Tue 11 January 2011

Apple Aluminium Keyboards with udev, Xorg server 1.9


It's been a year now since I published my support for Aluminium Keyboards. Since then, my XKB patches have been accepted in XKeyboardConfig 1.9, with a few modifications:

  • The multimedia keys can always be accessed by combining Fxx with the 3rd level chooser (this was option alul3media in my original XKB patches)

  • There is now a single XKB option alupckeys to emulate the behaviour of a PC keyboard, i.e. to enable PrintScreen, ScrollLock, SysReq and NumLock (options alupcfkeys and alupcnumlock in the original patches)

Meanwhile, Xorg server 1.9 went stable, becoming more and more pervasive. As far as input hotplugging is concerned, this is a major revision for it dropped HAL in favor of udev: input discovery is achieved via udev and XKB settings for devices are fetched from the udev database.

I have thus ported the support for the Aluminium Keyboards to udev. As before, a configuration file controls the XKB settings to apply, as well as the remapping of the "fn" key to "insert", if requested.

Installing the udev-enabled support

First, download the necessary udev rules and install them in whatever directory your distrib uses to store user rules. On Ubuntu, assuming that you downloaded the rules in your home directory, this gives:

sudo cp $HOME/95-keymap-apple-kdb.rules /etc/udev/rules.d

Then, download the configuration file and install it in your distrib's configuration directory. On Ubuntu, this gives:

sudo cp $HOME/apple-kbd /etc/default

The configuration file contains various key-value pairs that drive the behaviour of the Aluminium Keyboard. By default, the configuration enables the XKB option for PC-like mapping (PrintScreen, ScrollLock, Pause, NumLock) and maps the "fn" key to "insert". Comment out the relevant lines to disable any of those settings if necessary.

There's a catch: what's your distrib?

The udev-enabled support assumes one thing: that you are running xkeyboard-config 1.9 or above. Not all distribs are equal in this regard.

A quick search shows that Arch, Gentoo, Fedora or openSUSE all ship a recent-enough xkeyboard-config. On the other hand, Debian is currently stuck with xkeyboard-config 1.8-2 (at least for unstable, I haven't checked experimental).

The Ubuntu case is the most puzzling one. At the time of writing, Maverick and Natty ship xkeyboard-config 1.8-1ubuntu8, which is based on 1.8 stock plus additional important commits from the git repository. This includes my patches for the Aluminium Keyboard (!), but unfortunately only 6 patches out of 7 have been included (!?!). Consequently, the XKB support is currently broken for Ubuntu. I have filled bug 696232 in Launchpad to track this issue and check whether this was intended or not. Meanwhile, you can grab this XKB patch and try to apply it:

sudo bash
cd /usr/share/X11/xkb/rules
patch -p0 --dry-run < $HOME/xkb-data-1.8-evdev.patch

If the patch applies successfully, you can proceed and apply it for real:

patch -p0 < $HOME/xkb-data-1.8-evdev.patch

Steps to come

With this updated support, Aluminium Keyboards work again under recent versions of the Xorg server, but there are still various improvements to think about. The next step is to package the support to make it more user-friendly. A package is definitely a good place to deal with other keyboard options, such as kernel settings for activating multimedia keys vs. function keys.

On the XKB side, it would be necessary to perform a second pass to ensure that there are no missing or misplaced symbols on the 16 existing keymaps: ANSI, JIS and the 14 ISO layouts.

Speaking of misplaced symbols: I am currently checking whether it's possible to come with a fully user-space, udev-based solution to the "keys swapped" issue that plague some owners of the ISO variants. I have some ideas, but this will be another post!