Keyboard input system in need of love?

Alexander Jones alex at
Sat Jul 5 17:20:49 UTC 2008

Hi list

For my bilingual friend who normally uses Mac OS, keyboard setup was
prohibitively difficult (even with me helping him) for him to use

Firstly, he is a MacBook owner. Secondly, it's the British keyboard
layout. As such his physical keyboard layout is slightly different to
the "usual". In particular, there's no right Alt (AltGr?) key.

Primarily, the language he prefers to use is British English. Being
from Korea, he often needs to, e.g., IM his friends in Korean.

The first thing we tried was going to System -> Preferences ->
Keyboard and looking around.

Straight away, I noticed that his Keyboard model was: "Generic 105-key
(Intl) PC" and the layout was "United Kingdom Macintosh". OK, this
seems wrong. It's far less than a 105-key board. In fact, there are a
few bugs with various keys. The keys left of 1 and z both function

So why do we have a "United Kingdom Macintosh" layout for a 105-key
board? I tried changing the model to "MacBook/MacBook Pro (Intl)" and
it spat the old error of "Error activating XKB configuration.". I have
no idea if it's actually active at this point, but proceeding to
choose a layout from this stage shows the same results -- even with
the little diagram of the keyboard /still/ displaying a 105-key board.
Indeed, we still have the option of "United Kingdom" or "United
Kingdom Macintosh". It seems that with the physical layouts being
broken, creating a Macintosh logical layout for a 105-key physical
layout is a band-aid.

Marching on... Adding the "Korean, Republic of" layout *again* caused
the "Error activating XKB configuration." error. Hitting reset to
defaults caused the error *twice*. Returning to 105-key physical
layout and adding the Korean layout seemed to work.

As he uses a Mac physical keyboard and doesn't have a right-alt, the
both-alts layout switcher key combo is useless, so we added the
keyboard switcher applet. Clicking it does indeed switch between "GBr"
and "Kor".

However, nothing happens. You're still typing QWERTY, but rather in US
layout (no £-sign on the 3). Attempting to find the "Hangul" key
(which, according to my friend is archaic DOS hangover crap) in order
to toggle the Korean layout internally between US and Korean was
impossible. The "show current layout" option in the GNOME keyboard
switcher applet shows a nice picture of a 105-key board with a HANGUL
key positioned just right of the space bar... where the right-alt
would otherwise be.

So, stumped, we turn to Google. People are talking about SCIM, and I
recall the time when I kept accidentally triggering the SCIM layout
chooser as I TYPED IN CAPITALS with the shift+space combo. I remember
that you have to enable this "complex character support" thing in the
Language Selector. Aha! So, we enable this, and I'm already wondering
why what seems to be an entirely separate mechanism is needed here.
After restarting as it suggests, I am switching to Korean and still
wondering what we're supposed to do. I recall managing to get the SCIM
popup to display, and then diving into the preferences only to see it
has its own list of input methods for various different languages. We
just wanted Korean! Also, it has its own settings for switching
layouts etc. AND many of these conflict with those used by Compiz!

I had utterly failed to impress my friend, and he clearly just wanted
to get back to OS X.

I am absolutely clueless as to how we go about fixing this mess, and
just thought it would be useful to report this in a usability-report
style story.

Thanks for reading.


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