*** UPDATE ***
This functionality has been
hit or miss removed in Lion. Sometimes it works, sometimes it actually opens the .app (literally) as though you had selected "Show Package Contents" from the context menu, and you find yourself staring into the soul of CharacterPalette.app instead of launching the app itself. You now get a "Item “charmap” is used by Mac OS X and can’t be opened" message box.
There's some good news, though. It appears that as part of OSX Lion they've force-added "Special Characters..." to the Edit menu of every program. At least all the programs I've used and remembered to check. If that's not fast enough for you, any myriad of programs can create shortcuts to menu items, including the built in "Keyboard Shortcuts" portion of the Preferences. Just remember to spell it out exactly, including the elipses- Special Characters...
It's been many a year now since I started working almost exclusively with a Mac at the office, and there's very few things left that I haven't found equal or better ways of doing things compared to Windows. There are still a few things lingering, though.
For example, I've yet to find a file/folder comparison application that even remotely stands up to Beyond Compare (I'm looking at you, ScooterSoft... let's get this done!). Additionally, I've often found accessing the "Special Characters" of fonts to be quite tedious. By special characters, I mean things like €,∞, ©, and ü that I don't use on a regular basis and aren't on my keyboard. Most applications have shortcuts to the "Characters Palette" , the Mac equivalent of "Character Map" on Windows, but it's never in the same place or under the same menu.
On Windows, this is the same way, but years ago I learned that I could very quickly navigate to the Character Map by hitting Win-R and typing "charmap". Until now, I hadn't found an easy shortcut on the Mac. It requires just a little bit of setup, but then it's just as fast as its Windows counterpart:
1. Open a Finder window and navigate to Macintosh HD/System/Library/Input Methods/
2. Drag CharacterPalette.app to your Home folder (or wherever you'd like), but hold down the Option and Command buttons while you do. This will create an "alias" (like a Windows shortcut) of that file.
4. (Optional) Rename the alias to something handy. Because of my long-standing Windows habits, I named mine "charmap" :)
Unlike the CharacterPalette.app file, which is a system file, the alias will be "seen" by the Finder , or by Spotlight. Now all you have to do to quick-access the palette is to hit Cmd-Space and start typing "characterpalette" and Spotlight will suggest it most likely before you've finished typing the full word. Or, like me, you can type your renamed alias. All I have to do is hit Cmd-Space and type "charmap", just like on Windows.
Hope this helps some folks out. Leave comments if it does!