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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Great but not perfect
by TasnuArakun on Wed 17th Jun 2015 22:58 UTC
TasnuArakun
Member since:
2009-05-24

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.

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