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Add-on makes special characters easy

By   |  January 23, 2008

Do you ever find yourself frustrated by having to type in accented letters, international characters or symbols into Firefox? If so, the FireFox add-on abcTajpu may just make your life a little easier.

While the English language has relatively few such letters, this is a particularly useful tool for people working other languages such as Afrikaan, or needing to deal with symbols on a regular basis.

This extension was originally developed for European Language Day and supports the CEN Multilingual European Subset, including Cyrillic, Greek and Arabic among others.

As an online journalist, all of my articles are typed, or copied, into our publishing system via FireFox. Luckily I have not had to deal with much in the way of accented letters, but it does crop up from time to time.

The add-on uses multiple hot-keys, however these do sometimes cause conflicts with other programs. For example, the Alt-F1 hot-key, which brings up the abcTajpu menu, instead accesses my Ubuntu menu. Trying out other hot-keys I discovered a wide range of what until now were unknown ubuntu hot-keys.

Fortunately the hot-keys can be customized so as not to conflict with existing ones, but aside from these shortcuts, there are other ways of inserting special characters.

A keyboard can be accessed off of the abcTajpu menu, found under the FireFox tools dropdown menu. From within the keyboard one can type as usual and special characters can be selected off of the keyboard and inserted into the text one was originally working on.

Right-clicking to bring up a context menu can also access the add-on. Through this menu a selection of alphabets can be chosen from, which can be customised to suit your needs.

Attempting to add Afrikaans, however, I encountered a minor hitch. The window that came up to allow one to add languages (accessible through the drop down menu alongside the keyboard) was ever-so-slightly longer than my display window in FireFox.

This had the unfortunate result that, while I could select Afrikaans from an impressively large list, I could not confirm my selection due to the button being stuck off of my screen no matter how much I tried to move the window.

While I could have overcome this by changing my screen setting temporarily, being arrogantly English and not particularly wanting to actually write in Afrikaans, I did not go to the extra effort. For those who write in Afrikaans more regularly than my occasional choice expletive to friends, this would most likely be worth the small amount of effort.

The only down-side to the app is that, once one has mastered it, there are just not that many oportunities to use it in English. So in that case, at the risk of coining a cliché, it must be said that this add-on makes a fantastic attaché for those who parlez vous français, are named Morné or deal with € or £.

Ciào now!

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3 Responses to “Add-on makes special characters easy”

  1. Jonathan
    January 23rd, 2008 @ 5:04 pm

    In Ubuntu, you could set your keyboard layout to South African, and then you can press right-ALT e to make a ë, or right-alt r for ê, right-alt o for ö, etc. I prefer this much more than clicking on character maps and on-screen keyboards, and it works in most applications.

  2. Dwayne Bailey
    January 24th, 2008 @ 8:12 am

    Take Jonathan’s advice 😉 The keyboard is very unobtrusive so doesn’t bother you if you mostly type English but when you need the accents they’re there. Also its available for every single application not just things accessed through Firefox.

    I couldn’t see on the picture but I doubt it has the ḓṱḽṋṅ characters needed by Venda are available, if its configurable I’m sure you could add them, but those are critical for South African language coverage.

    On Windows you can get the same South African layout as on Ubuntu from

    The keyboard should be on all versions of Linux since its now part of

    On Mac there isn’t a layout but I’d love to see someone help port the keyboard work to that platform.

  3. Petrus Potgieter
    January 26th, 2008 @ 8:56 am

    I prefer the “US International” keyboard layout, which works reasonably well for most languages (mainly Afrikaans) using accents that I type. Most people are unaware that the default keyboard layout in SA is “US”, incidentally. The “US International” keyboard layout can easily be selected as default in Linux or in Windows (I have not tried it on a Mac, but I am sure it is trivial). In the layout, if you want to type the character ê (e-circumflex) you use the keystrokes “^e”. If you want to type the caret ^ only, you type “^^” or the caret followed by a space. It is easy to learn and easy to select on any computer that you might be using. Instructions for Window$ at;en-us;306560&x=11&y=19 – and I assume that Linux users can do it themselves.

    Another useful little command line tool in Linux is the very simple Perl script uni which can be used to search for a little used character by the UTF-8 name, for example ☺ – the smiley.

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