One feature I like about OS X is that the "Option" key can be used to enter special characters while typing, making it easy to enter scientific symbols, accents, and so on.

I know in Windows you can use the Alt key and then type in the Unicode address on the numeric keypad, but this is not as elegant of a solution.

Are there any mods for Windows that bring back the Mac-style option key?

  • I would fire "Windows" key + R, then "charmap" to find the special character. windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/… – Ivan Chau Sep 22 '14 at 7:05
  • This question needs to rise in Google ranks. I'd edit to add better keywords for google but I don't know what would grab the most searches. (And Ivan's comment above: basically "Win+R, search for charmap, launch it, [hand to mouse], scroll till you find your character, click the char, [back to keyboard], copy, alt-f4 to close charmap, past in your program" perfectly illustrates the Windows mindset that kills me vs mac. I'm not a mac fanboy but they really do have KISS figured out. "Option+[key]" to type from the symbol keyboard on a Mac .. one chord.. done.) – Still.Tony Dec 17 '15 at 14:52

The AltGr key functionally resembles the Option key. This key is placed on the right of the space bar. In European keyboards, the AltGr key has the text “AltGr” or “Alt Gr” in the keycap. In US keyboards, it looks the same as the normal Alt key and is often called “the right Alt key” as opposite to “the left Alt key”. This reflects its role in the normal US keyboard layout: it is just another Alt key, for use when you find it more convenient to press Alt with your right hand (similarly to the duplication of the Ctrl key and the shift key). But in many other keyboard layouts, including most European layouts, it can be used to produce various accented letters and other special character—whence its name, it is short for “alternate graphic”.

The Microsoft page Windows Keyboard Layouts contains information about a large number of layouts. It shows them as small virtual keyboards, and you can see which layouts use AltGr just by looking at the key to the right of the space bar: is it labelled Alt or AltGr? If it is AltGr, clicking on it shows the characters it can be used to produce.

You can enable different keyboard layouts and define shortcuts (e.g. Ctrl 1, Ctrl 2 etc.) for switching between them. That way you can utilize different AltGr combinations.

Even a common US keyboard can be made to use AltGr, e.g. by using the US International layout shipped with Windows (which is rather artificial, but still useful). If you need mathematical symbols, check out my Math keyboard layout.

  • 2
    Thank you for the information! I was not aware of the AltGr key, and I've been reading up on keyboard layouts. I also found this project on Github that binds the Mac keyboard layout to AltGr. :-) – sffc Oct 8 '14 at 5:54

On a mac, you can press and hold a letter to get accented versions of that letter. You can get this same behavior on Windows with a utility called HoldKey.

  • i cannot believe that my first purchase on the microsoft store was an app to provide keyboard functionality similar to a mac, nor that i paid more than $2 for it. but i have to admit that it's worth it - this is great! thank you! – therightstuff Aug 12 '20 at 21:57

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