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layout computer keyboardAs some of you guys may know, I have been using an alternative keyboard layout for years. It is called Colemak, and it is brilliant. But using such a layout puts me in an awkward position when I need to work on someone else’s computer. I can type on a conventional QWERTY keyboard, but not nearly as fast. Also, if you are just learning an alternative layout, having to constantly switch back and forth between your layout and QWERTY could really slow you down.

The solution? Portable Keyboard Layout. This elegant and free utility isn’t new, but I was surprised to discover we’ve never written about it on MakeUseOf – and now that it’s a part of our Best Portable Apps list, I decided it really is time we took it for a spin.

Getting Portable Keyboard Layout

To download Portable Keyboard Layout, go to the project homepage. There is no large download link – the link is hidden inside the description text, but this is where you need to click:

layout computer keyboard

The ZIP archive containing Portable Keyboard Layout is tiny: Just under 800KB. Unzip it to any folder, and click pkl.exe. You should see a helper image pop up with the default layout, Colemak.

keyboard layout


As you hit the Shift key, the image will change to show capital letters. That’s basically it. You’re ready to start typing with Colemak!

Configuring & Suspending Portable Keyboard Layout

What if you don’t want to use Colemak, or if someone wants to use the computer who doesn’t know Colemak? Easy – just right-click the Portable Keyboard Layout icon and pick Suspend.

keyboard layout

You can also hit both Alt keys at the same time. As soon as you suspend Portable Keyboard Layout, the keyboard will be back to its old self (QWERTY, most probably), and anyone else would be able to use the computer normally.

Configuring Portable Keyboard Layout is trickier, but not by much. Configuration is done using the pkl.ini file, found in the same folder as pkl.exe:

keyboard layout

Apart from actually changing the keyboard layout, the most useful options in the INI file are the last two – suspendTimeOut and exitTimeOut. These let you use Portable Keyboard Layout on a shared computer without having to remember to disable it when you go away. Once the computer is inactive for a few minutes, Portable Keyboard Layout would automatically be suspended, and then exited.

Additional Layouts Supported

Apart from Colemak, Portable Keyboard Layout supports several other layouts. On the SourceForge download page you can get several ZIPs containing different layouts:

layout computer keyboard

Specifically, the “other layouts” file contains Asset, Graece, ENTI-Key++, and a number of other interesting layouts. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Portable Keyboard Layout is worth the download just for this file: It’s a great way to tour through a number of crazy, exotic and creative keyboard layouts. Many people agree that QWERTY is a bad layout, but few seem to agree on what would be the ideal layout to replace it with. With Portable Keyboard Layout, you can judge for yourself.

Do You Use an Alternative Layout?

If there are any other Colemak users in the audience, now is your chance to speak up and be heard! Or maybe you use Dvorak, or another interesting layout? Do share in the comments.

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