I used my own dead-key keyboard layout for several years but then ran into some software that would not accept the keystrokes. Also, XP can be kind of fussy about using different keyboards(don't know if that is fixed in Win7) Now I recommend an Autohotkey script written by Bhante Anandajoti that you can find here:http://www.ancient-buddhist-texts.net/d ... /index.htm
Just scroll down to the bottom and look for "Unicode input-programme." Unzip it and put it in your startup folder. It does not use dead keys, just alt and for one alt+ctrl. Right click on the icon in your tray and select About and it will give you the list of keys.
I highly recommend using the Digital Pali Reader. 1.0 is stable and very useable. http://pali.sirimangalo.org/
Read the help page in the reader itself, and read it again after having used it for a few weeks. It's packed full of features.
If you already know Latin and Sanskrit, Pali will be a breeze.
If you have never learned a language that declines nouns, then it can be tough. If you memorize the alphabetical order it will cut down on the stress of looking up words in the dictionary/glossary. So that is really a must.
If you are not familiar with basic concepts of grammar even in English, then an excellent book is Pali Grammar for Students
by Steven Collins. It's not a text book, though. The first section explains all the relevant grammar concepts as they pertain to English. The second section explains them in regards to Pali, and the third (I think) uses excerpts from the ancient grammars. He wrote the book because he found that his University students didn't even know English grammar.
I had given up on learning Pali grammar after several attempts and switched exclusively to learning vocabulary. Now, several years later, I have given the grammar learning one last shot. The time I spent gathering vocabulary has smoothed the learning curve. So if you don't have luck with the grammar, you could always spend a few years learning vocab using Spaced Repetition software like Mnemosyne or Anki.
Something else I realized is that the grammar explanations in the text books are sometimes incomprehensible. It was very heartening when listening to Bhante Bodhi's Pali recordings to hear him say sometimes, basically, that he has no idea what the explanation means. He would then go on to explain the point using the sutta text and it would make more sense. In defense of textbook writers, Pali grammar can be complicated and hard to explain.
So the conceit is that these text books will tell you everything you need to know as you move through, step by step. That is not the case. You just have to expect not to grasp some concepts the first pass through. And for sure don't stop with a text book just because you don't understand something.
Personally, eventhough I had learned German in high school, understand the basic Pali grammar concepts, even things like sandhi, it has still been very tough going. So I would say expect it to be hard work from the outset. And even if you give up, don't be afraid to try again later.