Windows PC Keyboard Beeps Instead of Types? Turn Off “Filter Keys”

A common side effect of technical aptitude is the inevitable request “Can you help me with my computer?” Whether this side effect is an upside or downside depends on the people involved. Recently I was asked to help resurrect a computer that had been shelved due to “the keyboard stopped working.”

Before I received the hardware, I was told the computer was an Asus T300L allowing me to do a bit of research beforehand. This is a Windows 8 era touchscreen tablet/laptop convertible along the lines of a Microsoft Surface Pro or the HP Split X2. This added a twist: the T300L keyboard base not only worked while docked, but it could also continue working as a wireless keyboard + touchpad when separated from the screen. This could add a few hardware-related variables for me to investigate.

When I was finally presented with the machine, I watched the owner type their Windows login password using the keyboard. “Wait, I thought you said the keyboard didn’t work?” “Oh, it works fine for the password. It stops working after I log in.”

Ah, the hazard of imprecision of the English language. When I was first told “keyboard doesn’t work” my mind went to loose electrical connections. And when I learned of the wireless keyboard + touchpad base, I added the possibility of wireless settings (device pairing, etc.) I had a hardware-oriented checklist ready and now I can throw it all away. If the keyboard worked for typing in Windows password, the problem is not hardware.

Once the Windows 8 desktop was presented, I could see what “keyboard stopped working” meant: every keypress resulted in an audible beep but no character typed on screen. A web search with these symptoms found this Microsoft forum thread titled “Keyboard Beeps and won’t type” with the (apparently common) answer to check Windows’ Ease of Access center. I made my way to that menu (as the touchscreen worked fine) and found that Filter Keys were turned on.

Filter Keys is a feature that helps users living with motor control challenges that result in shaky hands. This could result in pressing a key multiple times when they only meant to press a key once or jostling adjacent keys during that keypress. Filter Keys slow the computer’s keyboard response, so they only register long and deliberate presses as a single action. Rapid tap and release of a key — which is what usually happens in mainstream typing action — are ignored and only a beep is played. Which is great, if the user knew how to use Filter Keys and intentionally turned it on.

In this case, nobody knows how this feature got turned on for this computer, but apparently it was not intentional. They didn’t recognize the symptoms of Filter Keys being active. Lacking that knowledge, they could only communicate their observation as “the keyboard stopped working.” I guess that description isn’t completely wrong, even if it led me down the wrong path in my initial research. Ah well. Once Filter Keys were turned off, everything is fine again.

Acer Aspire Switch Runs Windows 10 (Fall Creator’s Update)

After Secure Boot discouraged me from putting a Linux variant on the recently revived Acer SW5-012 (Aspire Switch 10) convertible laptop, I tried to replace the existing Windows 8 installation (locked with passwords I don’t have) with the latest Windows 10.

The first thing to check is to look in the BIOS and verify the CPU is not a member of the ill-fated Intel Clover Trail series, whose support was dropped. Fortunately, the machine uses a newer CPU so I can try installing Windows 10 Fall Creator’s Update. I had an installation USB flash drive built with Microsoft’s Media Creation Tool.

I needed an USB OTG cable to start the installation. Once in progress, I deleted the existing Windows 8 system partition (~20 GB) and the recovery image partition (~7 GB), leaving the remaining two system partitions intact before proceeding.

When Windows 10 initially came up, there were significant problems with hardware support. The touchscreen didn’t work, there was no sound, and the machine was ignorant of its own battery charge level. Fortunately all of these hardware issues were resolved by downloading and running the “Platform Drivers Installer” from Acer’s support site.

After the driver situation was sorted out I started poking around elsewhere on the system and found a happy surprise on Windows licensing. Since I couldn’t get into the Windows 8 installation, I couldn’t perform a Windows upgrade. Because I performed a system wipe, I thought I lost the Windows license on this machine. But I was wrong! I don’t know exactly what happened, but when I went to look at the computer’s information, it claims “Windows is Activated.”

The sticker on the bottom of the machine says it came with Windows 8 Pro. The new Windows 10 installation activated itself as Windows 10 Home. It is technically a step down from Pro to Home but I am not going to complain at the unexpectedly functional Windows license.

The machine outperformed my expectations. It handily outperformed my other computers with Intel Atom processors. I think the key part is its 2GB of RAM, double the 1GB RAM of the other Atom machines. The machine is surprisingly usable relative to its Atom peers.

Some credit is due to Acer for building a low-end computer in 2014 that is still capable on the software of 2017 (almost 2018.)

[UPDATE: I figured out Windows 10 activates itself on Windows 8 machines.]

Windows Subsystem Returns for Linux

One of the newest features in Windows 10 is the “Windows Subsystem for Linux” (WSL) allowing a limited set of Linux binaries to run on the latest 64-bit edition of Windows 10. It may be a sign of open-source friendliness by the new Microsoft CEO but for trivia’s sake: it is not a new concept.

The lineage for Windows 10 traces all the way back to Windows NT, built-in the early 1990s as a heavier-duty operating system (or according to some, “a real operating system”) to move upscale relative to the existing DOS-based Windows (“not a real operating system”). As consumer-level hardware grew more capable, the old DOS core was phased out and the NT kernel took over. Windows 2000 was the modest start, followed by the successful Windows XP.

But back when Windows NT launched, it was intended to capture the business, enterprise, and government markets with higher margins than the consumer market. At the time, one requirement to compete for government contracts was support for POSIX, a IEEE-defined subset of Unix. The software architects for Windows NT built a modular design that supported multiple subsystems. In addition to the home-grown Microsoft Win32 and the POSIX subsystem to meet government requirement, there is also a subsystem for IBM OS/2 to compete in enterprises that had invested in OS/2.

History showed those subsystem were barely, if anything, more than lip service. They were not used much and gradually faded away in later evolution of the NT lineage.

But now, the concept returns.

Microsoft has a healthy and profitable market in desktop software development with Windows, but is only a marginal player in the web + cloud world. The people writing code there are more likely to be using a Linux workstation or a Macintosh with its FreeBSD-based MacOS. In an attempt to make Windows more relevant to this world, they need to provide access to the already entrenched tools.

So just like before, Microsoft is building a Linux subsystem for business competitive reasons. But unlike the POSIX subsystem, they couldn’t get away with just lip service to satisfy a checklist. It will actually need to be useful to gain meaningful traction.

The method of installation is a little odd – the supported Linux distributions are listed on the Microsoft Windows app store. But once we get past this square peg jammed in a round hole, it works well enough.

WSL is not a virtual machine or even a container. The Linux executables were not recompiled for Windows, they’re the exact same binaries. And they’re not isolated – they run side by side with the rest of Windows and has access to the same file system.

Personally, I’m using WSL so I can use the same git source control commands that I’ve learned while working in Ubuntu. I know Github has a Windows GUI and associated command-line toolkit, but I expect running the Ubuntu git via WSL would work better with git outside of Github. (Bitbucket, Heroku, etc.)

This is a good start. I hope WSL has a real life ahead to help Windows play well with others, and not fade away like its predecessors.