Weird characters! Where do they come from? Well, besides family reunions.
I wrote a long, long time ago about the Alt+Keyboard Trick, which can be used on PCs to generate strange and wonderful characters. There’s another way to get at such characters, especially when you need them often and don’t have time to type out their Alt key equivalents.
For example, a reader recently asked me how to change the # key on the keyboard to the £ key. As any one of the Queen’s subjects can tell you, # is the hash and £ is the pound character.
If you’re typing requires the Shift+3 key to produce £ instead of #, then your best bet is to use the localization tools in Windows to switch keyboard input methods. It’s not as scary as it sounds.
To add British English as a keyboard input method, follow these steps in Windows 7:
1. Open the Control Panel.
2. Choose “Change Keyboards or Other Input Methods,” which is found beneath the Clock, Language, and Region heading.
3. Click the Change Keyboards button.
4. Click the Add button.
You’re going to add another layout for your PC’s keyboard hardware. It’s a software thing.
5. Choose English (United Kingdom) / Keyboard / United Kingdom (put a check mark there).
6. Click the OK button.
You’ve added the option to use the English UK keyboard, but you also need a quick and easy way to switch keyboard layouts. That’s done by employing the Language toolbar:
7. Back in the Text Services and Input Languages dialog box, click the Language Bar tab.
8. Ensure that the options Docked on the Taskbar and “Show text labels on the Language Bar” are selected.
9. Click OK, then OK again, then close the Control Panel window.
The Language toolbar now shows up on the Taskbar. It’s not that big. In fact, it’s just the letters EN, which stand for English.
When you click the EN button on the Language toolbar you’ll see a pop-up menu. To switch to the English UK keyboard layout for input, choose EN English (United Kingdom) from the pop-up menu. With the English UK keyboard active, pressing Shift+3 generates the £ symbol instead of #.
To switch back to the American English keyboard, click the EN button on the Language toolbar again. This time chose EN English (United States) or whatever the other option is to switch back to your original keyboard layout.
There are other languages and options you can choose for the keyboard layout. Some of them are complex, however, and juggle a lot of the keys around. Unless you know how to touch type on those foreign keyboards, it’s probably best not to mess with those choices.