Fonts and keyboards
|Generate Chinese chars|
Fonts and keyboards: the basics
Your computer system can theoretically produce a vast array of characters and symbols (Unicode UTF-8 standard, most likely) but the standard computer keyboard has only 48 keys. They can do no more than cover the 48×2=96 different characters just listed in yellow (with minor variations depending on where you bought your computer). So, if you want to avoid offending the Åströms by calling them Astrom, or if you want to avoid using foul French like lecon when you mean a perfectly decent leçon, you need to know how to produce the letters Å and Ç. If you write about music you'll also need to generate the shape of sharps, flats, naturals and short snippets of notated rhythm at your computer keyboard. You might also want to write "Dvořák" properly, or explain the Greek origins of a "polyphony" (πολύ and φωνή) or quote something in Russian, Chinese or Arabic.
There are three main ways of using your computer keyboard to produce all these sorts of symbols and characters: by changing keyboard layout and/or by changing fonts.
Your keyboard can be mapped so that existing keys can produce any character with a code number in the UNICODE set. The AltGr key can be used to access those values (ç, , ö, â, ñ, etc.) as can dead-key combinations (e.g. ` directly followed by e to produce è). This potential is at the base of the such keyboard layouts as  Tagg's 2010 multilingual keyboard;  a 'Pan-Hellenic' keyboard covering both Modern and Ancient Greek characters;  a Russian keyboard with keys set so that typing "Vladimir Putin" produces Владимир Путин (if that is what you want!).
2. Many fonts provide tables interpreting codes from the keyboard in ways that do not just provide aesthetic variants of the same letter. For example, in my XPTmusic1 font, typing lower-case H (h) produces a minim (Halfnote) and upper-case H (H) a minim rest, dollar ($) a flat sign (♭) etc.
In short, alternative keyboard layouts and extra fonts are the least time-consuming ways in which you can produce a satisfactory range of characters and symbols in the texts you write on your computer. Otherwise you will find yourself repeatedly having to drag special symbols down from confusing tables.
Generating Chinese Characters
Also useful is a rudimentary understanding of:
Generating the Chinese character for good.
If you're having trouble with the simple method just described, try replacing step 6 with the following procedure: