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AZERTY is a specific layout for the characters of the Latin alphabet on typewriter keys and computer keyboards. The layout takes its name from the first six letters to appear on the first row of alphabetical keys; that is, ( ). Similar to the German QWERTZ layout, it is modelled on the English QWERTY layout. It is used by most French and all Flemish speakers based in Europe, although France and Belgium each have their own national variations on the layout. Luxembourg and Switzerland use the Swiss QWERTZ keyboard. Most of the residents of Quebec, the mainly French-speaking province of Canada, use a QWERTY keyboard that has been adapted to the French language such as the Multilingual Standard keyboard CAN/CSA Z243.200-92 which is stipulated by the government of Quebec and the Government of Canada.
The competing layouts devised for French (e.g., the ZHJAYSCPG layout put forward in 1907, Claude Marsan's 1976 layout, the 2002 Dvorak-fr, and the 2005 Bépo layout) have obtained only limited recognition.
The AZERTY layout appeared in France in the last decade of the 19th century as a variation on American QWERTY typewriters. Its exact origin is unknown. At the start of the 20th century, the French "ZHJAY" layout, created by Albert Navarre, failed to break into the market because secretaries were already accustomed to the QWERTY and AZERTY layouts.
In France the AZERTY layout is the de facto norm for keyboards, though it is not an official standard. However, in 1976, a QWERTY layout adapted to the French language was put forward as an experimental standard (NF XP E55-060) by the French national organization for standardization. This standard made provision for a temporary adaptation period during which the letters A, Q, Z and W could be positioned as in the traditional AZERTY layout.
The AZERTY layout is used on Belgian keyboards, although some non-alphabetic symbols are positioned differently.
In X11, the window system common to many flavors of UNIX, the keyboard interface is completely configurable allowing each user to assign different functions to each key in line with their personal preferences. For example, specific combinations of key could be assigned to many other characters.
It is possible to fill in these gaps by installing a keyboard driver that has been specially enriched for the French language.
One can also use WinCompose in order to easily write all characters, the character
Ç could be written by pressing or the character
« with , there is also an option to allow to write accentuated capitals with such that
Ç is writable with .
Some word-processing software packages sometimes address some of these gaps. The non-breaking space can be obtained by pressing the Ctrl key, followed by a space, in a word-processing package such as OpenOffice.org Writer, or by using Ctrl + Maj [Caps] + Espace [Spacebar] in Microsoft Word.
Apart from these gaps, the French AZERTY layout has some strange features which are still present in the Microsoft Windows Vista operating system:
As of January 2016 the French Culture Ministry is looking to replace the AZERTY layout with one that will decrease the chance of typing mistakes. This project, led by the French national organization for standardization AFNOR, should release both an improved AZERTY and a BÉPO layout. Initially due in January 2018, the standard is now scheduled for June of that year.
The French and Belgian AZERTY keyboards also have special characters used in the French language, such as ç, à, é and è, and other characters such as &, ", ' and §, all located under the numbers.
Some French people use the Canadian Multilingual standard keyboard.
The Portuguese (Portugal) keyboard layout may also be preferred, as it provides all the French accents (acute, grave, diaeresis, circumflex, cedilla, including on capital letters that are not all possible with a basic French standard layout, and also the French quotation marks or guillemets, «»). Furthermore, its dead-letter option for all the accent keys allows for easy input of all the possibilities in French and many other languages (áàäãâéèëêíìïîñóòöõôúùüû). 'ç' is, however, a separate key (but only as a lowercase letter in the basic French standard layout).
The US-International keyboard may also used for the same reason (notably by programmers as it allows easier input of ASCII characters, provided that they are trained to a QWERTY layout rather than the most common AZERTY layouts available in most computer shops, including online). An alternative (extremely rarely found) to AZERTY is the Bépo layout : it's not available on any notebook, but may be used by adding an external keyboard, bought separately from some specialized shops.
However the most common layouts available as an option in computer shops and that are not using the standard French layout is still the basic US layout, plus the QWERTY-based layouts used for Chinese and Vietnamese (that you can find in Parisian shops where there's a large enough Asian community, many of these shops being owned by people of Chinese or South-East Asian origin), or Arabic. Computer providers have also sold computers with the Belgian French AZERTY layout to French universities and schools. Most standard national layouts used in the world, and all layouts used in the European Union can easily be bought in online shops within the European Union as the old standard French keyboard is no longer mandatory.
Apple's keyboards use the same AZERTY layout in both France and Belgium. Based on the Belgian version, the most notable differences are the locations for the @-sign and EUR-sign, among others. OS X also supports the standard French layout for non-Apple keyboards; the standard Belgian layout, however, is available through third-party support only.
There is also an Arabic variant of the AZERTY keyboard. It is especially used in the African countries Algeria, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia and in Arab communities in French-speaking countries to be able to type both in Arabic and in French. See Keyboard layout and Arabic keyboard for more informations.
The Tamazight (Latin) standards-compliant layout is optimised for a wide range of Tamazight (Berber) language variants - including Tuareg variants - rather than French, though French can still be typed quickly. It installs as "Tamazight_L" and can be used both on the French locale and with Tamazight locales.
QWERTY and QWERTZ adaptations of the layout are available for the physical keyboards used by major Amazigh (Berber) communities around the world.
Other layouts exist for closer backwards compatibility with the French layout. They are non-standards-compliant but convenient, allowing typing in Tifinagh script without switching layout:
All the above layouts were designed by the Universal Amazigh Keyboard Project and are available from there.