Multimedia Keyboard

At work I use a Microsoft keyboard that has a bunch of keys up at the top for special functions. There is one for firing up a web browser, back and forward buttons, mail, search and some media player buttons for play/pause, and volume stuff. I’ve never really used them – but I was looking at them today and thought, “I should use those.” Now when I say that – I mean I should use them for my main work machine which is running the Fedora distribution of Linux. Getting them to work wasn’t hard – and didn’t take too much searching.

The key was finding the right keyboard layout for KDE. Getting to the layout was interesting. I opened up the KDE Control Center and there is a Peripherals section – but the keyboard item there just has a couple options that deal with repeat rate and numlock settings for startup. The stuff I wanted is under the Regional & Accessibility section in Control Center.

The section that was a little trick to get right is the Keyboard Layout. I clicked on that section and then on the layout tab checked the “Enable keyboard layouts” box. Once I did that then the Keyboard model dropdown box became available. I have a Microsoft Comfort Curve Keyboard 2000, according to the sticker on the bottom. There was no corresponding description. I tried a few Microsoft models but things didn’t seem to be lining up just right. Certain buttons would work but others wouldn’t. I got tired of shooting in the dark pretty quickly. So rather than keep on, I did a quick google on keyboard layouts for Linux. That took me to this very nice article on using multimedia keyboards with linux.

Now that article just bypasses the desktop stuff and deals with X. I still wanted to use KDE if I could and what was helpful here was seeing that xbindkeys had a mode where it would show just what a keypress was sending. Installing xbindkeys took about 10 seconds (yum install xbindkeys) and then I fired it up. I switched between control center and that program – switching through the various keyboard models and looking at the output. It just took a minute or two to realize that the keyboard model I wanted was “Microsoft Natural Keyboard Pro OEM”.

Once that was done, all my buttons on my keyboard were being sent. All that was left then was matching them up to what I wanted them to do. In some cases KDE already did this for me. The volume keys, the forward/back keys were set up automagically. Launching applications I needed to do, because it is up to me what apps will launch.

In the same part of the control center that handles the keyboard layout there is another section – Keyboard Shortcuts. That makes it easy to choose key strokes to fire off apps among other things. There is also a section, Input Actions, that can be used to set up mouse gestures and keyboard shortcuts. The gestures and shortcuts can be tied to launching apps or DCOP calls. Very nice stuff.

On a side note – and an appreciated bonus – once my model was right – synergy passed all keys correctly to my windows machine that I use at work. There was no setup needed for that. They just shoot right on over.

I’m not sure if I’ll use them much. I just like knowing I can if I want to.

Edit: I just redid this on a new Fedora 10 install – to get to the place to set the keyboard in KDE 4 it is now “System Settings” instead of Control Center. Everything else should be pretty much the same.

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