A month ago, my wave keyboard died. I’ve been using that kind of keyboard ever since I was treated for early carpal tunnel syndrome, and that’s a long time ago. I’m so used to it now that if I have to type on a regular keyboard my fingers don’t know where to go, and some words end up looking like Polish. I figured that in the years since I bought the defunct wave, technology had undoubtedly advanced, so I did some research on ergonomic keyboards. There are some truly weird ones and some very expensive ones.
I settled on the Kinesis Maxim. At $150 it’s not cheap (especially when you can buy an ordinary keyboard for under $20), but I spend all day at the computer and my wrists are worth it. The keyboard splits by varying amounts or not at all and tents in the middle to three angles. It is ultra-cool, comfortable to use, and I love it. But …
The “but” is that there’s no embedded numeric keypad on the right. I knew that when I ordered it, but since I always use the numbers along the top anyway, I figured I wouldn’t miss it. What I’d forgotten is that in order to type in French and Italian, you use the ALT key plus the ASCII numeric codes to generate accented letters–and you have to use the number keys on numeric keypad. Off I went to CompUSA for a standalone keypad, but it didn’t solve the problem because it and the keyboard weren’t on speaking terms, and pressing ALT on the keyboard had no effect on the keypad.
You can create keyboard shortcuts in Word to produce accented letters, em dashes, copyright symbols, and so on, but that doesn’t help you if you’re in another application, even another Microsoft Office application.
There are programmable standalone keypads (expensive of course), but the specs I read on the manufacturers’ Web sites didn’t make it clear to me whether one of the keys could be remapped to take the place of the keyboard’s ALT key. Kinesis tech support and the couple of keypad manufacturers I contacted were no help at all.
I don’t even remember what I typed into Google this afternoon, but it gave me the solution: Install the Windows U.S.-International keyboard drivers. (Several years ago, I installed the drivers for the French and Italian keyboards, but some of the letters are in different places. Switching back and forth was a pain and keeping three keyboard layouts straight was impossible).
The U.S.-International drivers, however, are simplicity itself. They use two- and three-key combinations. Type apostrophe then e and you get e acute; ^ then e and you get e circumflex. The driver is smart enough to pick out the letters that do have accents and those that don’t, so when you type apostrophe plus s, you don’t come out with an accent on the s. It’s a far less cumbersome method than the old ALT + ASCII codes. The only thing it doesn’t seem to work in is WordPress text entry (for that you apparently do need the numeric keypad method), which is why I can’t show you here.
I know that some of my readers type in foreign languages, so perhaps this information may be useful. The international drivers are already on your computer and install in about two minutes through the control panel. You’ll find instructions here and a clear explanation and list of the key combinations here.
Now I’m going to send a properly accented e-mail to my French penfriend.