If you’re planning on buying a new laptop or netbook in Canada there’s something you should be aware of.
Throughout the entirety of the personal computer revolution, and for at least 100 years of typewriters, Canadians have been typing on what is generally known as the US keyboard layout. That’s enough time for several generations to be conditioned into typing a certain way.
Since 2009, all laptop manufacturers that ship to Canadian computer vendors have been shipping with a new keyboard. It’s called the Canadian Multilingual, or Canadian Bilingual keyboard. At first glance, it looks a bit funny, but is not that alarming. It’s got a few funny symbols on some of the keys, and a fat enter key, but is still a fairly standard looking qwerty layout.
But, in plain sight, this keyboard hides a nasty surprise.
If you’re a touch typist like myself, your first sentence typed on this keyboard will begin with a backslash, followed by a lowercase letter, and your first paragraph will end with another backslash. It sounds odd, I know. But the cause of this becomes clear when you take a closer look at this keyboard.
The first problem is that the right hand side of the left shift key you’ve spent your entire life becoming used to has been replaced with a new key. On it you’ll probably see printed the following characters
| » « and a small circle.
The second problem is that the deceptively large enter key suffers the same affliction. The left hand side of the enter key you’ve spent your entire lift depending on has been replaced with another new key!. On it you’ll probably find a
| | < >.
Now having these extra keys shouldn’t really be a problem, especially if you actually need to type a whole bunch of slashes and »s. The problem lies in how these new buttons are placed. Touch typists like myself like to rest our hands in the home position on the home row and not move far from it. Because of this, we’ve spent our lives pressing the right side of the left shift, and the left side of the enter key. They’re closer to the center of the keyboard and thus require less energy and strain to press when typing from the home position.
That’s why the US layout has the wide left shift and enter key!
I bought one laptop with this new keyboard layout back in 2009. It was an Acer Aspireone netbook. I spent about a day with it, and made so many typing mistakes, I got rid of it in frustration, replacing it with an HP Mini with a US keyboard. Since then, I’ve watched in horror as line after line of laptops and netbooks started arriving in the shops with Canadian Multilingual keyboards.
When I finally loved my HP Mini to death, and required a replacement, I couldn’t find a single small laptop with a normal US layout. They’re simply extinct. With one exception.
I am now a proud owner of a shiny new Macbook Air 11.6″, which means I’ve also had to spend about twice my budget just to get the keyboard I’ve been using all my life. I’d love to review it for you, but this is a negative ranty blog post, so it’ll have to wait until my next post.
I don’t know why this change in keyboards has taken place so aggressively over the past two years. I’ve tried to find out the reason for it, but cannot except that some have reported retailers telling them it was some kind of new law. I don’t know that this is true, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
Buy your next laptop online
My only advice, when buying your next laptop, is to go to the store and choose your favorite model, then promptly return home and purchase it online, from a US retailer. They still get the US keyboard.
It looks like I’m not alone. The NCIX boards are full of hate for this keyboard.