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Utility Spotlight: Modify your mouse

The Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard Center lets you modify your mouse and keyboard settings to take advantage of new features in Windows 8.

Lance Whitney

Windows 8 represents a whole new interface and new UX. That being the case, your users may want a new way to interact with this version of Windows.

Whether you’re testing Windows 8 with full rollout in mind or just checking it out, you’ll find the free Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard Center to be a helpful tool. This utility lets you configure your Microsoft mouse or keyboard to tap into the many features and gestures available in the new OS and its dramatically new UI.

Depending on the type of Microsoft mouse you’re using, you can configure the various buttons and scroll wheel to trigger virtually any command. For example, you can set the scroll wheel to move to the right across the Start screen when you scroll down or reverse the direction to move left when you scroll down. You can set any button to trigger a certain keyboard combination. You can even create macros to perform a series of actions and activate them via your mouse.

The program’s major limitation is that it works only with certain Microsoft mice and keyboards. It doesn’t work with any third-party devices. It does, however, take special advantage of the latest Microsoft mice and keyboards designed for Windows 8. You’ll find the full list of supported mice and keyboards on the support page for Windows 8.

Start me up

Download the Mouse and Keyboard Center from its page on the Microsoft Hardware site (see Figure 1) or from the Microsoft Download Center. You can choose either the 32-bit or 64-bit version, depending on which flavor of Windows 8 you’re running. Launch the downloaded executable, and the program will automatically pop up after installation. You can also open it from its Start screen tile with the news Windows 8 interface.

Download the Mouse and Keyboard Center

Figure 1 Download the Mouse and Keyboard Center.

The Mouse and Keyboard Center detects the type of mouse you’re using and displays a photo of it where you can click on the various buttons to configure them (see Figure 2). Click on the area corresponding to your left mouse button, and you’ll see a list of commands you can assign to that button. Clicking on the link to View all commands will retrieve an even longer list of actions you can assign to the button. Commands that aren’t as obvious display a clickable question mark icon in front of them so you can determine what they do.

Configure your mouse buttons with an easy-to-use interface

Figure 2 Configure your mouse buttons with an easy-to-use interface.

You might want to leave the left and possibly the right mouse button at their default settings. You can also customize the scroll wheel, the scroll wheel button and any other buttons on your mouse. Let’s say you want to modify the scroll wheel button, for example. Click on the picture of that button on the screen and you’ll see a list of assignable commands. You can also click on the View all commands link to see the full gamut.

You can assign an existing command, such as double-click, undo or page down. You can also assign a keyboard combination, such as Ctrl+V to paste content from the clipboard, Alt+F4 to close your current window or Ctrl+- to zoom out of your current screen (see Figure 3).

You can configure mouse buttons for keystroke combinations as well

Figure 3 You can configure mouse buttons for keystroke combinations as well.

Windows 8 relies heavily on the Windows key for many commands. To assign an action that uses the Windows key, you’ll need to create a macro. Under the Special Commands section, click on the Macro option and then click the button to create a new macro. Name your macro and then click on the Insert Special Keys link. Scroll to the right to find the icon for the Windows key. Click on that icon to assign the key. Then click the Basic Settings link at the top to return to the main screen for your current mouse button. Now, clicking the scroll wheel button will activate the Windows key.

Creating a macro that uses a key combination with the Windows key such as Win+C is a bit trickier, but it’s doable. Click on the name of your existing macro for the scroll wheel button to open it and click on the trashcan icon to delete. Click on the button to create Create a New Macro. Name the macro Charms Bar. Click on the link to Insert Special Keys and then click on the icon for the Windows key. Then type the letter C.

You’ll now see three icons in the editor, each one set to last 10 milliseconds. Right-click the Windows key icon in the Editor and select the Split command from the menu. Right-click on each of the three icons between the Windows key and the letter C. Then select Cut from the menu. You’ll now see two icons. The Windows key displays the word Pressed as the action, while the C key shows 10 ms as the duration (see Figure 4). Click on the basic settings link at the top to return to the main screen.

Deeper into the utility, you can configure more detailed functions

Figure 4 Deeper into the utility, you can configure more detailed functions.

Now click on the scroll wheel, and the Charms bar will appear. You can create similar macros for any keystroke combination in Windows 8, including all the ones that use the Windows key.

If your Microsoft mouse is capable of recording macros, you can create a macro for a specific series of actions, such as opening the Devices charm and printing to your default printer. To do this, simply press the Record Macro button on your mouse, perform the series of actions and then press the Macro button to stop the recording. That process will record your mouse actions and keystrokes and store them in a new macro you can run or edit to tweak further.

Finally, you can assign keystrokes for specific applications, such as Internet Explorer, File Explorer or any third-party software. To do this, click on the link for app-specific settings at the top of the Mouse and Keyboard Center. Click the Add New button. You can choose the application from the list or click on the Manually Add a Program link to pick an application’s executable file from its folder.

Choose the mouse button you wish to use—even if it’s the scroll wheel button—to see the available commands. Click on the View all commands link to see the entire list. You can now assign an existing command, create a key combination or design a macro.

For example, you could set the scroll wheel to create a new folder in File Explorer. Click on the option for Key Combination within the Key commands section. Press the keystrokes to create a new folder—Ctrl+Shift+N (see Figure 5). Click on the link for app-specific settings. You’ll see that key combination now assigned to the scroll wheel button. Open File Explorer and move to an existing folder. Then click on the scroll wheel button to create a new folder.

You can configure the scroll wheel to perform certain functions

Figure 5 You can configure the scroll wheel to perform certain functions.

The process for customizing your keyboard works much the same way. You select the key or keystroke combination you want to modify and assign it to a specific command.

The Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard Center is a handy tool for getting the most out of your mouse and keyboard in Windows 8. If you aren’t planning on testing the new OS, the utility also works in Windows 7.

Lance Whitney

Lance Whitney is a writer, IT consultant and software trainer. He’s spent countless hours tweaking Windows workstations and servers. Originally a journalist, he took a blind leap into the IT world in the early ’90s.

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