My new project: Tact, a simple chat app.

Switch: keyboard tricks

December 08, 2006

I needed to learn some things about the keyboard when switching to OS X, and there are some other little things that are just plain annoying and where Windows kicked the ass of OS X :)

Keys in Windows

The keyboard is a bit different. Most key placements are the same, but some keys like AltGr and Print Screen just don’t exist. When you need to enter extended characters in Windows with AltGr, that’s a bit of a problem.

Useful to know – AltGr, whether in BootCamped or Parallelsed Windows, is simply Ctrl+Alt on the left side. As for PrintScr, I haven’t yet found a keyboard solution. I understand that if you have an external Mac keyboard, PrintScreen is F13. When your keyboard ends with F12, that’s a bit of a problem. The best solution I found for this was in one of the forums where they suggested to use the On-screen Keyboard under from Windows Accessibility tools :D a bit unorthodocs, but works fine for screenshooting. Except when you need to screenshoot a view that has a menu open (an open menu disappears as soon as you press any key). Haven’t yet found a solution for this.

Keys in OS X

I found it annoying that the default keyboard configuration doesn’t include an Alt on the right side. When using a non-US keyboard, the Alt key is critical to entering some characters, such as {[]}$. In other words, essential characters when writing code. I was really used to the right-side AltGr, so I needed to fix this.

There was some weird key to the right of the “command” key. I was told this is the “return” key. That is supposed to be different from the “enter” key that’s the big one on the right. First time ever I see such a distinction on an actual keyboard. I couldn’t figure out why I should care. So I figured if I could make the Return work as Alt, I’d be fine.

Turns out you can do this easily with an utility like DoubleCommand. The only option I have activated there is “enter acts as option key” (option means “Alt” in Mac lingo. Or the other way around).

One grievance I have with OS X is the lack of global hotkeys support. I’d like to do exactly two things: control my iTunes regardless of where I am currently, and open a new Finder window from keyboard regardless of where I am currently. Turns out you can do neither in the default configuration. As for the iTunes one… COME ON! Winamp has been able to do this since, uh, I don’t know, the LAST CENTURY. And the “open new Finder window” is an extremely useful shortcut under Windows, Winkey+E. (It’s the only practical application of the Winkey that I’ve ever used. But a damn useful one.)

Yeah, yeah, I know, you can do all these with an external utility. For iTunes, I was recommended ByteController. Works fine. But I don’t like installing silly little apps for every silly little thing I’m doing. Come on, OS X. You can do better than that.