Does MS pull new keyboard layouts out of their @!#$%?

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2005/01/01 09:48 -05:00, original URI:

Believe it or not, I have gotten this question with language as bad as (and often worse than!) the title line of this post.

The quick answer, as I am sure might have guessed, is no. :-)

For the longer answer, I'll go to the FAQ section of the white paper Cathy Wissink and I wrote for a presentation1 entitled Unicode and Keyboards on Windows at IUC25 in Washington, D.C. in March of 2004:

Q - "I get the feeling Microsoft just makes up these keyboards by themselves.  Why don’t they represent my language the way I expect them to?"

A - New keyboards for a market always get tested in their respective market.  A great deal of research does go into the keyboards shipped with the system, with feedback from linguists, government officials, other internationalization experts, and local software providers. Often it is the case of Becker’s law applying (that is, for each expert, there is an equal and opposite expert), unfortunately. 

Another form of the question which was much more polite came from Serge Wautier on this blog:

Why are there that many keyboard layouts ?

Why a french belgian layout where only a couple of non-alphanumeric characters are layed out differently from the french layout ? My feeling - I am a french speaking belgian - is that the only goal reached is pure confusion. I have yet to understand why belgian people would prefer the \ as Ctrl + Alt + < rather than Ctrl + Alt + 8 (and vice versa).

The above answer covers the reasons -- because somebody somewhere noted the difference between them. And while this can be confusing, the sad truth is that for every customer who would rather see fewer layouts to avoid confusion, there are six customers who want new layouts added to match their expectations.

But with that said, Serge's question can get an even better answer!

When you add keyboard layouts through the Regional Options control panel applet, you explicitly choose a language and a keyboard layout. So any time you prefer another layout, you can pick your language with this alternate selection.

And of course any time you do not like any layout provided by Windows, you can make your own with MSKLC!


1 - This presentation, which appeared to be a boring talk about keyboards from the description actually turned out to be where we announced the release of MSKLC, thus continuing a bold tradition that Cathy and I started in our IUC18 talk Unicode on Downlevel Windows (when we did the surprise announcement of MSLU). In talking to people after the keyboard talk about why they stayed to see the last talk of the day given its somewhat dry description (the room was very busy), I had two different people tell me that they knew that we would be announcing something because when we cover stuff that appears like it will be boring, we always have something up our sleeves!


This post brought to you by "๒" (U+0e52, a.k.a. THAI DIGIT TWO)

# Unfortunately on 1 Jan 2005 12:28 PM:

Unfortunately the MSKLC can only handle some keys from what I looked at. However in notebooks and those small new flat keyboards, often some special keys are just in plain akward positions. For example, page up and page down is between alt gr and ctrl. Ins and Del are next to F12... I could try relabel them with a sticker into a better position, replacing keypad 4 with ins, 5 with home, 6 with page up, 1-del, 2-end, 3-page down.. The normal layout, except inside the number keypad area. However to do this, user is expected to know how to write device driver and to find out the right scan codes and whatnot. Totally unacceptable.

# Michael Kaplan on 1 Jan 2005 12:44 PM:

Well, MSKLC can handle all of the basic keys that are used for updating language or layout of keyboards.

Trying to change the behavior of system keys is possible through extreme efforts (and fun if you are looking to pull a prank on someone!), but not really part of the core intentions behind releasing a tool like the layout creator....

# Michael Kaplan on 1 Jan 2005 9:06 PM:

I have had several off-blog requests for more detail on some of the "worse" ways that people asked the "pulling keyboards out of your butt?" question.

The two worst of them:

"Is there a minimum amount of crack that has to be smoked before you are allowed to author a keyboard for Microsoft?"


"Whoever made these layouts who thinks that this layout is used by anyone should strongly consider a future in fiction writing.

Most of the other bad ones just involved more curse words. :-)

# Fox Cutter on 3 Jan 2005 11:55 PM:

I'm surprised just how many keyboard layouts a given language can have. English (United States) has five layouts. This includes the basic QWERTY, an international layout, and three Dvorak layouts (I use the basic Dvorak myself). It's nice that Windows provides so many choices out of the box.

Of course the different layouts can cause some interesting breaks. Like one has CTRL-@, and another has CTRL-SHIFT-2. It's interesting to see which programs work correctly and which ones don't when mapping keys.

It's interesting just how many different ways you can input English in a standard windows installation, and it's something most places don't test for. Of course all my code will now be tested on all the standard keyboard layouts.

--Fox Cutter

# Norman Diamond on 4 Jan 2005 5:42 PM:

1/1/2005 12:28 PM Unfortunately

> However in notebooks and those small new
> flat keyboards, often some special keys are
> just in plain akward positions. For example,
> page up and page down is between alt gr and
> ctrl.

In another thread I mentioned the absence of AltGr, but perhaps now the absence of Page Up and Page Down needs to be noted as well. Most notebooks that I've seen have Page Up available as a combination of the Fn key plus the up arrow key, and Page Down as Fn plus down arrow.

Anyway in situations like this surely the remapping is done by the keyboard controller (which in notebooks often controls some other devices in addition to the keyboard). I can't imagine a way to remap half of each key even in an OS or BIOS.

I played a nasty game to patch grub to work with a Japanese keyboard. The patch was ignored not because of abuse of the otherwise unused (in grub) scan code for the Insert key, but because grub's maintainer doesn't consider this kind of patch important to the basic functionality of grub 1, even though grub 1 hasn't reached version 1 yet, and even though the maintainer is Japanese. Sigh.

# Michael Kaplan on 5 Jan 2005 12:13 AM:

There is of coursd nothing MSKLC could do here for this situation. We are definitely veering off topic here....

# Serge Wautier on 9 Jan 2005 7:02 AM:


Thanks for answering my (collective) question.

I'm probably coming back a little late but there is a point I think is important to note:

> So any time you prefer another layout, you can pick your language with this alternate selection.

This is not a software issue at all. It's an hardware issue: You buy a computer and get a keyboard with it. You unpack the box and find it's french layout. Assuming you notice the difference, what do you do ? Return the keyboard and ask for french belgian ? Chances are they'll tell you 'Well ! Oh ! I don't know. I'll return it to the manufacturer. Come back in another 3 weeks.' No way. You keep your keyboard with unusual layout and... never get used to it (except if you are one of the four of us among 4.5 million french speaker belgians who can mentally use a french belgian layout).

Besides the one user who complains for too many layouts and the 6 ones that want additional layouts, I believe there are ONE THOUSAND who never paid attention to the existence of 2 distinct layouts. All these people can remember is that there are some keys they just never managed to remember where they are. These people (the vast majority) never came to the point that there are 2 distinct layouts. I wish people who create the layouts had these 1000 in mind rather than the other 6.

My 2 cents (I must be getting close to a nickel by now ;-).

# Michael Kaplan on 9 Jan 2005 7:38 AM:

The disconnect between the hardware and the software is a different problem... I will talk about that one in a future column. :-)

# kurakuraninja on 23 Jul 2005 1:32 PM:

This may remind you a little of my post back in January (Does MS pull new keyboard layouts out...

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