Make those function keys work for you

KeyboardLink is a great little open source tool for turning your standard Windows keyboard into not just a program launcher, but a program controller as well.

While few keyboards have reached the high level of customization or the exorbitant price of the Optimus Maximus, not to be confused with Optimus Prime or Fortress Maximus, KeyboardLink is a great little open-source tool for turning your standard Windows keyboard into not just a program launcher, but also a program controller.

KeyboardLink creates fast and easy to use hot keys for most major Windows functions and programs. (Credit: CNET Networks)

Compatible with Windows 2000, XP, 2003 Server, and Vista, and using a scant 3MB when in use, KeyboardLink gives you the power to set nearly any hot key combination for launching programs and controlling your media player.

To get started, once you've installed it, you need to configure the activation keys--called the Master Keys in the program's General features tab. This will be the key or keys that you'll need to use whenever you want KeyboardLink to do your bidding. It's an extremely important feature, too, that prevents you from hitting, say, F5 in Windows Explorer to refresh the page only to have Notepad launch every time. Users can set one key or a two-key combination made from the Windows key, the Alt key, the Shift key, or the Control key.

Also in the General tab, you can set the program window transparency, determine whether the program starts with Windows, turn off QuickTray tips, and set the program language.

The second tab controls your media player. Here you can set commands for Play, Pause, Stop, Next Track, Previous Track, and raising and lowering the volume. You can also check off a box that supersedes the default media player and controls whichever media player is currently running.

The Software tab is where most of the action is. Here you can set the hot keys for running Notepad, Calculator, Web browser, media player, MS Paint, and WordPad. For the Web browser and media player, users can specify which program they want the hot key to activate. If you have a program such as NoteTab Light configured to replace MS Notepad, the hot key will launch the replacement program.

The Office and System tabs give you control over more generic functions: global volume control, mute, emptying the recycle bin, launching the screen saver, and the Microsoft Office suite of programs. Unfortunately, there's no way to reconfigure the Office settings to work on or any other productivity suite replacements. There is, though, a command for disabling KeyboardLink.

My only real problem with the program is that it can't be configured to recognize other applications and launch them, too. It would be great to have hot key controls for utilities such as a disk defragmenter or process manager. Beyond that, KeyboardLink is a must-have for power users who hate repeatedly jumping over to the mouse.