Sharp Blue: Legacy hardware


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My Amiga is so full of hardware kludges that I sometimes wonder how it manages to boot at all (sometimes it doesn’t boot at all…). It’s getting harder each year to update its hardware but I love using it so much that I still haven’t found an alternative platform that I think comes even close to measuring up. At times, though, having such an outdated machine as one’s primary computer can make life difficult. Today was one of those days.

Regular readers will know that I recently trashed my keyboard by spilling about half a cup of coffee into it, and not even herculean efforts were enough to make it work again. In the end, I decided to buy a new Microsoft Natural MultiMedia Keyboard as a replacement. This is pretty much the same as the old keyboard but with the additional of a host of multimedia keys for controlling media players and popping up IM clients and stuff like that. I knew the multimedia keys wouldn’t work with my machine without some new hardware, but what I didn’t know was that Microsoft had decided not just to add these keys but to remove the right Windows key. Windows users probably won’t miss this, but it maps to the right Amiga key, which is used by almost all keyboard shortcuts (the right one is used by applications and the left one by the system). It was only having to use the computer for a few hours with no keyboard shortcuts that made me realise how much I rely on them.

Being a bit of a geek, I decided to try to fix this by making myself a new keymap. Various graphical keymap editors proved not to be up to the task so I ended up trying to modify the keymap using a low-level keymap editor. This was a quite impressively powerful tool and one which I’ll have to play around with more in future, but it couldn’t do what I wanted, which was to make the Menu button act like a right Amiga key rather than the Help key to which the hardware maps it. In desperation, I mailed an expert on Amiga keyboards and was told that what I wanted to do wasn’t possible. Eventually, though, I found a partial solution: a Commodity that swaps the left and right Amiga keys. Encouraged by this, I went poking around in the source code and found that it could be modified to swap any two qualifier keys, but in the end I decided that I’m more attached to all of them that I am to the left Amiga key. So now here I am able to cut and paste and save documents and open new windows and lots of other things using my keyboard once again. I just have to get used to using the left rather than right qualifier key and then all will be well again. In a geeky way, it’s actually been quite a fun day of playing around with the keyboard submodules of AmigaOS. And at least this time round I didn’t blow up my ROMs…

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