I left my laptop in to be repaired today, which was a pretty smooth operation until I realised I don’t know the French word for hinges. All this means that I’m currently typing this on an AZERTY keyboard.
AZERTY is the French-language keyboard layout. Like QWERTY, it gets its name from the first six letters. As you might guess from the -ERTY part, it’s not hugely different from QWERTY. There are a few little differences that can be quite annoying if you’re used to a QWERTY keyboard. I’ve already typed Q instead of A about five or six times, and Z instead of W three or four times, for example (which never stops being annoying, explaining why this is going to be pretty short). And it takes an age to find punctuation marks and other symbols, which are all in different places. Oddly, the full stop (period) is very hard to find (shift + semicolon).
That doesn’t mean that AZERTY is objectively a bad layout: I’m just not used to it. And it makes sense for the French language. The row above the top row of letters, which is the number row in QWERTY, is primarily used for accent marks, with the numbers being accessed by using the shift key.
And it’s not like QWERTY is so great anyway. It was developed in the early 1870s by Christopher Latham Sholes, and sold to the Remington typewriter company, who made a few tweaks to Sholes’ original design. The layout we continue to use was designed partly to be convenient, but also to ensure that typewriters didn’t jam by spacing commonly-used letters apart. Of course this isn’t an issue anymore, and critics have other reasons for why QWERTY should be adapted. One is that only 32% of key strokes are made on the “home row,” where your fingers naturally rest on a keyboard. The QWERTY layout also requires you to use your left hand significantly more than your right hand. And while this is no problem for me, it’s not so convenient for the rest of you.
This is why some people have offered alternatives. There’s the Dvorak layout, for example, which increases the number of strokes made on the home row to about 70%, and uses the right hand much more. Still, no matter how logical such a layout might be, the Dvorak and other layouts have never really taken off, simply because people get used to something and resist replacing it, no matter how logical that might be. And I include myself in that because, as I type a comma instead of an M, I really miss my QWERTY!