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I'm about to order a Macbook Pro with an English language keyboard but cannot decide between the two localizations available. Therefore I'd like to ask you to give me hints, pros and cons if you have used both or if you have some strong preferences.

The two localizations are:

  • US English:

    enter image description here

  • International English:

    enter image description here

The notable difference is that the International English localization has a reverse L shaped return key and an extra key next to the left shift making that a tiny one.

You should also know that I'm a non-native English writer and my native language -- Hungarian -- uses so many accents that that extra key on the Hungarian keyboard localization (which is exactly the same as the Intl one just with Hungarian accented chars) is used for a valid letter. Fortunately, when I'm writing code, I strongly prefer an English layout due to the alignment of the brackets and quotes, plus most of the time I'll write in English, not Hungarian (only to my mom or so). I guess I could create my own accented layout with Ukulele so that extra key is nothing too important.

How do you like the small reverse L shaped return key on the Intl English keyboard? Is it robust enough? Easily accessible? How is the left small shift key? How are these comparable to the larger brick shaped keys on the US English keyboard in terms of typing usability and accuracy? (Unfortunately I don't have so much access to English keyboards that I can spot typing differences.)

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3 Answers

I am a native english speaker who first used the US keyboard layout on my old iBook.

I recently however bought a MacBook Pro in Europe with the international layout. I had no problem converting. However, my only warning is that the change at the return key isn't trivial. If you switch back and forth between the two layouts a lot (i.e. you need to use more than one computer on a regular basis) you will find yourself missing the return or | keys a lot, which is pretty frustrating.

With that in mind, I would suggest you get whichever keyboard layout will minimize disruptions in your regular routine.

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I use a British Apple keyboard. With the exception of option-2 being marked as € (Euro symbol) and shift-3 being £ (pound symbol), it looks identical to the International English one, particularly with respect to the size and shape of the return and left shift keys. I've never used a US English Apple keyboard, so I can't compare directly, but I have no problems with the British layout.

If anything, the return key is arguably a larger target. Because it's at the edge of the keyboard, you tend not to overshoot it horizontally (it reminds me a little of Fitts's law), and it's larger vertically. Similarly, I find I tend to place my left hand on the left side of the keyboard with my thumb switching between space and command, my middle finger on tab and my pinkie on shift, so finding it isn't a problem.

As for robustness, on all the British Apple keyboards I've had down the years the return key has always seemed as solid as any other key, particularly on the modern ones. In some ways it feels more solid - you don't get the slight up and down rocking that you can sometimes feel on horizontally long keys on cheap keyboards.

In general, I think you can get used to any keyboard if you used it frequently enough and stick to it. Once your muscle memory starts to learn where the keys are, you'll be fine with whichever layout you choose.

Also, I wouldn't worry too much about accents. Even on the standard set up, you can get a fair number of accents through combinations of option and shift (use Key Caps Keyboard Viewer to see them). I don't know if it's enough for Hungarian, but I think most of what you'd need for French and German is there. Even if it isn't, you can switch to and from a Hungarian key map with the Input Menu without faffing around with manually re-mapping keys.

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I have a US keyboard and a Danish keyboard set up with US keyboard layout. The Danish keyboard has the same number and shape of keys as the international English (which has one key more than the US), so my Danish keyboard works just like a US keyboard with the backslash and pipe character (/ and |) moved to a more "accessible" location.

And because I use these two for programming I prefer the international English keyboard layout (/ for escaping strings and regular expressions, and I use | when programming F#). So if you are using programming languages where these characters are used heavily, then I would recommend that layout.

You can always change the keyboard layout in the OS to make it work like a US keyboard if the other differences does not suit you. Of course you must be able to type without looking at the keyboard for this to work, because the characters printed on the keys will no longer correspond with what will actually be typed.

Or if you are really good at typing, you could just stick with the Hungarian keyboard, and change the keyboard layout. You can start by trying it out without having to buy one first.

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