsLock key in this StackOverflow thread.

Incrementally switch windows

iSwitchw lets you incrementally switch between open windows using CapsLock (though you could easily modify it to use a different key).

It’s a window switcher which shows the matching window titles as you type in your search string incrementally. If only one window is left it is activated immediately (configurable). Otherwise, you can type in more characters (or delete some with backspace) or select between the matching windows using cursor up/down/enter, or you can cancel the window with Esc.

You can use any substring of any window. For example, if you want to switch to word then you can type rd and there is a good chance word is selected immediately. Or type “notepad” and select quickly between the notepad windows with the cursor.

The script itself is too long to be included here. You can find it in the iSwitchw forum thread.

Control your media player

If your keyboard doesn’t have media keys, you can use AutoHotkey to remap some of your unused keys to act as passable substitutes. For example, I use the block of three keys to the right of the Space bar (on  a 104-key keyboard) to control Winamp :

IfWinNotExist ahk_class Winamp v1.x
ControlSend, ahk_parent, c  ; Pause/Unpause

IfWinNotExist ahk_class Winamp v1.x
ControlSend, ahk_parent, z  ; Previous track

IfWinNotExist ahk_class Winamp v1.x
ControlSend, ahk_parent, b  ; Next track

Easy window dragging

Normally, a window can only be dragged by clicking on its title bar. Easy Window Drag extends that so that any point inside a window can be dragged. Just hold down CapsLock or the middle mouse button while clicking, then drag the window to a new position.

You can download the script here.

Other Uses For Unused Keys

In addition to AutoHotkey, there are several other applications that can take advantage of typically unused keys.

Enso Launcher

Enso Launcher is yet another cousin of Quicksilver/Launchy. It turns CapsLock into a multifunctional hotkey that lets you enter commands, launch applications, manipulate windows, access your bookmarks, quickly perform simple calculations, and more.

Network Lights

Finally, here’s a little bonus for all who love to watch the blinkenlights : there’s a small freeware utility called Network Lights that blinks the ScrollLock and NumLock LEDs indicating network traffic. It may not be very useful per se, but the thought of turning the keyboard into a network monitor of sorts certainly possesses a notable coolness factor.

Image credit : staarpoint @

Related posts :

One Response to “Cool Things You Can Do With Unused Keyboard Keys”

  1. reasonable read, appreciate it. I’m routinely looking out for unconventional and informative threads to read

Leave a Reply