Remapping the MacBook Keyboard

I love OS X, and I also have this thing for Apple hardware, especially their laptops. You can rant and rave about "Apple Tax" until you're blue in the face. You won't sway me. One thing that kind of irks me, though, is the keyboard on the MacBook series.

While the sunken, chicklet-style keyboard garnered much criticism in 2006, I like the feel of it. As you can probably tell from the title of this article, my primary complaint isn't in the style of the keyboard. It's in the keys that seem to be missing. In OS X, the MacBook's scant 78-key input device makes sense. Other keys are nice, and are provided on the full-size keyboards for the desktop behemoths, but as a general rule, the slimmed-down laptop keyboard gets things done.

Being an Operating System Junkie, however, I often find a need for some oddball key that's nowhere to be found. In Linux and BSD (or when SSH-ing) from Windows using PuTTY, Shift-Insert pastes text to the terminal. There's no Insert key. In Windows, I'd rather not install vestigial bloatware to grab screen shots. Alt-PrintScreen is the old standby. There's no PrintScreen button, either.

At the same time, there are keys I rarely use in OS X, and they become completely useless on any other platform. They also happen to be near the places that I expect Insert and PrintScreen to be on a full-size keyboard.

There are registry hacks to remap keys on Windows. RandyRants has a great write-up on this, and wrote SharpKeys to help people easily re-map their keyboards. In my case, I wanted to remap F12 to function like PrintScreen, and the Keypad Enter key (next to the arrows, shown prominently in the photo above) to function as the Insert key.

The resulting registry patch is included so that you need not install vestigial bloatware just to remap your MacBook keyboard. Save the text below to a file called "remap.reg" and import it to your Windows Registry -- usually, by double-clicking it. Still, SharpKeys a nice utility to know about, particularly if you have any portable computers lacking a full set of keys.

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Keyboard Layout]
"Scancode Map"=hex:00,00,00,00,00,00,00,00,03,\

On Linux and BSD, xmodmap will do the same thing, a lot easier. I didn't bother remapping Print Screen, but getting Enter to function as Insert was important. Create a file called ".xmodmaprc" in your home directory, and add the following content to it:
keysym KP_Enter = Insert Insert Insert Insert
The next time you log in to Ubuntu, you'll get a dialog asking what you want to do with this file:

Load the .xmodmaprc file, and if you wish, choose to not show the dialog again. Click OK.

On BSD and perhaps many Linux flavors, you may have to manually edit some files to load xmodmap. You can usually put this line at the beginning of your .xsession or .xinitrc file to load the .xmodmaprc file when X starts. Alternatively, you can run it in an xterm to make sure it works:
xmodmap .xmodmaprc
These tricks work just as well on bare metal as they do in a virtual machine, or at least as tested in VirtualBox. That's a major annoyance out of the way for me!

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