Re: User interface for keyboard input

From: Doug Ewell (
Date: Fri Jul 19 2002 - 01:02:13 EDT

Martin Kochanski <unicode at cardbox dot net> wrote:

> One might phrase the question like this: "If I sat you down in front
> of a program on a Windows machine, and asked you to type an alpha,
> what would you try first?".

That's easy. I'd hold down Alt and type 2 2 4 on the keypad. (hee hee

What's that? You want a solution that doesn't assume command-prompt
code page 437, and works with other Greek letters besides alpha? Oh.

> The obvious thing to try is Alt+945: indeed, we have already
> implemented this; but it has the disadvantage that all available
> Unicode documentation uses hexadecimal character codes, not decimal
> ones.

I've been hoping that the hex-input method specified in ISO 14755
(section 5.2) would catch on. It seems to solve this problem nicely,
using the more readily available hex instead of decimal. You certainly
wouldn't want to use it for an extended amount of text; at some point it
would make more sense to install a keyboard. But this solution works
very nicely for the occasional Greek or Bopomofo character.

One potential ambiguity of ISO 14755 is that hex digits above 9 are to
be entered using, quote, "the first 6 letters of the Latin alphabet (or
of any alphabet if the Latin script is not used)." This isn't quite as
straightforward as it might seem for non-Latin scripts. Are the first 6
letters of the Russian, Ukrainian, Macedonian, Serbian, Bulgarian, and
Cyrillic Mongolian alphabets the same? What about the various
"alphabets" that are subsets of the Arabic script?

> Various Windows programs offer ways of entering Unicode characters
> using hexadecimal codes, but they all seem to differ. Many of them use
> Alt+X, but there are at least three different and incompatible ways in
> which they do this (eg: is Alt+X a toggle or a command? In the latter
> case, does Alt+Shift+X invert it? Does it affect characters before the
> cursor or characters that you have just typed?).

I don't have much experience with Alt+X, but a quick test confirms the t
ricky case I expected. Suppose you want to type CAFÉ using the Alt+X
method. You type CAF and then C9 followed by Alt+X. How is the
subsystem supposed to know which of the preceding "hex digits" should be
converted and which should not, if they appear without an intervening
"break" character as in this example?

This all sounds very negative, and I didn't mean for it to come off that
way. I really hope, as Martin does, that a single widespread solution
emerges. I suspect it will be a much greater benefit to the widespread,
intentional use of Unicode by ordinary users (e.g. to enter the
occasional em-dash or Greek alpha) than many people imagine.

-Doug Ewell
 Fullerton, California

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.2 : Thu Jul 18 2002 - 23:38:34 EDT