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How to configure Ubuntu's keyboard to work like a Mac's

Typing accents on a PC is a complicated Alt + three numbered code affair. One feels like a sorcerer casting a spell. "I summon thee accented é! I press the weird magical key Alt, and with 0191 get the flipped question mark!" For a bilingual person this meant that writing on the computer was a start-and-stop process. With Mac's it a whole lot easier, just Alt + e and the letter you wanted for accents and alt + ? for the question mark. No need to leave the keyboard for the number pad and no need to remember arcane number combinations or have a paper cheat sheet next to the keyboard, as I've seen in virtually every secretaries computer in Puerto Rico.

Linux has a interesting approach to foreign language characters: using a compose key. You hit this key which I typically map to Caps Lock and ' and the letter you want and voilá you get the accent. Kinda makes sense: single quotation mark is an accent, double gets you the ümalaut, works pretty well. Except for the ñ, which requires keyboard acrobatics, a three finger keystroke of Caps Lock, Shift and back-tick making it just as arcane as the PC's alt codes. And the upside down question mark? Who knows? I wasn't able to find it. But there is a way to turn the Linux system into a copy of the Mac's and get the acute accent with compose key + e and the ~ with compose key + n. 

First go to Keyboard Layouts (not Keyboard) in System Settings. There hit the + button to add a new layout and look for English (Macintosh) from among the list. Then use the - key to remove the original English layout otherwise you'll have to switch between them and a small option to do that will pop up on your system tray. 

Then go to Options... and got to Key to choose 3rd level and select your desired key there, I use the Caps Lock but you can use the Alt key and really make it feel like a Mac keyboard. And you're done! The copyright symbol will be under the g just like on a Mac. 

If you like me switch between a Mac and Linux this will make it easier to keep typing in a natural flow. And not hunt for where the compose key puts the ¿. 


  1. Fantastic...! I am using an Apple Macbook Pro keyboard with Ubuntu 16.04 and it worked perfectly for me. Thanks for your help. Roberto

  2. Erh.. I too am running an old MacBook, though 32-bit, and 16.04. However, something seems to have happened to the Keyboard Layout programme; I find no option key and no way to choose the 3rd level key, that I have been using until now for special characters. Or where am I going wrong? Where do I find the "option" option?

    1. I had the same issue. After reading a bit, I realized you need to set the "Alternative Characters Key" in the Keyboard settings menu, under the shortcuts tab, Typing section

  3. I think its better and easier to configure dead keys in order to write accents


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