What a difference a key makes

When my old iMac had to be fixed, because I had extended Apple Care Warrantee, Apple simply replaced the whole unit. Because I was living in the US at the time, however, the keyboard was localised to the American layout, as opposed to the British one I had learned to type on since I was 11.

The difference? Well – this might sound like the smallest nit picking thing in the history of small nit picking things, but the Return (Enter) key isn’t the odd shape I’m used to, and the 3 key has a hash (#) on it, instead of the Pounds Sterling (£) symbol.

Confusion further sets in when, like me, you have the Operating System language set to British English, because then the keys you want, like quotation marks (“) and asperand (@) are swapped over, but still printed on the keys where you want them to be.

Well, after a while, I just got used to it – and for the sake of not wanting to unpack lots of boxes which it was easier upon my return to the UK to just throw in the attic, I stuck with the American format keyboard – until now.

Fast forward to this morning. I’m going through a load of boxes in an attempt to throw out old memories and make room for a new book stand and bed in my room. I’ve had the bed for a while but it was crow-barred in and it all needed sorting out. Hey, what’s this? Ah ha! My ‘old’ British English keyboard! I’ll plug it in!

Oh oh! I can’t write anything! The keys are in the way? What’s that all about? It turns out that even the slightest of changes to the way keys are laid out can massively affect the usability of a keyboard. I have had to ditch the British format and switch back to the US type, just to get this written inside 2 or 3 days.

See for yourself the ridiculously minor changes which make all the difference, in the pic below. I’ve included my old Perspex Apple keyboard to compare the changes in the size of the ‘Return’ key. I should, in the interest of clarity, point out that it remains as clean as the day it was new, despite my being an ex-smoker, because – thanks to a brilliant piece of advice from Leo Laporte, I washed it in the dishwasher and, he’s right, they do come up a treat – and YES it still works.

8 comments on “What a difference a key makes

  1. I remember a few years ago when I was on holiday in Greece, there was a cybercafe I used to visit about two times a week, and the keyboard there had the ” and the @ symbols switched, and it was the MOST annoying thing, despite me only using the computer only a small amount of times while I was there.

    I’ve got to say i’m disappointed you’ve gone back to using the US format though, you dirty Yank.

  2. In my working day I type in both Spanish and English*. I have a Labtech wireless keyboard bought here in Spain, that looks sort of like your top two boards. I learned to type years ago on a typical american one, so after all these years I’m still not used to the different placement of letters caused by the addition of ñ and ç and the cool little key for accents that you strike before you strike the letter that will carry the accent and then the accent magically apears above it. And the damn € being under the “E”, requiring Alt Gr. (Grrrrrr.)

    *Oh and then we have the joys of my spellcheck lurching between languages, and it’s never in the language I want. If I’m writing in Spanish, it decides to set to English. If I’m in English, Spanish. And then once in a while I get a stand-off between British and American English, so color becomes colour…….Though I do like the cute little key in the upper right that is just made for a country where most of the women (and some of the men) have Maria as a second name, so I can easily abbreviate Ana Maria to Ana Mª.

    Bloody Europe.

  3. On the upper LEFT (I misspoke before)of the keyboard, just to the left of the number “1”, is a key that’s “º” in lower case and “ª” in upper case. The little “ª” is very useful because so many people in Spain are Ana Maria, José Maria, Maria Ángeles, Maria Luisa, all those Marias can be shortened to Mª.

    The “º” sign is used to indicate not only degrees but ordinal numbers 1º,2º.. (first, second…)

    Then of course the ¡upside down exclamation point! But since I learned to type pretty young and worked as a secretary for years, I’ve got good old QWUERTYUP and all its neighbors burned into my brain. I make a lot of mistakes when I type in Spanish (and I believe QUWERTYUP was designed based on English frequency of use, ¿right?

  4. Home row is Q W E R T Y U I O P

    i have tried to use the ‘german’ keyboard setting for word documents just to make umlauts easier, but man, it messes me up!

  5. I noticed also the American keyboard has most of the keys spelt out. What are they saying here, that Americans are stupid? That they fear being sued because some twit can’t work out how to use their keyboard?

    I kid I kid, but that difference is interesting.

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