Alternate keyboard mapping

pfeilgm's picture

I've started development on an alternative keyboard mapping at It started as a simple thing so that I could have a layout that I felt made sense. It's since grown into much more in my mind. The possibility of a single keyboard mapping useful throughout North America and Europe, and especially so to typographers and mathematicians. And also consistent across different computer systems such as Windows, Linux, Solaris, and OS X.

The OS X version is the most advanced so far (because the data format is very powerful) and there is no Windows version yet (because I don't know how to make the DLL). The xmodmap files (for various Unix platforms) fall in the middle ground.

I've set up a mailing list to discuss and further develop the keymappings. I would appreciate it if anyone interested would take a few minutes to take a look and make any suggestions.

Thank you.

hrant's picture

An optimal keyboard depends heavily on the ergonomics of typing frequently-occuring sequences of letters. Since this varies greatly by language, your -admittedly valiant and interesting- effort will be:
1) Certainly computationally heavy.
2) Probably too much of a compromise for most any individual language.

On the other hand, it could be useful as a means to the methodical -if ponderous- access of any letter in any [Latinate] language - somewhat similar to how the IPA phonetic alphabet works great for academic work, but can't be used at all well for actual reading.


pfeilgm's picture

Hrant, you're correct that my grandiose keyboard panacea is a bit far-fetched. I think I just ran a little far trying to get people excited. I do see some real potential in it, though.

1) A standard extension to the qwerty layout. A cross-platform layout that anyone using qwerty can expect to have access to. And with a more logical layout than the ones provided with Apple's US and US Extended mappings (a good OS X mapping was my initial impetus).

2)A standard set of characters for all Latinate keyboards. Even if the locations of the characters aren't the same, we could still probably come up with a common set of characters that are important to have access to (There are currently ~950 characters available with my mapping - more than would be necessary to standardize, I think)

3) And again, specifically something useful to typographers (the idea was spawned by the layout in Bringhurst's Elements)

I guess we don't necessarily need a European unification. And, I would hasten to add that the characters are far from ponderous to access. I've made an effort to (at the very least) improve on Apple's provided qwerty mappings. Common characters like quotation marks, guillemets, accents and additional letters have been carefully placed as logically as possible. Unfortunately, the images on the site don't make it as clear as possible, but the original image (a single keyboard with 4 characters displayed on each key) was fairly difficult to maintain. I'll restore that when the mapping reaches a less volatile state.

But, thank you Hrant, for reining me in. I let myself get a little too caught up in the excitement of finally having this in a usable state.

selfbuildtype's picture

Just a thought, but i wonder if anybody has considered manfacturing keyboards specifically for typesetters (with additional keys for all those altshift chars)? Apple are starting to manfacture keyboards specifically for photoshop and final cut pro.

plainclothes's picture

Craig said...
keyboards specifically for typesetters (with additional
keys for all those altshift chars)

can you imagine the size of a keyboard that made place
for proper quotes, ligatures, en and em dashes,
trademark and registration symbols, etc! it'd be a grand
piece of material, but I know I'd make room on my desk!

Mark Simonson's picture

That's a great idea. I used to operate a Compugraphic Editwriter sometimes and they had special keys for everything instead of using menus. This is sort of an old idea, but it worked very well. (You did have to enter special codes for special characters, however.) The reason they were able to do it was because the machine was designed to do only one thing, wheras modern personal computers are general purpose machines. But, with USB, you could easily swap keyboards tailored to specific tasks, as easily as you can run different applications for specific tasks.

John Hudson's picture

When he was head of the type group at MS, Robert Norton designed a typesetter's keyboard and even had a prototype built. I saw it a few years ago when I was in Redmond. It is huge and not only has keys for all sorts of extended punctuation but also a large number of accented characters and, my favourite, a key for turning on/off smallcaps. As far as I know, software was never made for it.

twardoch's picture

You can use the free Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator tool to create custom keyboard layouts for Windows 2000/XP.

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