9 March 2009

Apple Keyboards: curse of the paragraph key

Filed under: Commentary,Tips — András Salamon @ 20:53

I’ve been doing a fair bit of typing on a new Apple wired keyboard.  It’s fairly flat and manages to support quick typing. It reminds me a little of the keyboard that the ZX Spectrum sported (it’s not nearly as spongy, luckily).

However. Let’s rewind.

The UK version of Apple’s keyboard has a nifty pound symbol that I never use (three-letter currency abbreviations are much more useful). It also has to squeeze in a key for the crucially important paragraph/plus-minus key.  This key, possibly mandated by some European Union directive, means that there is a smaller left shift button.  Fine, one could live with all these idiosyncrasies.  But why, oh why, did the backquote/tilde key have to be moved from its top-left position?

Tilde is of course the symbol used to abbreviate $HOME in most shells.  Backquote denotes the position of a tag in vi.  Guess what — I use both the command line and vi all the time.

So I bought the International English keyboard instead.  Great, the dollar sign returns to Shift-4 (try writing some shell scripts or Perl 5 without easily accessible variable sigils sometime), hash is back to Shift-3, and the pound symbol is still available via Opt-3 (just in case).  But, but, BUT! The paragraph key is still there, usurping the backquote/tilde key’s position.  Aaargh!  What exactly is wrong with the usual North American Apple Keyboard layout for English?  Do Mac users outside the USA really require paragraph and plus-minus keys; is this an intimation (or even a slur) that International English is for those corporate minded and also equivocal?

Enough ranting: a reasonable workaround is to use a free utility called Ukelele to generate a custom keymap. I changed the paragraph key to a duplicate backquote/tilde key, solving this particular problem. Great for those whose fingers are hard-wired to use the top-left key for useful stuff, instead of peppering keyboard input with strange symbols. Thanks to the folks at SIL for making this tool available.


1 Comment »

  1. Down under in Oz, we get a keyboard that looks suspiciously like the US model. As I recall in South Africa, we used to get UK spec Apple stuff even though we ceased to be a colony quite a few decades back (and Australia’s head of state is still the UK monarch).

    Funny: if you go to Apple UK to check out the keyboard, it also looks like the US model: — you’d think they would get their own product info right, if resellers like Amazon can.

    Comment by Philip Machanick — 1 June 2009 @ 4:15 | Reply

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