Foreigners living in France rarely have anything positive to say about the “AZERTY” French keyboard, neither do the French themselves for that matter, but it looks like its days might well be numbered.
Last January The Local reported how France's Ministry of Culture had said it's time to make a normalized French AZERTY keyboard, after concerns that it has become “impossible to write proper French” on many keyboards.
French standards agency AFNOR is currently holding a public consultation on two possible solutions, one of them more radical than the other.
AFNOR is proposing to replace the current AZERTY model with either a new and improved AZERTY or an ergonomically designed keyboard dubbed BÉPO (see photo below), that exists already but is not widely used.
Photo: Damien Clauzel/Flickr
The “ergonomic and easy to use” BÉPO model offers a complete change in how the letters are ordered with some of the keys in the middle of the board dedicated to common symbols rather than letters.
According to the website BEPO.fr “all the characters of the French language are present” on the Bepo keyboard as are all those used in European languages.
Most mathematical symbols and monetary symbols are also present.
Basically the keys are laid out according to a study of how often they are used in French.
According to BÉPO.fr the letters most frequently used are placed on the row where hands are likely to rest limiting the effort necessary to reach them and, as a result, muscular fatigue. Typing is more comfortable and the risk of “musculoskeletal” problems are reduced.
While AZERTY causes enough grief for expats at least they have a choice, with many opting to switch to English keyboard settings or indeed another country's settings, whereas the French are trapped using a system that isn't fit for purpose.
French complaints on the current system partly stem from the fact that different computer brands make different shortcuts for symbols and as we know, there's no shortage of these in everyday French. And where on earth is the “@” symbol?
And people are frequently slowed down in their search for French quotation marks (« »), the capital squiggly C (Ç or c-cedilla), and ligatures – which are when two letters are joined together (like æ and œ).
On the revised AZERTY keyboard option the alphabet and numbers have not changed place however signs like accented vowels and the “@” sign will, in an attempt to make it more user-friendly.
Crucially, capital letters with accents will be more clearly available, one of the major irritations of using the French keyboard. The full stop will also be available without needing to use the shift key.
“It's not a revolution but it will be necessary for the users to get used to it. However, the long-awaited benefits will more than make up for it,” promised Philippe Magnabosco, head of AFNOR.
But AFNOR won't be choosing a winning design. Ultimately, it will be up to manufacturers to decide based on which lends itself better to their markets.