Thu 19 May 2011

Support for Aluminium Keyboards packaged, code-named apple-kbd


After many episodes, the support for Apple Aluminium Keyboards is finally becoming user-friendly. All major distribs now ship a recent version of xkeyboard-config, so there is no need to mess with XKB patches anymore...

To complete the user experience, I'm happy to introduce you apple-kbd, the collection of helpful goodies you need for your Aluminium Keyboard under Linux. Here's what you'll get with this package:

Automatic keyboard detection under X
At boot time or when the keyboard is plugged in, apple-kbd auto-updates the system-wide XKB settings so that the X server sees the Aluminium Keyboard and enables all its keys and its geometry.
Key style preferences
apple-kbd lets you remap some of the keyboard's keys: you'll get back the Insert key, the antique Print, Scroll-Lock and Pause... You can also set the precedence of functions keys over multimedia keys.
User-friendly installation
Both auto-detect and configuration features are available in a single, easy to install package. If you're running Debian or Ubuntu, there's even a package for you which comes with interactive configuration thanks to debconf!

Installing the debian package of apple-kbd

I made a PPA on Launchpad to package apple-kbd, so it's super easy to install it on your Debian or Ubuntu release. The plus of the Debian version compared to the plain sources is that you'll get a graphical dialog to configure your key style preferences. The dialog is also localized, only in French for the time being, but translators are welcome!

Automatic installation for Ubuntu Natty Narwhal

To install apple-kbd on Natty, you basically have to follow the instructions found on Launchpad. Just add the PPA to your list of available locations:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:damien-ciabrini/apple-kbd

And once the PPA repository and its GPG key are imported, you can install the package as usual:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install apple-kbd

The first time you'll install the package, you'll be asked some questions regarding the behaviour of the keyboard, i.e., Insert key, PC keys emulation... At any time, you can reconfigure your keyboard by typing:

sudo dpkg-reconfigure apple-kbd

Manual installation for the others

Oh damned, you don't run Natty (like me...)! No worries, you can still proceed the Old Way. Just edit /etc/apt/sources.list and add the following line at the end of the file:

deb natty main

And you're good to go! Resynchronize the index of available packages and install apple-kbd:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install apple-kbd

Don't want a Debian package? Get the sources!

The simplest way of getting the sources form GitHub is to download the latest apple-kbd archive:

wget --no-check-certificate -Oapple-kbd-0.1.tar.gz
tar zxvf apple-kbd-0.1.tar.gz

But you can of course fork my git repository to play with it:

git clone git://

Have a look at README.rst for the details. Basically, you want to edit the file apple-kbd to configure your keyboard preferences (Insert key, PC keyboard emulation...). Then, you need the usual:

sudo make install

I'm unfortunately a bit lazy, so contrary to the Debian package, you will need to reboot, or at least to re-plug the keyboard and restart the X server for your configuration to take effect. In a future version I will provide a command-line tool to force configuration changes to take effect on-the-fly.

Is the support finished?

I believe apple-kbd is really a milestone in the support of the Aluminium Keyboards. But of course, everything's perfectible. I actually see two important things that remain to do. The first one is to check whether the longstanding ISO-swapped-keys bug is really fixed for all the layouts. The second is to add a XKB geometry for the Wireless Aluminium Keyboards (the short ones). Plenty of work in perspective...

So here it is, tell the world about apple-kbd, future will tell if this package is useful!