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How to troubleshoot common keyboard problems

Jack Wallen offers tips to help you troubleshoot that ailing, troublesome keyboard.

keysa.jpg

Preparing to pull a keycap from a keyboard.

Image: Jack Wallen

Your keyboard is the doorway to infinite worlds--with it you administer servers, program software, communicate with others, play games, write papers, and much more. When you find that perfect keyboard, it makes a world of difference. 

When something goes wrong with your keyboard, you find yourself at a loss...for words. Is your time with that particular keyboard at an end? It doesn't necessarily have to be. 

Let's take a look at some of the common keyboard problems and how you can troubleshoot them.

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What to do if the keyboard has become unresponsive

I've had this happen on a number of occasions. Seemingly out of nowhere, the operating system won't recognize the keyboard. No matter how many keys I hit, no matter how fast or slow, the keyboard doesn't respond. Mouse? Sure, it'll move across the screen and can even interact with the various windows and menus, but the keyboard is a no go.

What to do?

This one is generally quite simple. Most often a reboot will solve the issue. If not, make sure to check the connection to the computer. Has the USB cable come even slightly unplugged? If so, reset it and try again.

If your keyboard is of the Bluetooth type, you need to make sure the connection to the keyboard is still functional. If not, run through the Bluetooth setup process and try again. If that fails, your keyboard battery (or batteries) could be out of juice. Either replace the battery (or batteries) or recharge the keyboard.

If none of the above works, you'll probably have to contact the manufacturer of your keyboard or buy a new one, as it could have died its final death.

What to do if the keys are sticking or difficult to press

Stick happens. I'm guilty of this, because I tend to lunch at my desk, eating bagels with peanut butter or some other schmear-y substance. When I find I have myself stuck in a jam, I know it's time to break out the cleaning tools and give those keys a good cleaning.

What are said tools:

  • A keycap puller

  • Cotton swabs

  • Isopropyl alcohol

  • Vacuum cleaner

A keycap puller will make your life exponentially easier. You can purchase one from Amazon for around $5.00. 

As far as a vacuum cleaner? You'll want one with small enough attachments that can easily be used over your keyboard. I prefer the Metro Vac DataVac, because it's incredibly powerful and contains a number of very small attachments which can really get into those nooks and crannies within your keyboard.

When cleaning your keyboard, it's important to get underneath those keys as hair and other types of nasties can find their way under the keys to gum up the works.

What to do if the letters are repeating

I've had this happen to me. It's called key bounce and can be a real nuisance. This is caused by keyboard sensitivity settings, which are a part of the operating systems accessibility feature and is necessary for some users. 

How you resolve this issue will depend on the operating system you use. For example, in Linux (at least with the GNOME desktop), you'll find it in Settings | Accessibility | Repeat Keys. If that feature is enabled you can configure the delay and speed which will set off the repeat. 

In Windows 10, open the Control Panel and type keyboard in the Search bar. Click Keyboard and then change the Repeat Delay and Repeat Rate until your keys no longer repeat. In macOS Big Sur, open System Preferences, click on Keyboard, and adjust Key Repeat and Delay until you find the repeat is no longer happening.

What to do if the wrong characters are showing up onscreen

Let's say you typed the letter "a" and "a" did not appear on the screen. What's most likely happening is your keyboard layout has changed. Your operating system might have switched to another language or another layout, such as from QWERTY to Dvorak. 

Here's how to return your keyboard layout to its regular input source (language):

  • In Linux (at least in GNOME), open Settings | Keyboard | Input Sources. Select the correct language you require.

  • In macOS go to System Preferences | Keyboard | Input Sources and select the correct language.

  • In Windows, go to Control Panel | Region | Formats and select the proper region from the Format drop-down.

To change input methods (such as from QWERTY to Dvorak), do the following:

  • In Linux (at least in GNOME) go to Settings | Region & Language | Manage Installed Languages  and select English Dvorak.

  • In Windows 10 go to Control Panel | Time And Language | Language | Choose Your Language | Options | Add A Keyboard | United States-Dvorak.

  • In macOS go to System Preferences | Keyboard | Input Sources | + | English Language | Dvorak.

Note: In GNOME, you might have to enable the lesser-used keyboard inputs. To do this, open a terminal window and issue the common:

gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.input-sources show-all-sources true

If that doesn't work, or you're using a different desktop than GNOME, one way to make it easy to switch between QWERTY and Dvorak keyboards on Linux is to create an alias in .bashrc. Open that file for editing with the command:

nano ~/.bashrc

In the alias section, add the following:

#switch to dvorak

alias asdf='setxkbmap dvorak'

#switch to us qwerty

alias aoeu='setxkbmap us'

Save and close the file. Open a new terminal window and type asdf to switch to Dvorak or aoeu to switch to QWERTY.

And there's your handy keyboard troubleshooting guide. Chances are pretty good one of these tips here will save that keyboard from a landfill. Keep that device clean, and it will serve you for years.

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