Vista Doesn’t Like My Keyboard

At work, we’re in the process of switching over to a computerized dispatch system. So I have to get used to MSWindows Vista. Mostly, it’s just an OS—it doesn’t work the way I’d expect, but mostly just in little ways. And Firefox doesn’t seem to know about the Flash plugin that IE8 is obviously using just fine, so i can’t watch Hulu with Firefox. If i want to watch some TV[1], I have to use IE8, which sometimes makes it through an entire episode of a TV show without locking up. But only sometimes. And, in fairness, I might have this problem on a Mac, too, if i didn’t have admin access. Though I know there’s an Internet Plug-Ins folder in my user folder, so i should be able to put something there, just fine, without admin access. Maybe there’s an equivalent in Vista that I just don’t know about?

But here’s what is driving me absolutely batty: MSWindows Vista apparently switches between available keyboard settings willy-nilly. Or, at least, I can’t quite find a pattern. First, the situation: I’m a Dvorak typer, have been for more than a decade, and have mostly lost my ability to type in Qwerty–it’s only a little better than hunt-n-peck speed, and I have to constantly look at the keys[2]. And i switched to save my hands/wrists, so I’m not inclined to go back, even just for work. My coworkers, however, are all using Qwerty, and we share the same computers. So, simply disabling Qwerty entirely isn’t an option. I went into the Control Panel and the Regional and Language Options, click on Change keyboards…, and Add…ed the United States-Dvorak keyboard. Later, i went into the Advanced Key Settings and disabled the key combination (originally Left Alt-Shift—btw, does that mean the left Alt and either Shift, or the left Alt and the left Shift?) that switches input languages, just in case I was accidentally hitting it, and that was the problem. I suspect the problem is related to Default input language, which is set to English (United States) – US—but my only other option is to set that to Dvorak, which would probably be even worse. If I have to, I can hunt-n-peck my way through Qwerty input, by looking at the keys; my coworkers would be hosed if trying to input a password into an obscured text field with the computer registering Dvorak input. There’s no option to turn off defaulting.

Now, the symptoms: First thing I do when I sit down at the computer is go to the little keyboard icon on the system tray and switch it to Dvorak. My next action is often then to go to the already-open web browser window’s address bar, and start to type. At which point it instantly switches to Qwerty. Only if I have already placed the cursor in the address bar before switching the keyboard to Dvorak does it “stick.” Now, at first I thought this was something like the option in OS X, where you can choose to have the input method selected system-wide, or per-application. It’s just that Vista doesn’t give you the choice, and always does it per-application. OK, annoying, but I can live with that.[3] However, further exploration demonstrates that it’s within an app, too. Every time I click in a new text field of any sort, the keyboard switches to Qwerty, and I have to switch it back. Except it’s not every time. At first, I thought it was just the first time, for any given text field. I.e., once I’ve selected Dvorak for the address bar in IE8, whenever I go to type something in the address bar in IE8, it’ll be Dvorak. But it seems to be less predictable than that. I’ve definitely had it switch to Qwerty multiple times for the same field (like the address bar) during one usage session. And I have, much more rarely, clicked in a text field that I didn’t think I’d typed in before, and reflexively gone to change the keyboard back, only to discover that it had remained set to Dvorak.

Even if I’m wrong about this last instance, and the behavior is at least consistent, it still seems like a very counter-intuitive choice of interface convention:

  1. So long as you’re not trying to do any typing, we’ll leave the keyboard set the way you selected.
  2. The instant you decide to do some typing, we’ll switch the keyboard to something else for you.

OK, that’s probably not how the UI designers would describe it. But I’m still having trouble seeing how this is a feature, rather than a bug. At the very least if I’m right that the problem is the Default input language setting, there needs to be an option for “the same as the one i’m currently using” or “don’t default” or something of the sort. Better yet, there’s simply no reason for it to switch input methods in the middle of using a single application, regardless of such an option. “Defaulting” each time you start up a new app? OK, I suppose that could make some sense. But, when I’m using IE8, and have selected Dvorak for the address bar, I think it’s a reasonable assumption that I want to use Dvorak for the search bar. And Dvorak for the search field on Hulu.com. And probably even Dvorak for writing a comment on someone’s blog. I’m just sayin’. Having to re-select Dvorak every single time I click on any kind of text-input field, or one is presented to me, is a royal pain, and just pretty much asinine.

Now, to be clear, I’m not at all familiar with Vista. I’m only barely familiar with MSWindows of previous iterations, and, other than a frustrating attempt to verify the functionality of a floor-model scanner by hooking it up to a Vista machine at a computer store a couple years ago, I’ve never before used Vista.[4] So, please, if there’s a setting to solve this that I just am not aware of, let me know. But i fear that this is working as intended, and somebody just didn’t think through the details well enough.

However, there’s another reason I suspect this is either a bug, or that this computer isn’t configured quite right: the login screen has, at least three times, not switched to Qwerty input. Now, if there’s any time when switching to the “default input language” would make sense, it would be the login screen, when you have no idea which user it would be, or what settings that user is expecting. Yet in each case, after multiple failed login attempts, I simply typed the password in Dvorak, and it worked perfectly. So it was clearly not a case of mistyping the password—the password field was set for Dvorak input. Which might well have been what it was last set to, but why, if you’re gonna switch to Qwerty when a dialogue box pops up needing my attention, would you not switch to Qwerty when the machine has locked the account and popped up a login dialogue box?

Edit: I forgot to say that I have done some research on this, looking to see if others have the same problem, or a solution. What I’ve found out is:

  1. I’m not the only one having this problem, so, while it might be a bug, it’s not unique to our setup.
  2. Turning off the Qwerty keyboard entirely solves it. But that’s not really an option on a shared computer.
  3. Several people reported that the unsolicited switching occurs more often in MS programs (MS Office, IE, etc.) than in other apps. That matches my limited experiences.
  4. Several people said that this was a problem in MSWindows XP which was fixed by MSWindows Vista, and that upgrading was the only solution. Well, these computers are brand new and have never had anything but Vista installed on them, so…
  5. Other than disabling all but one keyboard, or upgrading to Vista, I didn’t find any other solutions even proposed, for me to try. Most of the discussions of the topic concluded that it was something you’d have to live with, barring the aforementioned solutions.

[1] Yes, the nature of my job is such that I often have some downtime, especially in the middle of the night, to watch some TV while still accomplishing all my job duties, and then some.

[2] Which is one of the reasons I type super-slow on my iPod Touch. Why, Apple, have you enabled alternate keyboards for the iPhone OS, but not Dvorak?

[3] I never have figured out why one user, at one time, would want different apps using different languages. Why would you want to use, say, the Swedish keyboard for your email, and the English keyboard for your wordprocessor? Wouldn’t you prefer the Swedish keyboard for everything, if that’s what you’re used to? I suppose if you have to work in a foreign language for, say, your schoolwork, while using your native language for, say, an email to friends. But would you really be switching back and forth between those activities all the time? I’d think that would be more confusing than having to remember which keyboard is active with each task. And, in any case, that’s really not the same as 2 different keyboards for a single language—but maybe that’s why I don’t really grok it.

[4] I tried to at least check it out via the Mojave Experiment webpage, but it wouldn’t actually show me anything on a Mac. It probably relied on Silverlight, but it didn’t actually say any such thing.

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