We live in an international Internet, one in which many people speak a large number of languages. Writing in other languages, especially those in the East, is very difficult using a US keyboard layout. For this reason, Microsoft Windows includes a character map application in its Accessories menu. However, it may be annoying to have to look through all of the characters to try to find what you’re looking for. Over time, developers have decided to make alternatives and extensions that make life more convenient. Let’s have a look at a few of those!
Perhaps one of the most extensive character maps, BabelMap has 110,000 characters, making use of the most recent Unicode standards. Aside from this, you get to search through each different block of the Unicode character set, allowing you to individually browse languages’ characters. This empowers you to quickly gain access to a language rather than having to search through the entire Unicode set like you would in Character Map. You can even search for characters by their names rather than simply browsing through all the squares. If you want a character magnified like you would in Character Map, you just have to right-click it and the magic happens. It’s the ideal application for any linguist interested in Eastern languages. This also will help you find funny characters that you might want to use on Facebook, which supports Unicode fully.
Perhaps the most useful out of all character map alternatives you’ll find is CatchChar. This is namely because it integrates with the Windows shell by adding a hotkey through which you can access a quick menu showing you a number of characters you configure within the application. When you press “Alt + Shift + C,” a small context menu will appear with a list of pre-configured special characters. Just click the character and it’s inserted wherever your cursor is. This program is very handy for Facebook dwellers who want to post little hearts and other funny stuff. It’s also very useful for ASCII art designers, providing the LEGO blocks necessary to build their brilliant works. Who’s to say that you can’t find other uses for it? Even after it stopped being developed, CatchChar continues to work in operating systems up to Windows 8.
Meet CharMapEx, a weird specialized application that has geekier reasons for appearing than BabelMap and CatchChar. The one thing that makes this application unique from BabelMap (although it functions similarly) is that it includes the ability to find surrogate fonts for characters within the Basic Multilingual Plane (BMP), which is a plane in Unicode including almost all known language characters. In simpler terms, you get to find out which font contains a character (glyph). CharMapEx also lets you open multiple searchable maps within one single multiple document interface window (like Microsoft Word did back in ’97). While simpler to use than BabelMap, its options are not as extensive, making the choice between the two difficult. Perhaps you can install both!
Got Other Alternatives?
We’d be glad to hear it if you have found other viable alternatives to Character Map that can make our lives easier. Leave a comment below for everyone to see!