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Switch ep. 2: the keyboard

Well, some bits of this are easy: here’s a MacOS X version of GVim and Vim, which works nicely, is easy to install, and is simply vim/gvim. Great stuff!

But some bits are harder. Remember I was complaining about that silly ± / § key in the top corner of UK/Irish MacBook Pro keyboards? Some investigation reveals that I’m far from alone in this:

‘it fucks up application switching’

‘I hate my MacBook Pro’

a forum post looking for help

another forum post

There are a number of apps that offer key remapping, but for no apparent reason they limit themselves to “popular” remappings only, such as swapping the Control and Caps-Lock keys etc. I presume this is because that was easy to code ;)

The one that does work fully is Ukelele. Watch out though — it comes with a raft of caveats. It’s buggy, at least dealing with my MBP keyboard under OSX 10.5.5; the “Copy Key” functionality doesn’t work, and you need to start using a key mapping file from the Ukelele package, not a system one or one you’ve downloaded, otherwise it’ll silently produce an output file that doesn’t recognise any keys at all. On top of this, each time you make changes, you need to log out and log back in again for them to try them out. (Small mercies: at least you don’t need to do a full reboot, I suppose.)

I’m not impressed by this whole keyboard issue. If you look at photos of the US MacBook Pro keyboard, it’s clear that it doesn’t have the stunted tetris-style Enter and Left-Shift keys that the UK/Irish one does. It also has the tilde key in the normal place, the top left, instead of some bizarre symbol that isn’t even used in this keyboard’s locale, and as Ash Searle noted, when you’re a developer, the # is a hell of a lot more useful than the £ symbol. They’ve basically screwed with a good US keyboard design to bodge in a few extra keys they needed to deal with the tricky European corner cases.

All that would be relatively minor, however, if I could remap the keys to suit my tastes — but it was pretty damn tricky to do that. Key remapping needs to be an easy feature!

I’m still working on the fixed key layout file, but I may post it here once it’s finished to save other Googlers the bother…

Update:: here’s the fixed key layout file:

Irish Fixed.keylayout

Save that to ~/Library/Keyboard Layouts/ , then open System Preferences -> International, select Input Menu, and choose Irish Fixed from the list, and ensure “Show input menu in the menu bar” is on. Close that window, then select “Irish Fixed” from the input menu left of the clock on the menu bar. Log out, and log back in again, and the keys should be sane…

(thanks to Sonic Julez for the MBP key image)