Re: How to type sporadic Unicode (was: User interface for keyboard input)

From: Otto Stolz (
Date: Fri Jul 19 2002 - 11:19:03 EDT

Martin Kochanski wrote:

> I was starting to write a detailed reply to Otto Stolz but

> it was beginning to sound unnecessarily negative;

Sorry, if I have upset anybody. The original question was: "What would
you try first if I would ask you to enter an alfa on an arbitrary Windows
system", and indeed, the first thing I would try is to look for alternate
keyboard layouts possibly installed.

As the question has now been clarified to read "How to type sporadic
Unicode", I'd like to remind you of the second part of my original con-
tribution: The second thing I would try is to use some sort of picking
device. As the Windows Charmap does not support Unicode in all Windows
versions, I have mentioned Word's Insert/Symbol menu item.

I think, an application should provide these ways to enter arbitrary
Unicode characters:
- Tell your users about alternate keyboard layouts, in your manuals
   and in your help files, giving examples; and be sure to accept any
   Unicode character from those keyboards.
- In every field of every window/box in your application, be sure to
   provide Clipboard functionality via Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V, and Ctrl-X, for
   Unicode strings; and again, let your users know about it.
- Provide a menu item to pick any Unicode character from a clearly
   arranged list akin to Word's Insert/Symbol. In that menu
    allow location of a character either by Unicode Range, or by
     Unicode number (in hex),
    allow the user to define their own shortcuts for particular characters.
- As an additional shortcut for power users, you may provide a way
   to enter Unicode code points, in hex, via the keyboard (ISO 14755).

This thread has focussed to the last item of the preceding list, but
I deem the other items superior, and more important. Indeed, I have arranged
these items according to their respective importance, as perceived by me.

Martin Kochanski wrote:
> If you have a need to type Greek and install a Greek keyboard layout,

> then I'm not going to give you any special support - because I don't have

> to: it all just works.

In his original poster, which I have not kept, Martin has made a remark that
let me to the assumption that these things will only work, if the
properly documents (even better: advocates) their use. Hence my insisting on
proper documentation, in my first answer, and in the list supra.

Martin's remark was something about the need to type arbitrary characters in
pop-up boxes, such as a search argument. The Windows clipboard functionality
covers a significant part of these needs, if thoroughly supported by the
application. When this is combined with a picking device akin to Word's
Insert/Symbol, most users would probably prefer this combo over typing
(and remembering!) hex values.

> Suppose, though, that you have been asked to enter some data into (say)

> a bibliographical database. Greek isn't too bad - all you have to do is

> recognise that it *is* Greek, ask your systems people for the Windows CDROM

> so that you can install a Greek keyboard, install it, switch to it,

> and hit every key on the keyboard until you find the one that generates

> the right symbol (alpha was too easy: try phi).

I deem this description somewhat exaggerated. As a home user, I have the
at hand; more recent versions of Windows come with pre-installed keyboards,
all you have to do is to activate them. (No CDROM needed.)

The Greek keyboard layout is particularly easy: though I use it rarely,
I never
have to try more than 2 keys (phi is, of course, on the F key; only psi,
theta, and omega do not have an obvious Latin counterpart). Other keyboards
are much more of a problem.

I agree that alternate keyboards are not a panacea. For this very reason,
I have introduced Word's Insert/Symbol as an example for a much better way
to enter the occasional Unicode character -- and I have done so in my
answer to Martin's question.

> we write software for people to run under Windows - that is, not for

> [particular flavours of Windows]. Consequently, CHARMAP isn't a solution,

I have seen this. Hence, I mentioned the example set by Word (which has been
available for years -- since Word 97, to be precise). I suggest, you design
and implement a similar device.

Best wishes,

   Otto Stolz

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