The German Mac Keyboard is not developer friendly


I know that the vast majority of Mac users will probably not care about what I have to say today, but this is something I’ve hated about my Mac for a while now.

Back in 2006 when I switched to a Mac, the biggest problem apart from the poor Finder GUI is the fact that the German Keayboard completely lacks printed characters that you frequently need as a programmer.

If you sit in front of your Mac’s German keyboard and want to write a program in C, Smalltalk, Objective-C or most other programming languages, you won’t find any of these characters printed on your keyboard: “[{|}]~\” and probably a few more.

Don’t get me started about the key combination to enter a Tilde!
But that put aside, given the fact that in Objective-C, Apple’s favored programming language, is stuffed with square brackets for message sends and curly braces for all blocks of code, it is somewhat a crime to programmers to not print these characters onto the keyboard.

Since I guess many developers constantly move between Mac and PC, it is surely not only me who starts searching for them on the keyboard every time they sit in front of the Mac. My primary development environment is VA Smalltalk on Windows, XCode is more of a secondary environment for me, so the fact that all of the above-mentioned characters sit on different keys on a PC and a Mac make it harder (if not impossible) to transfer the knowledge on which key to press into the muscular brain.

Apple has a design principle of less is more, and most of the times, it works out really well. But in this case, it is a complete failure in my opinion.

I like my aluminium keyboard. It is nice to type on, I can go very fast on it without too much mistyping (except for special characters), so a third-party keyboard that could replace it is probably hard to find. The ones I’ve seen so far also have no special characters printed on them in the German layout. I am quite sure I couldn’t handle a US Keyboard layout, so I have to live with it (I know because I had to type on french, swiss and czech keayboards before and I really felt lost). Grrrrr!

8 thoughts on “The German Mac Keyboard is not developer friendly

  1. That is soooo true.

    Typing the brackets just is a pain!

    But besides that I also hate to write “@”! Think of Objective-C where you need the @ a little more often than in other languages. Coming from Windows @ means pressing Alt-Gr and Q which copies to CMD-Q on Mac resulting in a closed window … I could scream all the time it happens!

    1. Hi Peter,

      this one I learned surprisingly quick. Any time I wanted to write a Mail, my browser window would close when I entered the @. Interestingly, this was in my muscular brain quite fast. But I failed miserably with the brackets. maybe that’s because the @ is printed on the keyboard on the Mac.

  2. That’s the reason I have been buying all my Macs in Germany with a US keyboard for years. I use them with a custom keymap that maps option-o to ö etc. so umlauts are really quick to type without “dead keys”. That works for original Apple keyboards, and PC keyboards with US layout too (used a nice one made by Cherry for a long time).

    1. Bert,

      Maybe I should try working on a US Keyboard as well, but I guess I would have an even harder time when Umlauts and things like “+-*’#;:” are in different places as well. To me it sounds like even more keystrokes to learn by heart than now. But hey, we share our love for Cherry keyboards. I worked with the good old classic G81-3000 for many years and especially miss it when I am sitting in front of my customers’ PC’s which sometimes have terribly lousy keaboards (like the really crappy fujitsu keyboards which begin to swing every time you hit a key….).

  3. Same on french keyboards… Not only aren’t these keys displayed, but I to have to press 3 keys to get a square bracket, not really Smalltalk friendly.
    Maybe Apple is considering the rest of the world are just end-users and should never program ?

    The most productive keyboard I ever had was on Sun (you know, the copy/cut/paste/find etc.. left pad), but it was a US keyboard.

    1. Nicolas,

      okay, so having to press 3 buttons and having no chance to guess by looking at the keyboard is even worse than on German Keyboards. You lose😉
      It’s not only Smalltalk unfriendly, but also Objective-C unfriendly, which I really don’t understand. Poor switchers who wanted to write iPhone apps. Doesn’t this sound like you need an extra portion of masochism to program on a Mac when you’re from Europe?

  4. That stinks, but maybe there’s a non-Mac keyboard that you can use that you will enjoy using?

    Or is there a way to reprogram the keyboard layout?

    1. Carl,

      while it is possible to work with a PC keyboard in theory, my problem will most likely not go away (haven’t tried, and my favorite PC keyboard does not have a USB connector), since the brackets on a PC keyboard are on different keys…

      Reprogramming the Keyboard layout has some other drawbacks: I’d have to transfer my keaboard layout to any mac I use, and another layout still is not printed on the keys😉

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