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XKB, GNOME 2.6, gswitchit and other stuff concerning Japanese

Hi to everyone.

I wanted to point out some issues regarding Japanese input in GNOME (but
also affecting XFree86 as a whole as I later found out) and Spanish in
Debian unstable, which is my specific case but I guess it affects other
users outside the American English locales.

I will try to describe my problem in a structured way. I will begin by
some Japanese-only stuff and later the most serious problems that arise
when trying to work in a multi-language system.

I use in my daily life and work Spanish, Japanese and English and I
happen to own a Japanese laptop with a (naturally) Japanese keyboard.

Terminal & Terminal emulators:
- The Yen/Pipe key, when pressed, displays a backslash. I know that in
Windows the backslash is replaced by a Yen character, which seems rather
stupid (I guess there should be some historical explanation), but there
being a separate backslash key why do terminal emulators display a
- EisuuToggle/CapsLock should behave as CapsLock when the Shift key is
pressed and as EisuuToggle without Shift. Currently Shift is ignored.

XKB (aka 'Hell unleashed'):
XKB, powerful as it might be, is such an obscure way of setting multiple
languages that it's given me more than one headache. At the point of
writing this there is no simple way of having two layouts: one for
Spanish and another for Japanese input. I don't know if the problems I'm
addressing below are more concerned with XFree86 (and possibly X.org
branch), but in any case if Debian aims to be a "Universal operating
system" (I believe it should) it ought to try to work on a solution.
Notice that if you have a non-Japanese keyboard you can use Kinput2 or
im-ja (GTK+) and pressing Shift+Space activates the Japanese input
method and does the conversion. Maybe you might be missing some useful
keys such as Katakana/Hiragana/Romaji, Han/Zen/Kanji, Muhenkan, etc. but
at least in im-ja you can define shortcuts for those functions. No need
to worry about groups, maps, layouts or whatever. The conversion
application does all the work.
If you work with a Japanese keyboard and only need Japanese and American
English (I don't include other variants of English because you might
need the pound or euro sign, for instance) the same applies. You have a
Japanese keyboard configured and switching between English and Japanese
is as easy as switching between input methods. It must be noted that
this is so because American English characters are a subset of Japanese
Now, when Spanish (and I guess any language that has characters which
are not within the set of Japanese characteres) enters the picture it
becomes really messy. To enter the character ñ (n with ~ on top) the
easiest way for Spain Spanish (I don't know layouts of other Spanish
speaking countries) is to switch the keyboard layout and press the key
to the right of 'L', where it is found in Spanish keyboards. In Japanese
keyboards this key is Semicolon/Plus key. The messy part is that there's
no easy way to do this. GNOME 2.4, via the Gkb applet worked perfectly.
Since GNOME 2.6 & gswitchit (I suspect that in order to "take advantage"
of XKB) it changed for worse. When in XF86Config you have:
        Option          "XkbModel"      "jp106"
        Option          "XkbLayout"     "jp"
And want to have in gswitchit a Spanish layout you get an error pop-up
window with the following:

Error activating XKB configuration.
Probably internal X server problem.

X server version data:
The XFree86 Project, Inc
You are using XFree 4.3.0.
There are known problems with complex XKB configurations.
Try using simpler configuration or a newer version of the XFree
If you report this situation as a bug, please include:
- The result of xprop -root | grep XKB
- The result of gconftool-2 -R /desktop/gnome/peripherals/keyboard/xkb

XFree 4.4 produced the same error. Digging into XKB documentation around
the web I found out that with XKB and its groups feature you can switch
among groups as long as you don't change the layout. In order to use
Spanish characters I need to run:
setxkbmap -types default -compat default -symbols "en_US(pc105)+es"
-model pc105

The key issue here is the -model option to change the layout.

Another very strange decision concerning XKB is that the default
alternative group for Japanese is Katakana, while in a Japanese keyboard
you have Hiragana. Anyone knows why this decision was made?

My conclusion is that XKB needs to be better documented and gswitchit
needs additional features for switching mappings beyond groups.

Does anyone know if these problems are being addressed at the moment?

P.S.: Please, CC to mail address as I am not subscribed to the mailing

:	Alfonso Muñoz-Pomer Fuentes
alf  AT  phaser  DOT  elcom  DOT  nitech  DOT  ac  DOT  jp

	    GPG public key:


"Fleshly beauty, spiritual beauty, everything that
pertains to beauty, is born from ignorance and darkness
and from them alone. It is not allowed to know and
still to be beautiful."   ~ Mishima Yukio ~

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