Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 17th Jun 2015 13:51 UTC
Windows Windows is an old and complex operating system. It's been around for a very long time, and while it's been continuously updated and altered, and parts are removed or replaced all the time, the operating system still houses quite a few tools, utilities, and assets that haven't been updated or replaced in a long, long time. Most of these are hidden in deep nooks and crannies, and you rarely encounter them, unless you start hunting for them.

Most. But not all.

There's one utility that I need to use quite often that, seemingly, hasn't been updated - at least, not considerably - since at least Windows 95, or possibly even Windows 3.x. Using this utility is an exercise in pure frustration, riddled as it is with terrible user interface design and behaviour that never should have shipped as part of any serious software product.

This is the story of the dreaded Character Map. I'll first explain just how bad it really is, after which I'll dive into the little application's history, to try and find out why, exactly, it is as bad as it is. It turns out that the Character Map - or charmap.exe - seems to exist in a sort-of Windows build limbo, and has been stuck there since the days Microsoft scrapped Longhorn, and started over.

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Comment by SWC01
by SWC01 on Wed 17th Jun 2015 13:59 UTC
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When you start replacing all body parts in a human being with superior robotic parts, at what point does it stop being a human being?
For Windows, I believe when they replace the character map application, Windows will stop being Windows.

Reply Score: 5

Comment by sacc
by sacc on Wed 17th Jun 2015 14:25 UTC
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Thom, you must be the only translator on earth not using Popcharwin (

Your points are valid, but also moot...

Reply Score: 2

RE: Comment by sacc
by leos on Wed 17th Jun 2015 14:38 UTC in reply to "Comment by sacc"
leos Member since:

If you happen to need a set of characters or symbols regularly, you'll have to perform the search every single time

Or you can remember their keyboard shortcuts which will be much faster. ALT-225, ALT-132, ALT-149, etc

Reply Score: 2

Comment by henderson101
by henderson101 on Wed 17th Jun 2015 14:40 UTC
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it simply does not accept scroll wheel input. Instead, the font dropdown menu at the top of the window always has scroll focus.

Well, scroll wheel does nothing, but your comment about the focus seems to be wrong. Not here, not in Windows 7. The font combo only has focus if I click on it.

You can do this by double-clicking the character, or by pressing select next to the input field. You then need to select the character inside the input field and copy it (either by keyboard shortcut or by pressing copy).

Select the character? Are you sure? I don't think so. Copy button just works for me.

Character map was designed to build up a group of characters, so this is why it's quirky. Also, double clicking seems reasonable to me - it was the first thing I did when I just opened the app for the first time in a very long time. I've always used it to type a word.. you'd type the parts of the word you can type normally in to the text box, so say: "el capit", then use the app to find and type "á", then type "n". Press "copy" button (you don't need to select the text first) and paste it in to your document. If you want any more than that, using a keyboard mapping wins over the character map app every time. "el capitán" <-- there, I just did it for you to verify what I'm saying is true.

Honestly, whenever I type in any language for more than a few hours, I install the character map. Japanese works extremely well, Swedish on a British keyboard sucks a little as it screws with the layout, but Programmers Polish is extremely easy to get on with as it uses pretty much the standard layout. This won't work for everyone, but for me it's way superior and addresses your complaints without needing a new app.

Reply Score: 2

by panzi on Wed 17th Jun 2015 15:01 UTC
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Web alternatives:

Linux and Java apps that fix all the mentioned problems except for looking nice:

I guess Microsoft simply does not care because anyone can simply use a better free alternative anyway.

Reply Score: 2

RE: Alternatives
by spudley99 on Wed 17th Jun 2015 15:59 UTC in reply to "Alternatives"
spudley99 Member since:

I guess Microsoft simply does not care because anyone can simply use a better free alternative anyway.

Hehe, that rationale never stopped them before.

Reply Score: 5

RE[2]: Alternatives
by sacc on Wed 17th Jun 2015 19:30 UTC in reply to "RE: Alternatives"
sacc Member since:
Comment by ssokolow
by ssokolow on Wed 17th Jun 2015 15:52 UTC
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However, this is not possible. Even if you click inside the grid to activate it, it simply does not accept scroll wheel input. Instead, the font dropdown menu at the top of the window always has scroll focus. To this day, even after countless years of using the Character Map, I still instinctively start scrolling with my scroll wheel, only to have it jump from font to font.

As I see it, the whole "scroll input goes to the focused element" paradigm is broken.

I much prefer the X11 approach where mouse clicks (the scroll wheel is buttons 4 and 5 internally) go direct to the window under the cursor unless intercepted via XGrabButton() and the window manager can choose whether or not to shift focus as a side-effect.

Having "mouse input goes to the window under the cursor and focus may or may not follow" just feels much more intuitive as a default and it's definitely more streamlined.

(eg. I've got it set up so buttons 1 through 3 switch focus, the scroll wheel doesn't switch focus, and the back/forward buttons on my Logitech G3 are prevented from reaching apps and instead switch workspaces.)

Reply Score: 4

RE: Comment by ssokolow
by PieterGen on Thu 18th Jun 2015 09:42 UTC in reply to "Comment by ssokolow"
PieterGen Member since:

Agreed. This is window managers behaviour. I too much prefer the usual Linux behaviour. Tweaking this behaviour in Linux window managers is easy, in Windows is it very hard

Reply Score: 3

Comment by ezraz
by ezraz on Wed 17th Jun 2015 19:29 UTC
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Off topic,
but I wanted to say what's up I love OSNews even though I'm not that popular here according to my profile ;-)

I was in the Ars AV forum and i made a post about signal chain with digital audio and they straight banned me! I have been reading that site for 15+ years and they cut me for a factual post. I didn't swear or battle anyone, they just didn't like my point of view, I guess.

Crazy. Kinda hurt my e-feelings and reminded me of an early lesson told to me, so I had to put it together here

Back to OSNews regularly scheduled stuff. (Thom - more coverage of audio?)

[I had to post this here because there's very few sites I go back nearly 20 years with. What happened to reply and take down tactics, or straight up admit when someone makes a point? I was on the internet before most, give the elderly some respect haha]

Reply Score: 2

RE: Comment by ezraz
by Bill Shooter of Bul on Wed 17th Jun 2015 19:47 UTC in reply to "Comment by ezraz"
Bill Shooter of Bul Member since:

Well, I think your're popular here. But I disagree with your audio point of view. Such is the internet that bans happen. I'm ticked that no one will put up with my political arguments. No body likes what I have to say there. Oh well. One of these day's I'll just create my own site that everyone will hate.

Reply Score: 2

RE[2]: Comment by ezraz
by ezraz on Wed 17th Jun 2015 22:04 UTC in reply to "RE: Comment by ezraz"
ezraz Member since:

i didn't know there could be a point of view in audio, but i know i have plenty of opinions. i don't get into arguments on pro-audio sites, i try to learn and lurk. it's when the topic is consumer audio that fights break out. considering how confused the modern consumer is about audio, that's no surprise.

i just preach signal chain, which says nothing can be better than what came before it. it can only degrade. to truly improve you must start at the top of the chain.

that said --- the very end of the signal chain is room treatment and speaker placement and those mean the world, are oftentimes free, and most people completely ignore them.

playback signal chain = 1-source to 2-DAC to 3-amp to 4-output to 5-transport to 6-speaker to 7-room

if you have really good 1,2,3,4 nearly every 5,6,7 sounds good, at least the best it can sound.

As far as digital resolution, I went from 1400k bitrate in 1990 down to 192k in 1999 then to 256k in 2004 and 320k in 2010,

Then I remembered 1400k and heard albums I love at 5400k and was sold. My mastering engineer had been telling me about 24bit for years, and now we all have hardware fast enough to upgrade.

Reply Score: 2

RE[3]: Comment by ezraz
by Sauron on Wed 17th Jun 2015 22:11 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Comment by ezraz"
Sauron Member since:

And what has any of this got to do with Windows character map?
Perhaps you would find yourself a little more popular if you didn't comment off topic rants in threads.

Reply Score: 2

RE[4]: Comment by ezraz
by ezraz on Wed 17th Jun 2015 22:16 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: Comment by ezraz"
ezraz Member since:

correct.... i'm not so patiently waiting for relevant stories to contain my rants.

Reply Score: 2

RE[3]: Comment by ezraz
by ssokolow on Thu 18th Jun 2015 00:11 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Comment by ezraz"
ssokolow Member since:

Could you clarify and cite the "known psychological issues with ABX testing" that you mention? ...because I'd never even heard a hint toward there being a problem with it.

(Though, unless a better alternative can be devised, I'll stick with ABX as the final arbiter. I've seen far too much harm and error brought about in all sorts of fields by trusting one's ability to be objective.)

I definitely agree with the signal chain part though. Far too many people get crazy ideas about what affects audio quality because they missed a quality bottleneck somewhere up the chain.

(Admittedly, though, that's also why I have yet to be convinced that 24-bit audio as a release format provides any significant benefit. I've yet to see a properly controlled test comparing 24-bit audio to 16-bit downsampled from the same source with proper precautions taken to ensure no glitches crept in due to different decoding paths or poor-quality downsampling.)

Reply Score: 2

RE[4]: Comment by ezraz
by ezraz on Thu 18th Jun 2015 13:00 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: Comment by ezraz"
ezraz Member since:

I can't point to anything already compiled that summarizes issues with current listening tests. I'm not sure if anyone has published the proper take down in a simple to understand form. I have read various takes and opinions burried in discussions. I can make a quick list of problems in AB tests that are ignored and could be addressed to yield better data:

1 - Our earbrain cannot do instant recall of the previous quality, relying solely on memory of previous quality while the current version is playing.

2 - Our earbrain immediately reacts negatively when the material is stopped, switched, or skips. This is an interruption to the song and this greatly skews data.

3 - Our natural listening state of music is emotional, not technical. When listening for sound quality we are not listening in a normal state and we are not listening to enjoy, therefore we can't test the pleasure of the sample.

4 - Volume and brightness will present as higher quality to many, at least initially.

5 - Most sound quality improvement is in the "air" - space and timing of the music. Because of this, often times we hear a quality change in the introduction of the song, not in the middle of the first verse. Also the "breakdown", the quiet part into a big ending - show details of quality. Therefore fast switching should not be allowed, and half-songs should be the smallest unit of sample.

6 - We are always comparing sound to our own personal listening experiences. If given strange gear we compare it to our own, we seek familiarity. If listening to strange material we aren't comfortable no matter what, it is not a natural test.

OK gotta wrap it up, I think if you google criticism of AB listening tests you might find some stuff. I support AB tests for most sciences, but when trapping for musical enjoyment it fails for several reasons.

Reply Score: 2

RE[5]: Comment by ezraz
by ssokolow on Sat 20th Jun 2015 01:43 UTC in reply to "RE[4]: Comment by ezraz"
ssokolow Member since:

Thanks. I'm currently focused almost exclusively on exams but I'll put that on my TODO list for afterwards.

Reply Score: 2

RE[3]: Comment by ezraz
by Bill Shooter of Bul on Fri 19th Jun 2015 13:26 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Comment by ezraz"
Bill Shooter of Bul Member since:

What I originally wrote was a very nice way of saying you're wrong, but generally a nice person otherwise. We just won't agree on that topic.

Reply Score: 2

RE[4]: Comment by ezraz
by ezraz on Fri 19th Jun 2015 19:26 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: Comment by ezraz"
ezraz Member since:

Fair enough

Reply Score: 2

by dnebdal on Wed 17th Jun 2015 22:30 UTC
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So - how does the Longhorn charmap look? Identical to the current one?

Edited 2015-06-17 22:33 UTC

Reply Score: 2

probably just a bug
by 0xab on Wed 17th Jun 2015 22:52 UTC
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The version number is clearly stuck in time for some odd reason, but if you look at the binary itself, you'll notice there have been changes. The checksums on 8.1 and 10 differ, for example.

Reply Score: 1

RE: probably just a bug
by Delgarde on Wed 17th Jun 2015 23:07 UTC in reply to "probably just a bug"
Delgarde Member since:

It's possible it's getting recompiled for every release, but the build numbers aren't getting updated. I don't know about the MS tools, but compilers sometimes embed a timestamp somewhere in the output, resulting in different checksums for otherwise-identical builds...

Reply Score: 2

Great but not perfect
by TasnuArakun on Wed 17th Jun 2015 22:58 UTC
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Fortunately I've never had to deal with the Windows Character Map. Looks like I have yet another reason not to switch to Windows.

It also means I can be a bit more critical of the OS X Character Viewer. Don't get me wrong – it works great most of the time – but as someone who uses it almost every day I feel I have the right to complain a bit.

I don't know why but for some reason I'm utterly crazy about writing systems. Full Unicode support, the Character Viewer and fonts for several exotic writing systems were some of my favourite new features when I switched from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X. The ability to search for Chinese characters by radikal and strokes come in handy when I tried to learn Mandarin a few years later.

However, it does feel like the Character Viewer has gotten slightly worse with each redesign.

1. It used to stay open until I closed it. I could also hide it temporarily by minimizing it to the Dock. Nowadays it can no longer be minimized and it seems to be tied to a specific application. Switch applications and the Character Viewer disappears. Switch back and it might reappear if you're lucky. Be prepared to press ctrl-cmd-space a lot.

2. Scripts used to be grouped by geographic region making them easy to locate. Nowadays one has to select which ones to display in the list on the left. The answer in my case is all of them (except emoji). So, after clicking 100 individual checkboxes I end up with a huge unordered list where I can't find anything. I can search for individual characters but not for a category or script. To add insult to injury, the checkboxes one uses to customize the list are grouped by geographic region.

3. Where is the font explorer (or whatever it was called)? I used to be able to list all glyphs in a specific font. This was very useful when dealing with scripts that had not yet been included in Unicode and were still using their own weird ad-hoc encodings and custom fonts.

Reply Score: 1

Horrible indeed
by avgalen on Wed 17th Jun 2015 23:56 UTC
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"non-scrolling with scrollwheel". Annoying and strange, although once you click a character the font-scrolling at least stops. But who would scroll through such a list hoping to find something anyway?
"advanced view". Also strange that this is needed, but at least it remembers this selection so after your first use it will always be "advanced"
"search". just searching for part of a name works, so "trade" would find your trade mark sign so would "mark" or "sign" but among way too many other options. try finding "at" for a better example

and then I am going to have to agree with all you said
* no ctrl+c / ctrl+v?
* no drag/drop? (yikes for that modal dragging)
* no recently used (even Words "Insert Symbol" has that)

It does seem to have grouping, although I will not try to pretend that I understand what "Ideographs by Radicals" are (my Japanese wife though...)
I have no problem with the spaces before colons, that actually looks more readable (though non-standard)
All the UI elements seemed decently aligned to me until I started to look more closely

Didn't you forget the biggest problem though? When you select a character it shows a zoomed in version that blocks the view of the nearby characters and doesn't go away when you press the ESCAPE key.

[quote]Whatever the cause, this is entirely inexcusable, and needs to be addressed.[/quote]
Why? I have asked around and nobody ever used this feature. I didn't even know it existed myself and thought you were talking about "insert symbol" in Word (probably even more horrible for anything but the simplest things)

[quote]For Windows 10, I deeply, deeply hope that Microsoft will give us a modern, universal version of the Character Map.... it's easily invokable from both the menubar and by pressing ctrl+cmd+space while in any text input field.[/quote]
"modern, universal" refers to apps and apps can't have system integration because of their sandboxed nature. Or in other words...don't hold your breath

No idea why I spend part of my night on this, but you are right...that thing is quite most software that hasn't been updated in 10 to 15 years (by the way, that strongly supports theory 2: no update means no versionnumber change)

Bonus: Let's see if you can find and explain "because"

Edited 2015-06-17 23:57 UTC

Reply Score: 2

a better special character entry method
by mrbumpy409 on Thu 18th Jun 2015 01:33 UTC
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Linux seems to have the best method for entering special characters, at least in my opinion. If you set this command to run on startup: "setxkbmap -option compose:ralt", it allows you to enter special characters by holding down the right alt key and typing a two-character combination. For example, to enter á you would hold down right alt and type 'a or a'. This is obvious and easy to remember (as opposed to Windows Alt-codes). Other common characters:

Type: Result:
`a - - - à
'a - - - á
"a - - - ä
oa - - - å
^o - - - ô
/o - - - ø
ss - - - ß
oc - - - ©
or - - - ®
PP - - -

It also handles capitalization, so 'A gives you Á. No need to open a character map!

Does anybody know if there is a way to do this in Windows as well. My online searches have turned up nothing.

Reply Score: 3

avgalen Member since:

That is only for simple special characters though. Most (software) keyboards handle that automatically. I have 2 keyboards installed on my machine:
* English (United States) - US for development where 'a becomes 'a
* Dutch (Netherlands) - United States International for text typing where 'a becomes á.
Of course the latter also works for some other common special characters:
`a = à
^A = Â
"a = ä
'c = ç
~n = ñ
switching between those software keyboards is done with winkey+space and gives a nice visual indicator. This is all that I need normally

Reply Score: 3

Carewolf Member since:

Those are bad example. Accents are already handled like that by most keyboard layouts.

Better examples are oe -> œ ae -> æ mu -> µ

Reply Score: 2

Doc Pain Member since:

Allow me a short addition:

Linux seems to have the best method for entering special characters, at least in my opinion.

Nothing specific to Linux here. This is a feature being present in many UNIX operating systems, such as BSD or Solaris - basically everywhere where X is available. Even better: Sun keyboards have a dedicated key named "Compose" which allows you to inout a key sequence (instead of a key combination) to combine two characters to one.

A few example:

Compose / L generates polish Ł
Compose s s generates german ß
Compose a a generates swedish å
Compose a , generates polish ą
Compose c C generates czech Č
Compose c , generates turkish ç
Compose / o generates danish ø

So basically all characters which have an equivelant in the character table and the font in use can be constructed, and it will be visible immediately. It works independently from the selected keyboard language and layout.

If you set this command to run on startup: "setxkbmap -option compose:ralt", it allows you to enter special characters by holding down the right alt key and typing a two-character combination.

On a german keyboard, you already have the right Alt key ("Alt Gr") as a modifier level similar to Shift. While this is already set when you select the German key map, using Compose requires a little addition, for example in ~/.xmodmaprc you put

keycode 117 = Multi_key

where 117 is the code of the "Compose" key on the Sun USB Type 7 keyboard (german language variant). If you wish to use another key, use the xev (X event viewer) program to find its code and then assign it to that key.

Characters with accents (and few others), like ó ò ñ â, usually don't require any addition.

No need to open a character map!

A character map might still be useful when you do not know how to input one character (or a few ones) you hardly use, "for the overview". In daily work where you need to input those characters regularly, a character map application is probably simply overkill (text production flow interruption, distraction, "mental break" / paradigm break)...

Reply Score: 2

A case in point
by ThomasFuhringer on Thu 18th Jun 2015 07:13 UTC
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Like pretty much all Microsoft products, it has gone downhill after Windows XP.

Must have something to do with the quality of the people there. A new generation took over.

Reply Score: 3

Isn't it obvious why?
by tonyyeb on Thu 18th Jun 2015 12:24 UTC
Member since:

It's clear that Microsoft won't/can't update Character Map... They don't want another EU antitrust case brought against them by the other big Character Map tool companies.

Reply Score: 2

Use Notepad?
by RampagingOgre on Sat 20th Jun 2015 11:16 UTC
Member since:

Thom, you can copy all the needed characters to text file and copy from it. Sure it's clunky, but it's better than having to deal with an unintuitive interface.
Of course, the better option would be to use alternative software, as some have suggested before.

Reply Score: 1