A proposal for a new, (hopefully) better French national layout.

First, a disclaimer: I am not French and I don't know anything about anything. Now, with that out of the way...

As you know, I like to tinker with the logical layouts that exist on top of the keyboards' physical layouts, and I've made several custom ones for different needs. My attention was recently brought to the French AZERTY national layout (see it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AZERTY) and to all the criticism that it suffers.

Most people focus on the reordering of the letters A, Q, W and Z, but I think this is actually the least of AZERTY's problems: it moves the numbers to the Shift layer, it mixes numbers and letters (é, è, ç and à), making it quite difficult to type the latter in their uppercase forms, it shuffles the typographic symbols with seemingly little order, it unexplainably lacks several characters that are commonly used in French (æ, œ, «, », etc.), but assigns a base key to the ù character (which sees quite little use in the language), and it even lacks the French franc symbol (₣)... although it does contain the dollar ($) and sterling poung (£) symbols (yes, this is less of a problem nowadays, with the euro, but the French franc symbol is still needed).

There have been some proposals to create a new layout for the French language, like BÉPO, that have failed to gain any traction, and part of the reason for it is the historical weight of the QWERTY layout — any new layout that reorders the letters faces an uphill battle.

I figured I could design a new layout for the French language that fulfills the following criteria:

  • It should be based on QWERTY.
  • It should be optimized for the French language, including all the letters, numbers and symbols present in the extant AZERTY layout and adding the ones that it sorely lacks.
  • Its key assignments should be intuitive and easy to remember.
  • It should look similar to neighboring national layouts, and take advantage of common symbol placements (for example, pretty much every national layout has the % sign on Shift-5, so that's where it should go here, as well).
  • It should make accomodations to allow typing in neighboring languages (Spanish, German, etc.).

With that in mind, this is what I've come up with:

NouvFr.kle2.png
Nouveau Français layout.


Note that on the AltGr layer, the symbols in green already exist in AZERTY, while the symbols in blue are newly added in this layout.

The main features are:

  • The basic alphabet and the numbers follow the QWERTY standard. The only accented letter in the base layer is É, which is to the right of L (like Ñ is in the Spanish layouts and Ö in the German one).
  • The vowels with grave accents and the C with cedilla are in the AltGr layer, under their respective letters. I have to point out here that this was Myoth's idea, and it's a quite inspired one (in my original draft, I was going for only a dead key for the grave accent).
  • The dead keys for the circumflex accent and the diaeresis keep their position to the right of P.
  • The grave accent has a dead key in the base layer, which allows easy typing of the À, È and Ù characters if for some reason the user doesn't like the AltGr- combinations... plus Ì, Ò and other letters with grave accents.
  • The same key as above also contains the tilde dead key on the Shift layer, AND the acute accent dead key on the AltGr layer (an inexplicable omission in the AZERTY layout).
  • Æ and Œ are added on the AltGr layer under Z and O (A isn't availble, and Z is close enough to be a comfortable assignment).
  • Many typographical symbols (< > , . ; : ! " # $ % & / ( ) = + *) are located in places that are common to many national layouts, especially the neighboring ones.
  • The rest of the typographical symbols, especially the "new" ones, are located in the AltGr layer, in places that are easy to figure out, based on their names: tiret long under AltGr-T, paragraphe under AltGr-P, (opening) guillemet under AltGr-G (and the closing one right next to it), livre under AltGr-L, etcetera.
  • A few extra, non-French characters allow proper typing in neighboring languages (Ñ, ¿ and ¡ for Spanish, · for Catalan, ẞ and „ for German, IJ for Dutch). Portuguese and Italian, by the way, are also covered without the need for extra symbols.
  • This is an ISO layout, but a provision is made for ANSI keyboards, by having a secondary assignment for the characters <, > and \.

As you can see, this layout looks VERY different from the extant AZERTY layout, but looks similar to the Spanish, German and some other western/central European layouts... and in my opinion is quite elegant. Making an AZERTY variant is quite straightforward as well:

NouvFr.kle3.png
Nouveau Français layout - QWERTY and AZERTY


Using MSKLC, I created the software driver to install this layout on a Windows-based PC; I've been testing it on my own, and I am happy with it. Of course, my opinion on this subject couldn't matter less — this is where French people should weigh in and comment. Could this be a viable replacement for AZERTY?
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Unread post07 Mar 2018, 09:30

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Some good ideas indeed, but removing "direct" access to à, è is a no-go for anyone who types French texts.
They are full-fledged letters and are used more frequently than k or w:
https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fr%C3%A9q...n%C3%A7ais
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Unread post07 Mar 2018, 15:42

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I don't think what I'm going to say is relevant to the discussion but here we go:

I live in Quebec where we work in french and english (so we speak frenchglish ;) ).
I grew up with an ANSI-US layout and as a programmer, I code with that layout.
However I communicate in french with my team (email, chat, etc.).
Therefore, I must constantly switch from ANSI-US to ANSI-CA-FR (?) just to use the diacritics.

For me, an ideal layout is ANSI-US + easy access to diacritics, that's it.
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Unread post07 Mar 2018, 16:02

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Unread post07 Mar 2018, 16:26

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kbdfr wrote:Some good ideas indeed, but removing "direct" access to à, è is a no-go for anyone who types French texts.
They are full-fledged letters and are used more frequently than k or w:
https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fr%C3%A9q...n%C3%A7ais

But is this "lack of direct access" that bad if there's a grave accent dead key in the base layer? (of course, it could be moved to a closer key, like where { and [ are currently located). In Spanish, á is more frequently used than j, z, ñ, x, w and k, yet no one complains about that (of course, á isn't a letter in and of itself in Spanish... and so isn't in French, or at least that is what I thought to be the case).
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Unread post07 Mar 2018, 16:26

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depletedvespene wrote:
kbdfr wrote:Some good ideas indeed, but removing "direct" access to à, è is a no-go for anyone who types French texts.
They are full-fledged letters and are used more frequently than k or w:
https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fr%C3%A9q...n%C3%A7ais

But is this "lack of direct access" that bad if there's a grave accent dead key in the base layer? […]

Yes.
Have a look at letter frequencies.
In French it is 0.486% for à, which is much more than the 0.311% for ñ in Spanish.
In other words, à is much more frequently used in French than ñ is in Spanish.
I rather doubt you would advocate having to press AltGr+n or a dead key+n to obtain ñ on your Spanish keyboard.
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Unread post07 Mar 2018, 17:29

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kbdfr wrote:
depletedvespene wrote:
kbdfr wrote:Some good ideas indeed, but removing "direct" access to à, è is a no-go for anyone who types French texts.
They are full-fledged letters and are used more frequently than k or w:
https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fr%C3%A9q...n%C3%A7ais

But is this "lack of direct access" that bad if there's a grave accent dead key in the base layer? […]

Yes.
Have a look at letter frequencies.
In French it is 0.486% for à, which is much more than the 0.311% for ñ in Spanish.
In other words, à is much more frequently used in French than ñ is in Spanish.
I rather doubt you would advocate having to press AltGr+n or a dead key+n to obtain ñ on your Spanish keyboard.

Indeed, but Ñ is a distinct letter in the Spanish alphabet, while à in French is an a letter with a diacritic. Do remember that one of the principles of national layout design is that actual letters should have their own base key (this is why, say, the Swedish layout has base keys for Å, Ä, Ö).
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Unread post07 Mar 2018, 17:35

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IMHO it shouldn't matter what it "is", it's the usage frequency that should dictate the speed of accessing that symbol.
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Unread post07 Mar 2018, 17:39

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depletedvespene wrote:
kbdfr wrote:
depletedvespene wrote:[…]
But is this "lack of direct access" that bad if there's a grave accent dead key in the base layer? […]

Yes.
Have a look at letter frequencies.
In French it is 0.486% for à, which is much more than the 0.311% for ñ in Spanish.
In other words, à is much more frequently used in French than ñ is in Spanish.
I rather doubt you would advocate having to press AltGr+n or a dead key+n to obtain ñ on your Spanish keyboard.

Indeed, but Ñ is a distinct letter in the Spanish alphabet, while à in French is an a letter with a diacritic. Do remember that one of the principles of national layout design is that actual letters should have their own base key (this is why, say, the Swedish layout has base keys for Å, Ä, Ö).

à is as much a full-fledged letter in French as ñ is in Spanish.
Or conversely, ñ is as much a letter with a diacritic in Spanish as à is in French.
Same applies, by the way, e.g. to ü in German (frequency near 1%, i.e. more than three times as much as the Spanish ñ!).
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Unread post07 Mar 2018, 17:56

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kbdfr wrote:
depletedvespene wrote:Indeed, but Ñ is a distinct letter in the Spanish alphabet, while à in French is an a letter with a diacritic. Do remember that one of the principles of national layout design is that actual letters should have their own base key (this is why, say, the Swedish layout has base keys for Å, Ä, Ö).

à is as much a full-fledged letter in French as ñ is in Spanish.

Everything I've read about the French language so far says otherwise, so let's just agree to disagree over this particular point.

That said, assuming à DOES need its own base key, where would YOU put it in the layout I propose?

(let's also note that this way, æ can now be located in AltGr-A)
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Unread post07 Mar 2018, 18:06

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depletedvespene wrote:
kbdfr wrote:à is as much a full-fledged letter in French as ñ is in Spanish.

Everything I've read about the French language so far says otherwise, so let's just agree to disagree over this particular point.

I wonder by which criteria you differentiate a (quote) "distinct letter" from a (quote) "letter with a diacritic", particularly in a language you admittedly do not know (quote: "I am not French and I don't know anything about anything").
But well…

That said, assuming à DOES need its own base key, where would YOU put it in the layout I propose?

I simply wouldn’t want to use your numpadless layout which makes lowercase numbers on the number row necessary.
If you want to extend functionality, a good start would be to not reduce the layout.

Spoiler:
This, by the way, is my keyboard (layout slightly modified since pic was taken):

my keyboard 15-06-04.jpg
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Unread post07 Mar 2018, 19:05

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kbdfr wrote:This, by the way, is my keyboard (layout slightly modified since pic was taken):

my keyboard 15-06-04.jpg

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Unread post07 Mar 2018, 19:09

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I posted the alphanum block only for clarity purposes — it wasn't like, say, the nav cluster would have any influence. THIS is the full image of the layout:

NouvFr.kle1.png
The full image of the proposed layout, including the irrelevant stuff that I cut for clarity.
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Unread post07 Mar 2018, 19:11

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Wodan wrote:[…] [salty video]

It’s not a matter of size, but of functionality :lol:
depletedvespene wrote:I posted the alphanum block only for clarity purposes — it wasn't like, say, the nav cluster would have any influence. THIS is the full image of the layout:

NouvFr.kle1.png

So there is no real need to have lowercase numbers on the num row as they are on the numpad anyway.
Thinking of it… then there is indeed no need for numbers at all on the num row - why not use their locations for uppercase É, Ç and the like, and for the symbols you seem to be missing (even if I wonder whether is really necessary)?
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Unread post07 Mar 2018, 19:46

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kbdfr wrote:
depletedvespene wrote:I posted the alphanum block only for clarity purposes — it wasn't like, say, the nav cluster would have any influence. THIS is the full image of the layout:

NouvFr.kle1.png

So there is no real need to have lowercase numbers on the num row as they are on the numpad anyway.
Thinking of it… then there is indeed no need for numbers at all on the num row - why not use their locations for uppercase É, Ç and the like, and for the symbols you seem to be missing (even if I wonder whether is really necessary)?

My basic design principle was to start with a QWERTY layout, including the numbers in the base layer (as opposed to the Shift layer). We could eliminate this requirement and put those keys to another use, but later on, a TKL form factor would be unfeasible...

Also, what symbols do you feel I'm still missing?
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Unread post07 Mar 2018, 19:52

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Soooo it's finally time for me to crash the thread, changing the AZERTY layout to be normalised for multiple languages and more convenient was a goal I acquired recently while coming back to AZERTY, I was a long time ISO-UK user (about 6 months, yes it's not much but I used to switch between ISO-FR and ISO-UK all the time before I finally decided to switch to ISO-UK) I came back to AZERTY by the acquisition of a OG Cherry French keyset, I think it's a layout that looks good but isn't very convenient, some habits I picked up with ISO-UK were just too blatantly missing on AZERTY to be left as is.

That's why I started to make a layout that would be very different :

V1 :

Image

This is what my first layout looked like, for me it was at the time something very bizarre but something that could actually work (some ideas I had about this layout are something I'm still proud of, for exemple the shift of the number row, something weird but that wouldn't be too stupid when thought about), but then I thought about all the problems it would beget (mainly the Alt-Gr layer). (yes it's missing some crucial symbols, I forgot about them because of the so big of a change it was)

And that's when I reached out to despletedvespene asking what did he think about it. After talking about him I pushed another version of it.

V2 :

Image

I worked a lot on this because I realized how bad my first layout was, it was just awful, nothing was really good about it, so many changes, some of which seemed ridiculous and thoughtless. This needed a change, this layout, V1.0 was this change. I tried to take the despletedvespene approach and add a lot of things to fill as much as I could, but something felt off, there was just simply too much, it was too much. So I decided to again, try something new.

V3 :

Image

I thought about a lot about this one, I didn't want to divague too much from the original concept, I just really want to upgrade it instead of replacing it. I really think this is as good as I can do, I tweaked a lot of it and I started to actually use it

Spoiler:
of course my mighty 1800 was going to be my guinea pig :lol:
Image
Image


I must say, typing both in french and english never felt so good. I'm really satisfied with this. I'm actually using it and I don't see a lot of problems with it, a lot less than with the others at least, I know there still is problems and I'm ought to solve them, but for now, this test phase is going really well.



Just wanted to add my two cents to this thread as it is a subject dear to my heart.
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Unread post07 Mar 2018, 20:02

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Myoth wrote:……
So I decided to again, try something new.

V3 :

Image

I thought about a lot about this one, I didn't want to divague too much from the original concept, I just really want to upgrade it instead of replacing it. I really think this is as good as I can do, I tweaked a lot of it and I started to actually use it

We all have our differing opinions and tastes, but there is one thing (among others) that bothers me about the V3: é, ù, è, ç and à have their lowercase forms in the base layer and their uppercase ones in AltGr+Shift — however, that's not the case with æ, œ and ß (which use AltGr and AltGr-Shift). Oddly enough, this would work better if the numbers themselves were moved to the AltGr layer, allowing é, ù, è, ç and à to use the base and Shift layers. Oh, and the base layer for the BACKQUOTE key is empty.
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Unread post07 Mar 2018, 20:18

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depletedvespene wrote:
kbdfr wrote:
depletedvespene wrote:I posted the alphanum block only for clarity purposes — it wasn't like, say, the nav cluster would have any influence. THIS is the full image of the layout:

NouvFr.kle1.png

So there is no real need to have lowercase numbers on the num row as they are on the numpad anyway.
Thinking of it… then there is indeed no need for numbers at all on the num row - why not use their locations for uppercase É, Ç and the like, and for the symbols you seem to be missing (even if I wonder whether is really necessary)?

My basic design principle was to start with a QWERTY layout, including the numbers in the base layer (as opposed to the Shift layer). We could eliminate this requirement and put those keys to another use, but later on, a TKL form factor would be unfeasible...

Also, what symbols do you feel I'm still missing?

I didn’t mean that you seem to be missing=forgetting symbols, but rather that you seem to be missing=wanting (absent) symbols.

And as said, I’m not precisely a fan of small form factors.
The more characters und functions you want your keyboard to generate, the more keys (and not the more modifiers for a reduced number of keys) it has to have. Otherwise, one could as well suppress a few keys and affect a "Vowel/Consonant" modifier to some of the remaining ones.

Would be funny:
press Vowel/Consonant+F and you get E, which looks quite similar after all. Or Vowel/Consonant+Q and you get O :lol:
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Unread post07 Mar 2018, 20:30

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depletedvespene wrote:[…] We all have our differing opinions and tastes, but there is one thing (among others) that bothers me about the V3: é, ù, è, ç and à have their lowercase forms in the base layer and their uppercase ones in AltGr+Shift — however, that's not the case with æ, œ and ß (which use AltGr and AltGr-Shift). […]

Not a real problem - you need lowercase é, è, ç and à all the time when you type in French, but their uppercase versions É, È, Ç and À are only occasionally needed.
And at first thought I can’t see a single French word starting with uppercase Æ, and only Œdipe for Œ (Mummy! :D ), so they can be relegated to a second layer - same applies of course to the German ß, which most Frenchies will not need in their whole lifetime.
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Unread post07 Mar 2018, 20:40

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