Sure, you Mac switchers already know about Mac OS X Keyboard Shortcuts, mostly using the Command Key. If you're a typography geek like me, you'll want to explore all the useful characters (not commands) hidden behind the Option Key.

⌥ + keyproduces this:
[open double quote
{close double quote
]open single quote
}close single quote
-en-dash
_em-dash
2trademark
rregistered®
gcopyright©
;ellipsis
/divide÷
*degree°
Rpermille
=not equals
+plus minus±
5infinity
8big bullet
(small bullet·

There are some more, but I don't find them as useful. The keys probably vary by keyboard type; I use the US keyboard (not US Extended, which doesn't seem very useful). The best way to learn these is to go into System Preferences → International → Input Menu → Show input menu in menubar. Then go to the input menu in the menubar (a country flag) → Keyboard Viewer. Also fun to play with is the Character Palette; it lets you put in lots more characters, like ☛☆☺⏏℻♪. Exactly why these characters even exist in Unicode, I'll never know.

The typography geek in me says that the ⌥ Option Key is the best thing about switching to the Mac. Sure, some of you get the AltGr key in Windows and Linux, but I never figured out how to make it work. On the Mac, the Option key works out of the box, even on the US keyboard.

Update [2009-05-09]: Recent versions of Linux/X11 can emulate the Mac keyboard setup. In Gnome, go to Preferences → Keyboard → Layouts, then Add the USA/Macintosh layout, Remove the USA layout. Then go to Layout Options and set both Windows keys to be “third level choosers”. The Windows key will then act like the Option key on the Mac.

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5 comments:

newbill123 wrote at Friday, May 30, 2008 at 8:32:00 PM PDT

Good tip! Also if you frequently type in a language with accented characters, you'll want to get the hang of the "dead keys". When you have the Keyboard Viewer open and hold down the Option key, they appear orange in color in the palette.

option+backquote is the grave accent dead key
option+i is the circumflex accent dead key
option+e is the acute accent dead key
option+u is the umlaut accent dead key
option+n is the tilde accent dead key

Dead keys tend to freak new users out because they take two keystrokes to make one combined character. On the US keyboard layout, generally the option+1stKey makes the accent and, if possible, will combine the accent with the next key pressed.

For example if you wanted to quickly type the name of that French dessert for custard with a burnt sugar top (crème brûlée), you could save yourself a trip to the character palette if you typed:

option+backquote then e = è (grave accented e)
option+i then u = û (circumflex accented u)
option+e then e = é (acute accented e)

They are very handy once you get the hang of them. Thanks for the reminder!

damiancugley wrote at Monday, June 9, 2008 at 6:14:00 AM PDT

One of the goals of Unicode was to allow round-tripping to all existing character-set standards. As a result it includes goofy characters that were in some ill-thought-out standard or other in the past.

Leon Starr wrote at Wednesday, April 22, 2009 at 4:08:00 PM PDT

Thanks! I was getting tired of using the character palette for em-dashes.

Anonymous wrote at Sunday, June 13, 2010 at 9:29:00 PM PDT

"Recent versions of Linux/X11 can emulate the Mac keyboard setup. In Gnome, go to Preferences → Keyboard → Layouts, then Add the USA/Macintosh layout, Remove the USA layout. Then go to Layout Options and set both Windows keys to be “third level choosers”. The Windows key will then act like the Option key on the Mac."

Is there a way to do this under Xfce?

Amit wrote at Sunday, June 13, 2010 at 10:43:00 PM PDT

Anonymous, from what I understand, these settings are part of X, not really part of Gnome, but Gnome gives you a pretty dialog box. I think you can do it in the underlying X settings in xorg.conf (you want to pick a keyboard layout) but I haven't figured out how, because the Gnome settings are so much easier.