British and American keyboards

British and American keyboards

There are two major English language keyboard layouts, the United States layout and the United Kingdom layout defined in BS 4822 [British Standard BS 4822: Keyboard allocation of graphic characters for data processing. British Standards Institute, 1994.] (48-key version). Users in the United States do not frequently need to make use of the £ and € currency symbols, which are common needs in the United Kingdom and Ireland. As one might expect, different operating system vendors have provided their own solutions to this, which are often not equivalent.

Microsoft Windows

For its UK layout, Microsoft accordingly adds an AltGr key, maps the £ to where the US layout has a #, and adds a 102nd key to accommodate the #. A few other variations (the reversals of @ and ", and the movement of ~ to the # key to accommodate a ¬ on the backquote key, and the movement of the key to the left of Z) have also crept in between the two. On laptop computers, the | and key is often placed next to the space bar, and a Function key added.Early versions of Windows handled both the differences between the two keyboards and the differences between American English and British English by having two English language options—a UK setting and a US setting. While adequate for users in the United States, United Kingdom, and Ireland, this solution caused difficulty in other English-speaking countries. In many Commonwealth countries and other English-speaking jurisdictions (e.g., Australia, Canada, the Caribbean nations, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and South Africa), local spelling, grammar, and vocabulary strongly conformed to British English usage, while the supplied keyboard was printed with the United States layout on the keys. People in these countries were forced to choose between a keyboard layout incompatible with their hardware, or having their spell checker software complain about the proper spelling of words such as "colour", "centre", etc.

However, in more recent editions, the number of options was increased, allowing users to select the correct keyboard and dialect independently. For example, one is given a number of default options for locality that will usually correctly match dialect and keyboard. Further, even if your hardware keyboard layout does not match the device driver software layout that was pre-selected, you can change that without changing the regional setting.

Since the standard US keyboard layout in Microsoft Windows offers no way of inputting any sort of diacritic or accent, this makes it unsuitable for all but a handful of languages unless the US International layout is used. The US International layout changes the `, ~, ^, " (for ¨), and ' (for ´) keys into dead keys for producing accented characters. The US International layout also uses the right alt (AltGr) as a modifier to enter special characters. Although there is no UK International layout on Windows, XP SP2 and above provide a UK Extended layout which, if activated, will allow the user to enter a wide variety of diacritics (such as grave accents) which are not accommodated by the standard UK layout.

Mac OS

The default US layout on Macintosh computers has allowed input of diacritical characters since inception, whereby the entire MacRoman character set is directly available, so many of the problems outlined above are not encountered, but even so Apple supplies a UK layout where characters such as £ are more accessible, in this case it is transposed with the # character, at Shift-3 and Option-3 respectively. Another character swap present on UK layouts is between @ and " (straight double quote), where the former is available via Shift-2 and the latter via Shift-apostrophe.


ee also

*Keyboard layout
*Technical standards in colonial Hong Kong

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