Wednesday, July 18, 2007

How to make accents and the ñ in a US-English keyboard

I guess by this time everybody knows while I was in Canada, I bought a laptop computer. I dreamed all of my life of having a gadget like this. I bought a very beautiful one, I call it "my baby". HP Pavilion dv2201ca. Very elegant, brilliant black design. In my opinion, it's even more stylish than a Mac (Yeah! Ha ha ha!).

But so far, I was having a little problem. The laptop came with a US English keyboard. But I'm from Chile, and I had a little hard time writing accents and the "ñ" letter. I had to switch to a Spanish keyboard and remember by memory the disposition of the keys in the keyboard.

That issue ended yesterday morning. I discovered the United States-International keyboard distribution. And I finally learnt how to use the keyboard dispositions, and the utility of the Language bar. A whole new world has opened for me. Really.

Before the trip to Canada, I only had to write in Spanish. The first conflicts came while building the PowerPoint (PP) presentation I prepared to present there in Canada. I had to change constantly the language so PP didn't interpret the words I was typing as Spanish. But if I wanted to edit anything, PP would change my keyboard configuration to English. And the punctuation signs were wrong, and I'd have to guess what keys to press in order to get what I wanted. While in Canada, I had to get used to the US English-disposed keyboards. I memorized the Alt codes of all Spanish vowels and the non-capital ñ. Later I bought the laptop and I could solve the problem by changing the keyboard disposition. After a lot of years using Spanish keyboards, I could remember well what the location of the different characters was, though those were not what I saw in the keyboard.

Yesterday, reading the Wikipedia (what a big invention!), I discovered the United States-International disposition of the keyboard, which is an even better solution for those like me. This is very similar to the standard US keyboard, but it takes advantage of the Alt Gr key. In standard US keyboards, both Alt keys are equal. In international keyboards, they are not; the left Alt is just Alt, but the right Alt is Alt Gr. It means that key allows more characters to be displayed by pressing Alt Gr (right Alt) and the desired key. Usually, those characters are printed in the keyboard, in the right part of the key. People who always have used standard US keyboards probably do not know that situation.

The thing is, I found the US-Int'l distribution to be much more efficient than to change constantly the keyboard to the Spanish distribution, because now I'd type the characters appearing in my keyboard and get the same characters on screen. And, by memorizing a few touches of the right Alt key (very intuitive, by the way, so there's not very much to memorize) now I get all the characters needed, plus a few extras. I also get all of the accents by pressing the apostrophe key and later the vowel. To get an apostrophe key, I press the apostrophe key and later the spacebar.

By the time I'm writing this I still have a little trouble getting used to type the "ñ" by using Alt + N. It's just a matter of customs, I will get accustomed to it soon.

Here you can find a picture of the distribution of the US-Int'l keyboard. The red characters are obtained pressing that key, and later, the spacebar.

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