Manage Input Menu Items – Take Control of Font Problems in Mac OS X, Tiger Edition

Chapter . Manage Input Menu Items

Character Palette, Keyboard Viewer, and input keyboards live in the Input menu; the first has far more problems than the other two—but the latter two aren’t perfect, either! And the Input menu itself occasionally has some problems. (If you don’t even have one in your menu bar, jump directly to You have no Input menu.)

Character Palette

While Character Palette isn’t a shining example of an obvious interface, it’s extremely useful—and sometimes your only option for inputting off-the-keyboard characters. The more you use it, the more you’ll like it. And the more you’ll increase your chances of running into problems with it.

Character Palette problems that aren’t problems

Items that may seem like problems but are actually features (no, really—I didn’t mean that sarcastically) include:

  • Some installed fonts aren’t available in the pop-up menu in Glyph view. The menu doesn’t show disabled fonts or fonts in application Fonts folders—a font must be viewable in Font Book to be seen in Character Palette.

  • The Insert or Insert With Font button is always dimmed. Always? This button is dimmed more often than not; if you’re in a program that can’t display non-Unicode glyphs and you’ve picked one of those for insertion, you’re out of luck (more details in Excerpt 1: The World According to Glyphs). The button also remains dimmed if you’re using a program that doesn’t work with Unicode at all, like Word X.

  • Nothing ever shows in the Glyph Variants section. Nothing? Ever? Try selecting the glyph for the numeral one and then select the Zapfino sample in the Collections area. It just seems like nothing ever shows up because so few standard fonts have glyph variants defined.

Scrollbars are missing on any Character Palette section

This is a simple matter of resizing Character Palette vertically, since at some point there’s not enough room for Character Palette to include the scrollbars in some or all of its sections. You can resize the entire Palette, or use one of its internal resize controls (see Figure 8) to reapportion the relative sizes of its segments.

Drag the resize control (the little dot circled in this picture) to resize segments inside Character Palette.

Circle: InaiMathi U+25CC GID 277

Figure 8. 

Character Palette opens off-screen or gets stuck behind the menu bar

Why in the world this happens is beyond me, but, coincidentally enough, even as I was writing about Character Palette, I opened it and its entire upper area and left edge were off my screen; with no access to the title bar I couldn’t move it. (Why don’t we have grab-any-edge-of-the-window-to-drag-it capability in Mac OS X?) Some users find that Character Palette sometimes gets stuck under the menu bar! Here are two possible fixes:

  • If you can get at the lower left of the Character Palette window, use the Action menu’s Minimize Palette On Application Switch command, and then switch to another application to get the little Character Palette window. Move it anywhere and then zoom it back to normal size; it should open fully accessible.

  • Close Character Palette (using the Input menu’s Hide Character Palette command, since you can’t reach its close button) and Delete Character Palette’s plists.

The Insert/Insert With Font button is active but doesn’t work

Try setting the document font to match the font you’ve selected in Character Palette. (And check whether Character Palette’s search field is active, because if it is, the character you’re clicking on is entered in the search field instead of your document.)

The Insert With Font button inserts a character without the font

Set the font in the document to match the one chosen in Character Palette; or, just reformat the character to the correct font after it’s inserted in your document.

Dragging a character directly from the Font Variation section retains the font information more reliably than clicking the button, double-clicking from any other area, or dragging it from the character well.

Character Palette crashes or generally misbehaves

Character Palette sometimes presents with odd symptoms that can come and go, or stay and get worse, such as:

  • Its pop-up menus are useless because they flash open and quickly disappear

  • It doesn’t appear when you choose Show Character Palette from the Input menu

  • It crashes on opening or when you click in its window

  • It stops responding: you can’t use its pop-up menus or scroll anything

  • It opens when you don’t want it to

All these symptoms, and more, are almost always cured when you Delete Character Palette’s plists.

Tip: Tuck Away a Rebel Character Palette or Keyboard Viewer

When you don’t have time to stop and deal with an out-of-control Character Palette or Keyboard Viewer that just pops at will and won’t leave you alone, you can get either one out of your way quickly: send it to the Dock with the minimize button. It will sit there quietly, and happily, knowing that it’s still open whether or not you want it to be.

Keyboard Viewer

Keyboard Viewer is a barely updated version of the Key Caps utility that has been around for nearly 2 decades. Still, it serves its purpose and almost never acts up. Except sometimes.

Keyboard Viewer doesn’t update its view when you choose a new keyboard layout from the Input menu

If Keyboard Viewer is open when you choose a new keyboard from the Input menu, it might not register the change. Choosing the same item again from the Input menu usually makes Keyboard Viewer pay attention; if not, close it and then reopen it.

The font you choose in Keyboard Viewer is not being used in your document

This is in the “feature, not a bug” category. The font you choose from Keyboard Viewer’s pop-up menu is independent of whatever you’re doing in your document; even if you click on Keyboard Viewer to enter characters in your document, the document’s font formatting is in charge.

Keyboard commands like Command-Q don’t work when you switch keyboards

Keyboard layouts that move the Roman letters around require that you rewire your brain a little to use standard Command-key combinations. The French layout, for instance, uses an AZERTY arrangement instead of the English QWERTY. Pressing what you think is Command-Q for Quit actually generates a Command-A for Select All.

In addition, input keyboards can redefine combinations with modifiers like Command and Control as easily as they redefine what’s produced with Shift or Option. Although I haven’t found it true on any Tiger-supplied keyboards, it’s possible for a keyboard to have nothing defined for the Command-key combinations, so that pressing Command-anything does nothing!

Use Keyboard Viewer to see what keystrokes and combinations are available in your chosen input keyboard.

Edit a keyboard layout

If you need to add a few Command-key sequences to your favorite layout, or want to create an entirely new keyboard layout, try the freeware—but oddly spelled—Ukelele (

Keyboard Viewer crashes or generally misbehaves

Keyboard Viewer is not as temperamental as Character Palette, but it’s not perfect, either. To solve general problems, like crashing or refusing to open in the position where it’s supposed to, Delete Keyboard Viewer’s plist.

The Input Menu

Sometimes the Input menu, whose “name” is a little flag on the right side of the menu bar, takes on a mind of its own. (As for foreign language input keyboards, the main problem I have with them is that they don’t seem to increase my fluency at all; if you have the same problem, you won’t find that solution here.)

You have no Input menu

There’s no Input menu in Mac OS X unless you give it a reason to exist by turning on something for it to hold: Character Palette, Keyboard Viewer, or input keyboards. They’re all turned on through the International preference pane’s Input Menu tab.

The Input menu misbehaves

You’ve set up the Input menu and its contents through the International preference pane but the menu doesn’t show up in the menu bar, or it does but not all items you checked are listed, or there’s some other wonkiness: you can’t select items, their icons are missing (Figure 9), they appear and disappear from the menu. You’ve addressed specific issues like dealing with Character Palette’s and Keyboard Viewer’s plists, so you think it’s a more general problem with the Input menu itself.

The missing icon in front of the Hide Character Palette command can be indicative of a problem with the Input menu.

Figure 9. 

Here are four possible fixes, in order of simplicity—if one doesn’t work, move on to the next:

  1. Restart your Mac. Always worth a shot.

  2. Remove and then replace the Input menu. In the Input Menu tab of the International preference pane:

    1. Uncheck Show Input Menu In Menu Bar.

    2. Close the Preferences window.

    3. Reopen the International preference pane and recheck Show Input Menu In Menu Bar.

  3. Really remove and then replace the Input menu. This is a more forceful way of doing the same thing I just described, but it works sometimes when the “gentle” method doesn’t. With the preference pane closed:

    1. Remove the Input menu by Command-dragging it off the menu bar.

    2. Reactivate the Input menu by checking Show Input Menu In Menu Bar in the International preference pane’s Input Menu tab.

  4. Remove and then really replace the Input menu. If the previous methods don’t work, it’s time to change how you reactivate the Input menu:

    1. In the International preference pane’s Input Menu tab, uncheck Show Input Menu In Menu Bar.

    2. Close the Preferences window.

    3. Navigate to /System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras.

    4. Find the icon and drag it into the menu bar.

      Yes, you heard me—drag the file into the menu bar where you want the Input menu to be. And there it is!

Input Keyboards

Some foreign language keyboards are missing from the International pane’s list

Some foreign language keyboards won’t be listed if there’s no appropriate font installed.

You logged out with a foreign keyboard active and now you can’t log in

Log out with a foreign keyboard active, and you might not be able to enter your password when you log back in: the alternate keyboard remains active and your password characters might not be available from it. Here are some things that can help you avoid this snag:

  1. Change the keyboard trigger for keyboard switching: The default Command-Spacebar is easy to type accidentally and can switch you to a foreign keyboard as you log out; see Change Keyboard Shortcuts.

    Keyboard shortcut clash

    Command-Spacebar is also the default trigger for Finder’s Spotlight search. (I’m only the messenger!) You should change either the Input menu or the Spotlight shortcut if you use both of them; see Change Keyboard Shortcuts.

  2. Select your password carefully. Make sure the characters you need are available on your foreign language keyboard (numbers are pretty ubiquitous), and know which keys produce them.

  3. Put keyboard choices on the login screen:

    1. Open the Accounts preference pane.

    2. Select your Account in the list.

    3. Click the lock icon at the bottom of the window to unlock it, providing your password when asked.

    4. Click Login Options at the bottom of the Account list.

    5. Check Show Input Menu In Login Window.

    6. Click the lock icon to lock the changes.

      On subsequent startups, you’ll get a keyboard menu in your login dialog so you can switch keyboards.

  4. Forgo the password. If you’re the sole user of your Mac and security is not an issue, set up an automatic login so you never have to type your password (unless you’re using Safe Mode, which still requires it). Use the steps just described for changing login options, substituting:

    1. Check Automatically Log In As.

When it’s just not your day, and you lock yourself out of a login because of a foreign keyboard, there’s a simple workaround that might work, and a more elaborate one that’s a sure thing:

  1. Use a different account. If you’re lucky enough to have another account with administrative privileges already set up, you can log in to it and change the password for your locked-out account to something that you can type from the foreign keyboard. While you’re in the other account, switch to the keyboard in question and figure out a new password that’s typeable.

  2. Do the you-don’t-need-a-password end run. If there’s no other account you can use, or you can’t enter your password characters from the foreign keyboard, all is not lost:

    1. Start up with the Tiger install DVD.

    2. Ignore the Installer screen; choose Utilities > Reset Password.

    3. Select your Mac’s volume.

    4. Set the user name of the original administrator account.

      Don’t select System Administrator (root); that’s a whole ’nother world.

    5. Enter a new password.

      You have to stick to something safe, like numbers, that will be useable with the foreign keyboard still active; something like 123 will work with almost any keyboard, and you can change it later after you log in.

    6. Click Save.

    7. Restart.

Tip: Change Keyboard Shortcuts

One of the most under-utilized features of Mac OS X is its capability of assigning keyboard shortcuts for many menu commands and other system functions (like controlling the Dock and Dashboard).

To change the default shortcut for Input keyboards:

  1. Go to the Keyboard Shortcuts tab of the Keyboard & Mouse preference pane.

  2. Expand Input Menu in the list.

  3. Click on one of the listed triggers and type the new key combination.