Typing 'special characters' on a Windows system
Thread poster: Ken Cox
Ken Cox  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:07
German to English
+ ...
Aug 25, 2006

It's possible to configure Windows so you can type special characters (with umlauts, accents, etc.) directly without using ASCII codes or character tables. This doesn't seem to be documented in any easily accessible manner, and I only discovered it by accident. It does however have a major drawback that may be enough to discourage many people from using it (see below). It works with Windows XP and most likely with Windows 2000, and maybe with ME (i.e., the 'international' versions of Windows).

If you already know about this, you don't need to read any furhter.

So - the secret is to open the 'Regional and Language Settings' control panel, select the Languages tab, and click 'Details' under 'Text services and input languages'. Under 'Installed services', follow the instructions to install one or more languages with 'special' characters (such as German). I recommend selecting the same keyboard layout for all your selected languages unless you know the language-specific layouts by heart and are adept at switching from one layout to another (otherwise what you get will not always be what you expect).

After this (you may have to restart the system), Windows changes the way it handles certain combinations of characters *at the system level* (thus for all applications -- word processing, mail, web brower, etc.). For instance, if you type Shift+" and then o you get ö, if you type ' c you get ç, `a gives à, and so on. There's a certain logic to which combinations give which results, but I don't know whether they are documented anywhere.

The downside to this is that it will drive you crazy when what you actually want is the characters you type, not the special characters Windows produces for you. For instance, if you want to type 'as it happens' you have to type ' Space a ..., since otherwise you will get ás it happens', (the same holds for "), and a trailing ' or " will not appear until after you have typed a space (or some other character that cannot be transformed into a special character).

It's a pity MS didn't copy Apple's system for the Macintosh, which was implemented long before MS recognised that there are other languages in the world besides English and which IMO is much more convenient.


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avantix  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 10:07
German to Dutch
+ ...
A happy marriage... Aug 26, 2006

Kenneth Cox wrote:

It's possible to configure Windows so you can type special characters (with umlauts, accents, etc.) directly without using ASCII codes or character tables.


The downside to this is that it will drive you crazy when what you actually want is the characters you type, not the special characters Windows produces for you. For instance, if you want to type 'as it happens' you have to type ' Space a ..., since otherwise you will get ás it happens', (the same holds for "), and a trailing ' or " will not appear until after you have typed a space (or some other character that cannot be transformed into a special character).



Exactly: it drives you crazy ... at least me!
In the good old days of Windows 3.1, I used a neat plug-in for these characters, which worked very intuitive (IMO contrary to the Windows method described by Kenneth). Sarting with Windows95 it did unfortunately no longer work and it was obviously not further developed after WIN3.1.

So I learned the ASCII combinations by heart and got used to that within a very short time. I usually need only the à/é/ë/ï/ó for Dutch texts, ä/Ä/ö/Ö/ü/Ü and ß for German and sometimes the French accented characters, so it does not take up much "brain cache".

Since many years I am now used to this method and it works excellent for me. I do not see why e.g. an ALT129 combination would work slower than every time have to remember that you have to double-type " or type ' [space].

Thus it drove me really mad when, after installing XP, I had to discover that the 'Kenneth-method' was part of the standard installation and I did not know how to switch it off. After months of stress and cursing, I finally found it. It was only because I had always been using English Windows versions in the past and my XP was the Dutch version.

I only had to change the country settings. Instead of the default combination 'Input language' Dutch > 'Keyboard' Dutch I changed the keyboard setting to United States (not International, that would not work) and my life was worth living again.

It's a matter of personal preferences, I guess, and I know many people who are very happy with the method Kenneth describes, but I am happily married to the ASCII method and intend to stick to it... until death us parts.

Herman


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