Typing More Complex Characters – Review 5

There are many times when the default keyboard layout is sufficient. The base character set ASCII is enough for most text in English and a number of other languages that also use the Latin alphabet.

However, there are times when 128 characters are just not enough. You may want to type one of the over 100,000 characters defined within Unicode. That’s when I look at the compose key. The two keys pressed immediately after this are combined into a single symbol.

Unfortunately, a dedicated compose key is rare to find on keyboards. Windows has built-in support for a compromise: by holding Alt and typing out a specific number, you can generate some of the more sought-after characters not available on your keyboard.

For Windows users, I recommend Zive FreeCompose.


FreeCompose program logo.

While running, FreeCompose allows the user to reassign one of the standard keyboard keys for use as compose. Additional configuration options are offered for the Caps Lock key, one of the most popular choices.

Options and 'About' dialogs for FreeCompose

FreeCompose options dialog, available from the right-click menu, allows you to change what characters specific key combinations will form.

Mac and Unix-like Configuration

Mac OS X and X Window-using systems come with compose key support. They require only a little setup.

Mac OS X users can set one key to act as compose with a little work – see Bob’s guide for details. All you need to do is place (by copying or creating manually) a new keybinding file in the appropriate folder.

The keybinding file holds all the relations between entered and composed characters. Editing this file is the only step needed to change how compose works. FreeCompose’s options dialog does the same thing, but is more user-friendly.

Users of other operating systems can either look at the section of System Settings devoted to keyboard shortcuts or edit the Xorg configuration. Compose key shortcuts are built into X and don’t need to be entered manually.

Either way, the compose key is a powerful tool for typing letters and symbols that may otherwise be challenging to enter.

Price $0 (Free)
Compatible OS‘s Windows 2000,XP,Vista,7,8; Most (if not all) other OS’s
Licensing The New BSD License

2 comments on “Typing More Complex Characters – Review 5

  1. safelyremove says:

    I would also like to point out that Wayland has proposed support for the compose key. See the following discussion for more details: http://comments.gmane.org/gmane.comp.freedesktop.wayland.devel/4601

  2. […] might remember my introduction to the Compose key a few weeks ago. While the default settings in each of the programs I reviewed are usually good […]

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