Keyboard shortcuts, Localisation and Desktop Environments in Linux

Runa has initiated a thread on the Ankur Core Mailing list involving Keyboard Shortcuts, Localisation and Desktop Environments in Linux. This is relevant because this particular issue has been discussed for various non latin languages again and again. This mail in an essence manages to capture the crux of the argument especially where it states:

Do not use inconsistent shortcut keys across localized versions. The main reason for this is because users will not need to learn new keys if they somehow end up using an unfamiliar version. If you can’t read the menus, ability to rely on the shortcut keys is a *huge* deal.

There will be arguments and counter arguments for this issue. One of the things that normally crops up for discussion is do people really use keyboard shortcuts. Amazingly, a surprisingly large number do (I fail to pull up the URL for this right away, but will get it in due course).

Now the immediate question would be – should not English shortcut create a problem for users of localised desktops ? An instant reaction is that they could – we are anyway looking at these desktops being used by folks who are not exposed to English as a computing language of choice. There are two responses to this. One, the English shortcuts might be taken in a pictogram sense to be mapped and used. This might make the learning curve a bit steep but it is a working solution. We expect that a substantial number of the users of localised desktops would also be in front of English or even any other desktop (by accident, profession or pure chance) and in such scenarios the familiarity with the keyboard shortcuts would come of use. Another aspect would be the fact that locale specific keyboard shortcuts might not make sense. In fact around a year back, this thread on the GNOME i18n list pertaining to access keys, Christian Rose opined:

…Of course, if you’re translating into a non-latin script, you still might wan’t to consider using latin characters as access keys, in case the native characters are more difficult to input and use as access keys for this reason.

. The most important factor could well be whether the input method on the Linux desktop allows the usage of shortcuts in English – surprisingly they do. So, given that an application could well be scripted to recognise English keyboard shortcuts, it is more liable to break on a desktop with localised shortcuts.

There is not much reason to expose too much English on the desktop, however in the interests of usability and functional aspect of the desktop it might make sense to have English shortcuts on the desktop.