How to completely customize the way you control Windows

You’ve got the power.
Black mouse and keyboard sitting side by side on a wooden desk.
You thought these guys were your only options to control Windows? Think again. Guillaume Issaly/Unsplash

Just because you’ve always used your keyboard and your mouse to interact with your Windows computer, it doesn’t mean this is necessarily the best way to get stuff done.

Microsoft’s OS provides a host of options when it comes to customizing your experience, whether it’s tweaking the devices and software you already have, or adding new ones to the mix. Maybe they’ll unlock a whole new way of using your computer.

Windows settings

Clicking on Settings from the Start menu will get you to all the key options for your operating system, but opening up the Devices section will give you control over your hardware. Choose Mouse to adjust the cursor and scrolling speed of your primary pointing device. You can even swap the left and right mouse buttons if you want to, so the left button acts as the right and vice versa.

You get similar choices on the Touchpad dialog—you can change the cursor speed, adjust sensitivity, customize how single clicks and double-clicks affect actions on screen, and switch between scrolling modes, so a downward scrolling motion on the touchpad drives the screen up or down as you wish.

Keyboard controls are under Typing, and here you can enable options such Show text suggestions as I type and Autocorrect misspelled words as I type, as well as tell Windows to add a period after you double-tap the spacebar. If you’ve never familiarized yourself with Windows shortcuts, now might be the time to try—once you’ve committed our list to muscle memory, you’ll be opening up programs and switching between apps faster than ever before. Meanwhile, bring up the on-screen keyboard, by tapping Win+Ctrl+O.

Windows also gives you plenty of customization options when it comes to the cursor on screen, whether you use a mouse, a touchpad or even a pen-enabled tablet. From Settings, choose Ease of Access then Cursor & pointer. Here, you’ll be able to change the cursor size, color, and thickness as required. If your device has a touchscreen, here you can also adjust the visual feedback shown on the display when you tap it.

You might not have thought about it, but you can also control your computer with your voice. Set this up by going to Windows Settings and clicking on Time & Language, then Speech. There, click on Get started under Microphone, and follow the instructions on screen to get Windows to recognize your voice. The operating system supports a wide variety of voice commands—from “scroll up” to “double-click”. Check out Microsoft’s full list here.

Third-party software

If Windows doesn’t give you the options you’re looking for, it’s definitely worth taking a look at the software that came bundled with your mouse or keyboard, as it might have more customization possibilities for you. This will enable you to do everything from mapping out the functions of extra mouse buttons, to control the backlighting on your keyboard.

As we’ve mentioned, Windows’ preloaded keyboard shortcuts are a great way to take control of your computer, but if there’s a program or a function you use all the time, you can create your own. For that, third-party utilities such as WinHotKey are a great help.

As a step up from keyboard shortcuts you can also create macros—combinations of mouse gestures and keystrokes that are launched in sequence whenever you hit a preset keyboard shortcut or mouse button combination. If you’re constantly resizing images to post online, you could create a macro to open and save a photo on the desired size using your favorite image editor, for example.

A couple of third-party tools can help here, as well. TinyTask is a simple and free program that helps you create macros to cover just about any task you want on Windows. Then there’s StrokeIt, which is free for personal use and lets you associate certain actions with certain mouse gestures, so you’ll be able to close a browser tab with a sweep of the mouse, for example.

There are even options for stylus users, if you’re taking advantage of the touchscreen capabilities of Windows. Pen Tool lets you remap the functions of the buttons on your stylus, and access extra features like undo and a color picker. It’ll set you back $26, but you can try the software for free first to decide if it’s going to be useful for you.

Hardware extras

Microsoft's Surface Dial for Windows.
The Surface Dial can give you a whole new way of interacting with Windows. Microsoft

Besides the standard mouse, touchpad, keyboard and touchscreen options, you might be surprised at just how many additional input devices are available for Windows. A lot of these gadgets are built for specific tasks, like gaming or digital artwork, but they can often prove useful in a variety of ways that go beyond their original remit, too.

Take the Microsoft Surface Dial ($85), for example. You might not think that a simple dial could add all that much to Windows, but some of its uses include navigating menus, adjusting tool settings (such as pen thickness), zooming in and out of images, and turning the system volume up and down. You might not realize just how much you need it until you try it.

Digital artists and sketchers of any description should consider a graphics tablet like the Wacom One ($400). It enables you to draw and doodle away in pretty much any program without having to work directly on the touchscreen of your Windows device. This particular tablet can also do double duty as a second display for your laptop or desktop computer, if needed.

Meanwhile, gamers and video editors alike might want to take a look at the Elgato Stream Deck ($150). It essentially gives you a dashboard of buttons you can use to conveniently control functions on Windows, like muting the volume, grabbing a screenshot, launching an application, switching between video inputs, and pausing media playback. It’s a very powerful bit of kit, and very customizable too.

Finally, there’s also the trackball option. A device like the Kensington Expert Mouse Wireless Trackball ($100) can not only reduce the strain on your wrist from moving a mouse around, it also gives you more buttons to configure and play around with. Making use of a trackball can often give you greater precision in terms of scrolling and selecting compared with a standard mouse as well.