A solution for handling accents on a Mac

17 01 2010

In the never-ending Mac versus PC discussion, I often find myself slightly favouring the Apple side for better hardware-software integration and for consistently bringing innovative and elegant solutions for some of the personal computing usability pain points. But it has never been a slam dunk for his Steveness, as Macs are not perfect either. By the way, my MacBook freezing problem is still there, making me likely the person who had the most problems with Mac computers in the world: video card, keyboard, trackpad, battery, optical drive, cooling fan, hard drive, and LCD screen (this one was my own fault).

My number one pet peeve on the Mac world ***WAS*** the way Mac OS handles accents when you have a US keyboard and want to write in one of the European languages that need accents and other special characters. I often write things in Portuguese, and in Windows, after you configure it properly, the keyboard just mimics the way typewriters handled accents: for example, to type the <é> in “Pelé” or “café”, you just type the key <‘> and then the letter <e>. On a Mac, once you configure it to use “Brazilian” as the Input Source, to type <é> you have to do something very awkward: type <Option>+<e>, then type <e>. Basically, <Option>+<e> is the acute accent, <Option>+<i> is the circumflex accent, <Option>+<n> is the tilde and so on.

Of course, the point here is not to mimic a typewriter – a large part, if not the majority, of people using computers today never used a typewriter. The point is that the US keyboard has keys with the acute accent, the circumflex accent and the tilde, so why not use them? <Option>+<e> is not intuitive at all, and you have to use three keystrokes instead of two, slowing you down enough to break your typing rhythm.

But there is a solution and I just found it yesterday! If you want your Mac to handle accents the Windows / typewriter way, try the following:

  1. Google “brasileiro.bundle teclado” (the original file in Geocities is no longer available). I found it here.
  2. Unzip the file and double-click the .dmg to mount it
  3. Copy the file Brasileiro.bundle to the folder /Library/Keyboard Layouts
  4. Log out and log in
  5. In System Preferences, go to Language & Text and then select Input Sources
  6. On the left panel, you should now have Brazil and Brazilian, with round Brazilian flag icons
  7. Enable Brazil if you are using a US keyboard, or Brazilian if you are using a Portuguese keyboard
  8. Enable Show input menu in menu bar
  9. In the menu bar at the top of your Mac, you should now see a flag with your default input language (in my case, it’s Canadian English). Just switch that to Brazil or Brazilian when typing in Portuguese. It also should work with all accented characters in Spanish and most in French (except the ligature ones: ae and oe; for those, I suspect you still have to resort to <Option>+<‘> and <Option>+<q>, or get a French.bundle file).

Input Menu with "Brazil" and "Canadian English"

I hope this helps the 0.01% of you for whom this is a Mac annoyance. And I hope that Apple fixes that in the near future to come as a default input source instead of hack.

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