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|This article possibly contains original research. (August 2011)|
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. Like the German QWERTZ layout, it is modeled on the English QWERTY layout. It is used by most French speakers based in Europe, though France and Belgium each have their own national variations on the layout. Luxemburg and the French-speaking part of 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, although the government of Quebec and the Canadian federal government stipulate and use the Multilingual Standard keyboard CAN/CSA Z243.200-92.
The competing layouts devised for French (the ZHJAYSCPG layout put forward in 1907, Claude Marsan’s 1976 layout, the 2002 Dvorak-fr and the 2005 Bépo layout) have won 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 for the simple reason that secretaries were already accustomed to the QWERTY and AZERTY layouts.
In France the AZERTY layout is the de facto norm for keyboards. Nowhere does this layout feature as an officially recognized French 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. No provision, though, was made for adapting the M key, even on a temporary basis.[clarification needed]
The AZERTY layout is used on Belgian keyboards (although some non-alphabetic symbols are positioned differently) and is also the inspiration behind the Lithuanian ĄŽERTY layout.
Several details should be noted:
A circumflex accent can be generated by first striking the ^ key (located to the right of P in most AZERTY layouts), then the vowel requiring the accent (with the exception of y). For example, pressing '^' then 'a' produces 'â'.
A diaeresis can be generated by striking the ¨ key (in most AZERTY layouts, it is generated by combining the Maj + ^ keys), then the vowel requiring the accent. For example, pressing '¨' then 'a' produces 'ä'.
The grave accent can be generated by striking the ` key (in the French AZERTY layout it is located to the right of the “ù” key on Macintosh keyboards, while on PC-type keyboards it can be generated by using the combination Alt Gr + è.
In the Belgian AZERTY layout, the ` key is generated by the combination Alt Gr + µ; the µ key is located to the right of the ù key on Belgian AZERTY keyboards) then the key for the vowel requiring the accent.
Note that the grave-accented letters à è ù (and the acute-accented é), which are part of French orthography, have their own separate keys. Dead-grave and dead-acute (and dead-tilde) would mostly be reserved to "foreign" letters such as Italian ò, Spanish á í ó ú ñ, Portuguese ã õ, etc., or for accented capital letters (which are not present precomposed in the layout).
The acute accent is available under Windows by the use of Alt + a[clarification needed], then the vowel requiring the accent. For Linux users, it can be generated using Caps Lock + é then the vowel. On a Macintosh AZERTY keyboard, the acute accent is generated by a combination of the Alt + Maj + &, keys, followed by the vowel.
In the Belgian AZERTY layout, it can be generated by a combination of Alt Gr + ù, then the vowel.
The tilde is available under Windows by using a combination of the Alt Gr + é keys, followed by the letter requiring the tilde.
In the Belgian AZERTY layout, it can be generated by a combination of Alt Gr + =.
With some operating systems, the Alt key generates characters by means of their individual codes. In order to obtain characters, the Alt key must be pressed and held down while typing the relevant code into the numeric keypad.
On Linux, the alt key gives direct access to French language special characters. The ligatures œ and æ can be keyed in by using either Alt Gr + o or Alt Gr + a respectively, in the fr-oss keyboard layout; their upper case equivalents can be generated using the same key combinations plus the French Shift key. Other useful punctuation symbols, such as ≤, ≥, or ≠ can be more easily accessed in the same way.
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 Alt Gr + 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.
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:
The Belgian AZERTY keyboard allows for the placing of accents on vowels without recourse to encoding via the Alt key + code. This is made possible by the provision of dead keys for each type of accent: ^ ¨ ´ ` (the last two being generated by a combination of Alt Gr + ù and µ respectively).
To recap the list of different keys from left to right and from top to bottom:
The description partially dead means that pressing the key in question sometimes generates the desired symbol directly, but that at least one of the symbols represented on the key will only appear after a second key has been pressed. In order to obtain a symbol in isolation, the space bar must be pressed, otherwise a vowel should be pressed to generate the required accented form.
The other keys are identical, even though traditionally the names of special keys are printed on them in English. This is because Belgium is predominantly bilingual (French-Dutch) and officially trilingual (a third language, German, is spoken in the East Cantons).
It should be noted that the key to the right of 0 on the numeric keypad corresponds either to the full stop or to the comma (which is why there are two dinstinct keyboard drivers under Windows).
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 (áàäãâéèëêíìïîóòöõôúùüû). '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.
The Belgian AZERTY keyboard was developed from the French AZERTY keyboard, but some adaptations were made in the 1980s.
All letters remain in the same positions as on the French keyboard, but there are:
Apple uses a slightly different layout for its Belgian AZERTY keyboards. Most notable are the different locations for the @-sign and €-sign, among others. This makes it more difficult to use a non Apple keyboard on a Mac, since OSX does not provide native support for the standard Belgian AZERTY layout. Third party support is available however. 
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.