Input Disasters

What to do when your keybaord or mouse stops working

First Published: Smart Computing
Date Published: January 2004
By Kevin Savetz

Emergency: Unresponsive Mouse Pointer

Nothing can stop your work in its tracks quite like an unresponsive mouse. When you roll your mouse or trackball and the on-screen pointer doesn't move with it, using the PC suddenly becomes surprisingly difficult. The problem could be with the computer hardware, the OS (operating system), or the mouse itself.

As you work through the steps of diagnosing and solving the problem, remember that you can do just about everything in Windows using the keyboard instead of the mouse. You can launch programs and shut down the PC using the keyboard's Windows and arrow keys. The ENTER key generally selects a highlighted option, and the TAB key moves the cursor between buttons or fields. Use the ESC key to back out of a menu. In most programs, certain letters in the menu bar are underlined (or become underlined when you hold down the ALT key). Press ALT plus the letter to show that menu. For example, in WordPad, ALT-F reveals the File menu, from which you can use the arrow and ENTER keys to save your work and quit the application. Find a complete list of Windows keyboard shortcuts at Microsoft Accessibility ( It may take some trial and error, but you can use the keyboard to control the computer, at least until you get the mouse working again.

Save first. If the mouse pointer stopped responding in the middle of your computing session, your first priority is to save your work. Use the ALT key to access the file menu of each application and save the documents. Use ALT-TAB to switch between running applications. Then, press the Windows key and use arrow keys to navigate to Turn Off Computer or Shut Down and press ENTER.

While the PC is off, make sure the mouse is properly connected. If you use a PS/2 mouse, make sure it is firmly connected to the PS/2 mouse port, which is color-coded green on many PCs. If you are using a USB (Universal Serial Bus) mouse, make sure that it's connected to a USB port. (If it's connected via a USB hub, verify that the hub is connected and has A/C power if necessary. The hub could be the problem: You can also try connecting the mouse directly to the computer's USB port, without the hub.) Some mice must be connected to both the USB and PS/2 ports; if this is the case, check both connections. Turn the computer back on and test the mouse pointer.

Make the connection. If you're using a wireless mouse, make sure its batteries are fresh and that the mouse and base station are communicating on the same channel. Each brand of wireless mouse has a procedure for re-establishing the connection, usually by pressing a channel button on the base station and then the channel button on the underside of the mouse. If the base station needs A/C power, make sure it is plugged in to the wall socket.

Still no joy? Perhaps the mouse is bad or the cable is flaky: Try using a different mouse. Reboot again to test it. Often, once Windows decides there isn't a mouse plugged in, it won't respond to one during that session even after you attach a working mouse.

A computer virus could cause the mouse pointer to misbehave. If you have antivirus software, use it to search for problems. If you don't have antivirus software yet, download and run AntiVir Personal Edition ( or AVG Anti-Virus ( Both programs are free and can detect and remove viruses.

Next, check for trouble in the OS. A corrupt driver could cause the mouse to behave badly. Open System in the Control Panel (Start, Settings, and Control Panel and System; in Windows XP, navigate to Start, Control Panel, Performance And Maintenance, and then System) and select the Device Manager tab. Use the Down arrow key to navigate to Mouse (Mouse And Other Pointing Devices in WinXP) and press the Right arrow key to expand it. You should see your mouse listed there. For instance, you may see PS/2 Compatible Mouse. Highlight that entry and press ENTER. Windows checks to see if the mouse driver is installed properly. If you see a yellow icon, there's a problem with the driver or a hardware conflict. In this case, highlight the entry for the mouse and press the DELETE key to uninstall the mouse from Windows. Confirm by selecting OK and reboot the PC. After rebooting, Windows will rediscover the mouse and walk you through the steps of reinstalling the driver, creating a new entry in the Device Manager.

Some mice, particularly those that connect via a USB or serial port, require special software in addition to the driver. The next step is to uninstall the mouse software, download a new version, if available, from the manufacturer's Web site, and reinstall the software. Uninstall the software by navigating to Start, Control Panel, and Add/Remove Programs (in WinXP, Add Or Remove Programs). Use the arrow keys to highlight the mouse software (the exact name depends on your mouse) and the TAB key to highlight the Remove button and then press ENTER to select it. Visit the support section of the manufacturer's Web site to download and install a new version of the software. If one isn't available, you can reinstall from the floppy diskette or CD that came with the mouse. Reboot the computer and then test the mouse again.

Device conflicts. If the mouse's misbehavior began soon after you installed another piece of hardware or software, you may have a conflict with the new addition. If you installed hardware, unplug it and uninstall its driver. If you installed software, use Add/Remove Programs to uninstall the software. Restart Windows and test the mouse again.

Problems in the Registry can also cause mouse control problems. If you are running WinXP/Me, use the System Restore utility to set your computer back to a time before the mouse dilemma began. (The System Restore function is not available in other the versions of Windows.) In WinXP, navigate to Control Panel, Performance And Maintenance, and select System Restore. Select Restore My Computer To An Earlier Time and choose Next. From the WinMe Start menu, choose Programs, Accessories, System Tools, and then System Restore. Either way, you'll see a calendar; use the arrow keys to choose a restore point prior to when you installed the conflicting hardware or software and press TAB to get to the Next button to select it. Follow the prompts to restore the Registry to its previous state.

If all else fails, try using another PC to do some testing. Hook your mouse to the other computer to see if it works there. Try another mouse--one that you know works on another computer. With these tests, you should be able to isolate the culprit. You'll be mousing around again in no time.

Emergency: Keyboard Is Jammed Or Otherwise Inoperable

QWERTY . . . oops. Your keyboard has stopped working. When you press keys, no characters appear on-screen or perhaps only certain keys seem to be working. Word processing, email, instant messaging, and other necessary tasks are suddenly impossible.

Unless you spilled your favorite beverage on the keyboard (in which case, it's time to buy a new one), the problem probably isn't with the keyboard itself. More likely, it's with the OS or the computer hardware.

A continuous beep. If a constant beeping noise accompanies the problem, it's likely that one of the keys is stuck. The beeping is the computer's warning that the keyboard buffer is full. Find the wedged key and use a paper clip to gently lift it up.

Not that simple? Shut down the PC and make sure the keyboard is properly plugged in to the computer. If it has a PS/2 connector (a small, round connector that may be color-coded purple), it should be plugged in to the PC's keyboard port. If it has a USB connector, it can be plugged in to any USB port. If the keyboard is plugged in to a USB hub, make sure the hub is connected and has A/C power if necessary. Try leaving the hub out of the equation, connecting the keyboard directly to the computer's USB port. Restart the computer and test the keyboard again. Each time you test it, try typing in two applications. For instance, pop open WordPad and then your email client.

See clearly now. If you have a wireless keyboard, make sure its batteries are fresh and that the keyboard can communicate with its base station. Infrared wireless keyboards need a direct line of sight to the base station. Like a TV remote control that doesn't work when someone is standing between you and the television, the infrared keyboard can't talk to the base station if desk clutter is blocking it. If the base station needs A/C power, make sure it's plugged in to the wall socket.

A Windows problem. You can use the PC's BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) configuration utility, which runs without Microsoft Windows, to determine the source of the problem. (This trick works with PS/2 keyboards but may not work on all PCs with USB keyboards; some older BIOS utilities do not support USB.) Access the BIOS setup utility by pressing a key--often DELETE, ESC, or F2--when the computer begins booting. (The information screen that appears when you first turn on the PC will tell what the key is on your system.) In a moment, you'll see the main menu of the setup utility. Don't change any settings. Instead, press the arrow keys to move the cursor around the menu. If it doesn't move, the problem is with the keyboard or its connection to the PC. Try a different keyboard. If the cursor moves, the keyboard and connection are fine, and the problem is with Windows. Select Quit With Saving Changes or just turn off your PC to exit the utility.

A viral threat. Next, reboot to Windows and run an antivirus program to check your PC for malicious code, which may be the root of the problem. If you don't have antivirus software, download and run AntiVir Personal Edition or AVG Anti-Virus. As mentioned, both programs are free.

Problem drivers. A driver conflict or corrupted keyboard driver can put the kibosh on your keyboard. Open the System applet in the Control Panel. Click the Hardware tab and the Device Manager button. Click the plus sign (+) next to the Keyboards entry. You should see a listing for the keyboard, such as Standard 101/102-key Keyboard. If there's a yellow icon, Windows has detected a problem with the driver. Right-click the keyboard entry and choose Uninstall to remove the keyboard's driver. Check the manufacturer's Web site for an updated driver. If there is one, download and install it and reboot the computer. After Windows reboots, it will automatically reinstall the keyboard driver.

Some keyboards, especially USB keyboards, require special software in addition to the driver. If that software has become corrupted, the keyboard could have problems. (Most of the time, the keyboard's basic functions will work without this software, but special function keys won't.) Check the keyboard manufacturer's Web site for an updated version of the software and download it. Uninstall the current version of the keyboard software. From the Control Panel, click Add/Remove Programs (Add Or Remove Programs in WinXP). Click the keyboard software (the name depends on the keyboard brand and model) and click Remove. Reinstall the version that you downloaded or install the software from the floppy or CD that came with the keyboard.

Newly installed hardware or software could be conflicting with your keyboard. Try unplugging any new hardware and uninstalling the drivers that go with it. Use Add/Remove Programs to uninstall new software. Reboot and test the keyboard again. A corrupted Windows Registry could also cause a keyboard quandary. If you're running WinXP/Me, use the System Restore tool to reset your computer to a time before the keyboard problem started. (System Restore isn't available in other versions of Windows.) To access System Restore in WinXP, go to the Control Panel, click Performance And Maintenance, and then System Restore. In WinMe, open the Start menu, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, and then System Restore. Select Restore My Computer To An Earlier Time and click Next. Use the calendar to revert to a day before the problem arose and click Next. Follow the prompts to restore the Registry to its previous state.

If you haven't been able to diagnose the problem, use another computer for troubleshooting. Try the other computer's keyboard on your PC--if it works, the problem is probably with the keyboard you regularly use. If it doesn't, the problem is with your PC or Windows. Test your PC's keyboard on another computer. If it doesn't work there, you know that the keyboard has given up the ghost.

As much as your fingers appreciated the break, follow these steps and they'll be back, tapping at that keyboard, soon.

Reprinted with permission from Smart Computing magazine.

Articles by Kevin Savetz