Getting Windows XP to correctly accent characters in Italian

Ask Jim

Plugged In

October 12, 2006|By Jim Coates | Jim Coates,Chicago Tribune

I am studying Italian. I would like to find a simple way to create accented characters (such as e) on my Windows XP computer. The only way I have found to do it now is to copy the characters from the Character Map. Do you have any suggestions or solutions? Mille grazie.

- Stephen Johnson

It's perhaps not for the faint of heart, but Windows comes with a keyboard Control Panel that lets a user select a few score of languages that can be set instead of English as the default for all keys and accent marks.

To explore the tool, click on Start and then Control Panel and open the icon in the next display for Regional and Language Options. Click on the Languages Tab in the Control Panel display. Then click on the button for Details and click the Add button. You'll get a scroll box for all those languages, including Italian (Italy) and Italian (Switzerland).

Now, when you open a new program, such as Word or Notepad, you must tell the computer what language you will use to type. In the task bar, on the bottom right of your screen, left-click on EN and choose IT.

To type an e, tap the bracket key that is to the left of the "p" on your keyboard.

For every program you open, you must specify what language you will use, otherwise the computer will let you type in English.

After you've typed in Italian, switch back to an English keyboard layout by clicking on IT in your task bar and choosing EN.

We decided to buy an HP tower type Media Center Edition computer with a built-in TV tuner after reading a lot of positive reviews, including some by you.

The sales guy also talked us into adding a wireless keyboard and mouse. The idea was to hook the computer up to our new digital TV set and use it as a computer monitor and a television set with a hard drive to record and store shows to view later. The wireless keyboard was supposed to let me sit at the sofa and do things such as call up Web sites and handle e-mail.

What nobody ever told us was that these wireless keyboards have a range of 6 feet, which means that you have to sit way too close to the big screen on the TV set.

- Douglas Benton

I should have talked about this more. The keyboard issue already is big in the Windows world and it's going to get a lot bigger next year with the arrival of the Vista operating system that includes built-in television software like that in today's Media Center XP machines.

It's a shame that most Windows computer owners have those 6-foot-range wireless keyboards and laptops while folks in the Apple orbit now can order iMacs and Mac mini-computers with Bluetooth keyboards and mice that work from up to 30 feet away.

For years now, specialty Windows keyboard makers have used a version of weak radio signals that, as you note, have a range of only about 6 feet. But there are a few workarounds, including somewhat costly souped-up radio keyboards and several strategies that are inexpensive but not ideal.

First and most basic is to find a way to extend the distance you can get away from the computer by stretching the equipment at hand. For example many wireless keyboards work by plugging in a receiver that amounts to a small box at the end of a 3- or 4-foot USB cord. One can move this box into the room, which may not be pretty but can extend the range up to maybe 9 feet. Furthermore, there are USB extension cords that come with a fat opening at one end and a standard USB prong at the other. By connecting the radio receiver's wire to one of these extension cords, the range can be extended a lot more. This certainly isn't a wireless system but it works.

Beyond using wires, there are long-range wireless keyboards based on high-frequency 2.7 gHz and others that use infrared signals used in TV remotes.

I use a 2.7 gHz radio keyboard from Adesso Inc. (, which has a limit of nearly 100 feet. It costs $129 on the Web site and set me back $100 at a computer store, but it has been a most welcome addition. This consists of a box about the size of the keyboard part of a laptop with a finger touchpad to move the mouse. The keyboard communicates with a USB radio receiver about the size of a thumb memory drive.

Jim Coates writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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