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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sun Type 7 UNIX keyboard: the compose key.

This is the first of a couple of posts I thought I would never write. If you've got a Sun keyboard, chances are you know how to use it. And if you haven't got, you shouldn't worry about it! Moreover, I suppose that the odds of you guys typing on a Sun keyboard being using an English layout are pretty high, so you wouldn't worry anyway. For all the others, I'm writing this post.

If you have got a Sun keyboard or you're old enough for having seen a great number of different keyboards, you'll probably came up against the Compose key. This key isn't usually found on PCs keyboards and it's used to tell the computer's software to interpret the following key strokes to produce a character not found on the keyboard. Hence, its name.

The X Window System, known to the vast majority of UNIX users, uses this key and in this Wikipedia's article you can found an incomplete table of key compositions valid for Xorg v. 7.

This key can still be found on Sun Microsystems keyboards and their keyboard official documentation includes a table of composition characters, too.

Using the compose key

So, why should you be using that key? Well, as said this key lets you input characters which are missing from the keyboard. If you're writing primarily in English, that's really not an issue. If you've got to write in an another European language (free to choose whichever), you're going to need a bunch of characters more than those you've got in your keyboard. The most common example is writing accented characters such as á, è, î, ñ, ü, et cetera.

To produce such characters, you've got to:
  • Press and release the compose key.
  • Introduce the composite key sequence.
To produce the á character, for example, you should:
  • Press and release the compose key.
  • Press a
  • Press '
If you read so far, you'll have noticed that using the compose key may probably seem clumsier than using a specialized keyboard or using input methods. It may be true but it depends on your use case. The compose key is more powerful than just having a couple of accents in your keyboard and it's just a matter of getting used to it.

That's the point of the following post.


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