Chinese Input Methods
in Ubuntu 13, 12, 11, and 10
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How to Set Up Ubuntu Chinese IMEs
After installing Chinese support in Ubuntu 10 / Ubuntu 11 / Ubuntu 12 or 13, you can select and configure input methods.
IBus-Table Chinese Input Methods:
The Pinyin input method supports simplified and traditional characters in the mainland standard GB encoding. This IME seems similar to Google Pinyin (and less like Sogou Pinyin now that the apostrophes are gone).
The SunPinyin input method was added as an alternative PRC IME beginning with Ubuntu 11.10. Developed by a Sun Microsystems globalization team and now an open source project also adopted by the FIT folks, I find it a bit more mature than some. But it too violates Pinyin parsing rules by inserting spaces between Pinyin as you type...and does it yet again by placing no space between "Sun" and "Pinyin" in the name. But language is as language does, whatever.
The Chewing input method continues to offer traditional characters in the Taiwan standard Big 5 encoding, with Zhuyin ("chew-ing", get it?), Hanyu Pinyin, Eten, IBM and many other keyboards. Chewing is in both the IBus and SCIM frameworks. This one is similar to Microsoft's New Phonetic IME, but it's more 酷. :-)
The developers of the Pinyin input method at the top of this list have also released the IBus Bopomofo IME for simplified and traditional character Zhuyin input in mainland-standard GB encoding, and the Wubi86 IME as well.
Non-phonetic input methods like Wubi86, Cangjie and Quick are not in my menu above of course, because being "Pinyin Joe" I don't use those.
The m17n input methods are included in the Ubuntu 10.04 install but were dropped from Ubuntu 10.10. If you do a clean install of 10.10 or later and still want any of those relatively simple keyboards - like pinyin (m17n), a nifty little Pinyin-with-tonemarks phonetics IME, or the bopomofo (m17n) Zhuyin phonetics IME - all you need to do is grab m17n again, as I explain in my FAQ on reinstalling ibus-m17n.
For Cantonese input methods, use Synaptic to search for ibus-table-cantonese, ibus-table-jyutping, or scim-tables-zh. I have never tried those. You can also use CantoInput, which is a free Java app I have reviewed in my survey of third-party apps. As I mention on the fonts page, Ubuntu does include HKCS fonts.
SCIM Chinese Input Methods:
IBus is still not the most stable thing, so if you prefer you can still install the SCIM framework in Ubuntu and use the Smart Pinyin (智能拼音) IME instead. This one is very good and quite stable (and similar to Microsoft's MSPY), but I believe development ended in 2005. The Chewing IME (similar to Microsoft's New Phonetic IME) is available in both IBus and SCIM. My Ubuntu 9.04 input methods page contains more information on the features of these IMEs, and I can point you to more information on installing SCIM in Ubuntu 9 and up.
Selecting IBus Chinese Input Methods in Ubuntu 10, 11, 12 or 13:
After installing Chinese support (including selecting IBus in the little menu I showed you there, then logging out and logging back in), click on the keyboard icon at the top of your screen and in the menu select "Preferences".
In Ubuntu 10 this is also under
System > Preferences > Keyboard input methods.
In Ubuntu 11 and later you can also search via the Dash (or Ubuntu/Windows key) in the Application Lens for "Keyboard" or "input".
Then in IBus Preferences, click on the second tab, "Input Method", and click on the "Select an input method" menu. Ubuntu 12 introduced only small changes and is still very similar to the following screen shots, but you'll need to check a box next to a new "Customize active input methods" option before you can edit IBus Preferences.
Scroll down to "Chinese" and you will see the available input methods. (In a clean installation of Ubuntu 10.10 or later, you will not see m17n IMEs unless you separately get ibus-m17n).
Select the input method(s) you want and click the "Add" button. Below you can see that I selected all of the ibus-table Chinese phonetic input methods, skipping the non-phonetic Wubi86, Cangjie 3 and Cangjie 5, and also selected two useful items from ibus-m17n, "Chinese - pinyin (m17n)" for Pinyin with tone marks, and "Chinese - bopomofo (m17n)" for Bopomofo/Zhuyin symbols:
Now press the "Close" button.
Please don't forget this next step even if everything seems to be working fine: when you make a change in IBus Preferences, I recommend that you always click on the keyboard icon and select "Restart".
The keyboard disappears and reappears, and now we're ready to configure your input method input methods. And again, if you ever quit out of IBus, go to System > Preferences > Keyboard input methods, start the service, then log out and log in again.
If the keyboard menu doesn't show up, well that's IBus for you. Rather than spend time rooting around in the system, for a quick fix so I can get to work I just set the floating keyboard panel to always appear, and I change input methods by pressing <Alt-Shift> until IBus starts behaving at least enough to let the language panel work even if the keyboard menu remains hidden.
Configuring the input methods for Pinyin or Zhuyin, and other options:
After restarting IBus, if the keyboard menu still says No input window instead of listing your input methods, open an application like gedit or OpenOffice Writer and click inside a document. If that still doesn't work, click on the floating keyboard panel (which can be set to always appear as described above). And if all else fails, try another Restart of IBus (also described above).
Now the menu should show all the input methods you've selected. But I find IBus to still be annoyingly unstable sometimes, and that it is best controlled from the floating language panel instead of from the keyboard menu. Therefore I suggest you go back to that Preferences item on the keyboard menu just once more, to bring up IBus Preferences panel where you can tell it to always show the language panel:
I like to use <Alt-Shift> as the default keyboard shortcut for switching input methods. But you can also click on the floating language panel (or on the keyboard menu, but as I said sometimes that IBus menu doesn't cooperate as well).
Let's start by configuring the Chewing input method. Chewing supports Pinyin and Zhuyin (Bopomofo), and also other non-input methods including the non-phonetic E-Ten (Yi Tian).
Using Pinyin in the Chewing IME:
Many people want to use Hanyu Pinyin instead of "Bo Po Mo" to type traditional characters in the Taiwan Big 5 encoding standard. To switch the Chewing IME from Zhuyin to Pinyin, click on the Settings button in the Language Panel. In the Settings (設定) panel, click the third tab, Keyboard (鍵盤). Then click the first drop-down menu, and select the last item in the list: Hanyu (漢語). Click the Save (儲存） button, and you're done!
Feel free to click around in this Settings panel and experiment with other configuration options for the Chewing IME.
Using Traditional Characters in the IBus Pinyin IME:
On the other hand, you may want to use the IBus Pinyin IME to type traditional characters in mainland GB encoding. To change this from the default simplified characters set, click on the IBus Pinyin language panel's Preference button (the one with the letter "i") and in the "General" tab under "Initial State" you'll find a setting for Traditional or Simplified Chinese:
This panel is where you'll find many other options for the Pinyin IME.