in Utilities, Windows

The accent bar, an often unnoticed but nonetheless lauded feature of macOS, would be a wonderful addition to any operating system. When I find myself using Windows, I have to awkwardly change my keyboard language with Alt + Shift to use specific accents. Remembering not only to change the language, but also memorising multiple keyboard layouts, are complexities that I can live without. Fortunately, a utility exists to cure this exact malady; Holdkey to the rescue!

For those that aren’t familiar with the Macintosh, the accent bar is a utility that allows you to type accents. It sounds simple because it is simple. You press and hold a key, and a little menu pops up with the relevant accents and alternative characters.

The Macintosh accent bar.

The Macintosh accent bar.
Source: Apple Inc

No Alt codes, no keyboard layout changes. With the Mac’s accent bar, adding accents for languages such as French or Portuguese is easy. Windows is not blessed with this feature, however. That’s where Holdkeys comes in.

More Holdkey, Less Alt-key

Holdkey is a utility by Bas van Reek, available as both a freeware and a paid pro version, that adds this feature to windows. You can download it from the Holdkey website here.

Once you have it installed, go ahead and fire up a text editor, browser, or anything else that you regularly type in. Write something out until you reach a letter that requires an accent. In the image below, the next letter that I need is a c with a cédille diacritic.

Press and hold the key for the relevant letter; in this case, the c key. The letter should change into an upward facing arrow. When that happens, release the key. A bar, shown below, will appear on your screen.

You can then tap the number key matched to the accent that you need, et voilà! The letter with the appropriate diacritical mark will be added. Now you can finish your sentence and move on to more important tasks, like installing FreeBSD!

You can customise the bar to use different sizes and styles from the Settings window. I am quite happy with the default large blue style, so I’ll be keeping it as the default setting.

Holdkey's style options.

Holdkey’s style options.

Holdkey has a few hotkeys, such as Meta + Alt + Esc to toggle Holdkey on and off. The paid version has more customisation options, but I feel that the free version is adequate for my needs. Feel free to check out their documentation to learn more about Holdkey.

I can happily recommend this utility to anyone looking for the same functionality, and I imagine that I will be keeping this installed for the foreseeable future.

As always, drop a comment below or join my Discord server if you have any comments or questions.

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