The joy of apple keyboards

Recently, I’ve been using a Linux desktop for the first time in ages. It’s Ubuntu (Hardy Heron), and it looks nice. But after using a mac for three years, I’m really missing quite a few little things.

  1. The ability to drag and drop anything anywhere.
  2. Being able to type a wide range of Unicode characters easily.

On a mac, it’s really, really easy to type in a wide variety of useful characters. All you need is alt (⌥), sometimes known as “option”.

Keys Character Name
⌥ ; HORIZONTAL ELLIPSIS
⌥ - EN DASH
⌥ ⇧ - EM DASH
⌥ [ LEFT DOUBLE QUOTATION MARK
⌥ ⇧ [ RIGHT DOUBLE QUOTATION MARK
⌥ 2 TRADE MARK SIGN
⌥ 8 BULLET
⌥ e   e é LATIN SMALL LETTER E WITH ACUTE

How did I find all this out? The lovely keyboard viewer that comes with OS X. You can get the flag in your menu bar by going to International in system preferences and checking “Show input menu in menu bar.”

Selecting the keyboard viewer in the input menu
OS X Keyboard Viewer (normal state)

Now, hold down alt and see what you can get (try alt and shift too).

OS X Keyboard Viewer (alt)

But not everything is attached to a key. In case you need more characters, there’s always the character palette. Usually on the ⌥ ⌘ T key as well as in the Edit menu. Here, you can get access to the vast repertoire of characters in Unicode. Need an arrow?

Arrows in the Character Palette

There’s a lot you can do with the character palette, but the search box is probably the best way in. Just tap in a bit of the name of the character you’re looking for and see what turns up.

This easy access to a wide array of characters is something I’ve rather come to take for granted in OS X. So coming back to the Linux desktop, it was odd to find that I couldn’t as readily type them in. Of course, I haven’t invested the time in figuring out how to set up XKB correctly. Doubtless I could achieve many of the same things. But my past experiences of XKB and it’s documentation have shown me how complicated it can be, so I don’t rate my ability to pull it off.

The end result is that I’m spending most of my time on the (mac) laptop and ignoring the desktop. I do like my characters. 🙂

One Comment to The joy of apple keyboards

  1. Josh M says:

    Not to flog a long-dead horse, but: did you find the compose key? Ironically enough, I miss this functionality on OS X (which is how I found this blog post). http://blogs.gnome.org/simos/2008/02/03/typing-squiggles-and-dots-in-gnome-and-gtk-applications/ has details.