From: Philippe Verdy (email@example.com)
Date: Fri May 25 2007 - 23:19:33 CDT
Hans Aberg wrote:
> Then the next problem is to enter these symbols efficiently.
> Developing ones own keyboard maps for the large numbers of math
> symbols takes a lot of time.
> So I think, best would be some set of Unicode keyboard maps, just
> designed to enter the characters as efficiently as possible. These
> might then move away from traditional QWERTY-like keyboard maps for
> ASCII: ABCDEF seems the right thing, here. :-)
Does reordering the keys on a keyboard allows entering text more
efficiently? Or even allows to enter new missing characters?
I don't think so. People are used to some general layout, and there are even
standard practives that apply to ALL keyboards for the position of keys
But then, why would you need a "Unicode" keyboard? I think that such thing
is just a dream, that can never occur because the first ficus of a keyboard
is not to allow input any character, but real texts in some language(s) the
most efficiently as possible for the target languages.
Keyboard designs need first to be efficient for the task we assign to them:
input text, rather then inputting characters.
But reordering the alphabetic groups on keyboards will not make things
simpler. You'll immediately notice that usability if the first thing
considered, and that different layouts are needed depending on both the
target languages and the user's limited capabilities (think about special
keyboards for single-handed persons, or about other layouts needed for
people that can type but must input text using a stick in their mouth): the
frequency of characters that need to be composed must be considered.
So I don't think that any unique "standard" layout will match all needs. And
a pure "alphabetic" layout is not the best in all situation. We need several
layouts according to usage.
In fact, even the so-called "alphabetic" keyboards are not purely following
the binary ordering of codepoints, which is unidimensional, when all
keyboards have several dimensions (at least 2, but supplementary dimensions
are created by assigning multiple characters on the same key and either:
* using multiple input modes controlled by other keys (modifiers, switchs,
* using various contextual input methods (including repeating the keystroke
to select the next character, on limited keyboards like mobile phones)
* using programmable keys (controlled by user preferences or by
There will never be any "Unicode" keyboard to input text by selecting
characters within a giant binary ordered matrix; even a Unicode character
map on display needs to allow selection of subsets to display only a part of
the matrix. This tool is only convenient for selecting characters
occasionally, but nobody wants to use it to enter text efficiently.
As soon as you have to make a choice of a subset of characters that can be
accessed with a single user action, you have made a design decision for
usability. Existing keyboards are not escaping this rule, even if they
generally lack something: customization for user's need (and too often, some
softwares are making assumptions about the user's keyboard layout and break
the limited customizations that users may have done on their layout).
Unicode will never adopt a so-called "Unicode keyboard" layout because it
will immediately defeat users expectations about their wanted customization.
The best thing to do is not to create a standard for keyboards, but making
keyboards more usable by allowing more simple customizations with little
training. And by making sure that no software will limit the users
customizations by forcing a particular layout.
For example, Windows itself still has such assumptions, and enforces
frequently its own default layouts, even if it allows selecting between a
limited set of "standard" keyboard layouts, by deselecting *automatically*
the user's custom layout and returning it to a "standard" layout without any
user action, only though the selection of a different language; this bug
that persists in XP and Vista is really irritating, when we see that the
selected layout is constantly deselected, even if the user's custom layout
is selected as part of his user profile and selected before entering the
session. I can see this happen when using a browser, just because some new
content in a distinct primary language was loaded in some frame; this bug
occurs if there are multiple layouts currently loaded for the same input
language, the "standard" layout being frequently added again without user
consent (I think this comes because of the legacy Windows OEM charset
support, when Windows needs to select the keyboard using a specific OEM code
rather than by checking if the user's layout was designed to support this
limited OEM charset when needed).
What this type of bug shows is that users are extremely irritated when the
system or application software wants to impose a "standard" keyboard layout.
This is as much irritating as requiring one to enter text only in one
"standard" language. Unicode cannot and must not become a keyboard standard
(and in fact, "standard" national keyboard layouts should even be abolished,
letting all users choose themselves the way they enter text: default choices
would be provided on the market based on demand, and manufacturers should
really implement some survey to know the expectations of their target
customers, and provide them solutions that are both efficient and
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