We Should Not Use Azerty In Flanders.

Opmerking: Dit hele artikel is in het Engels, wat raar is want ik spreek hier tot Vlamingen. Wie snel wil zijn scrollt naar de onderste lijn van het artikel om de synopsis te lezen.

There is no reason at all why the people in Flanders (northern part of Belgium) should type on computers with azerty keyboard layout. Azerty is for optimized for people who speak, and thus write, French.

Here in Flanders we speak Dutch. Dutch is our mother tongue. It's all we hear, speak and write. The reason why Belgium has azerty keyboards is historical. The french-speaking used to reign over Belgium and so it became the standard keyboard layout, because it fitted the ones in control best. Our country is indeed bilingual, but its regions where each language is spoken are so well-defined that it's absurd to force one keyboard layout upon the whole country. There are even more people who speak Dutch than there are who speak French!

The less-populated southern part of Belgium speaks French, they benefit from having azerty keyboards, but not many people in Flanders speak French well enough (let alone need to write in French a lot) to warrant the optimized-for-French azerty keyboard layout, the country wide standard, while all they'll ever do is type in Dutch or English. English is far better known among young flemish people than French these days.

In The Netherlands, bordering Flanders, they also speak Dutch. We share the same language. Guess what keyboard layout they use in a country where everyone speaks Dutch... Right. Qwerty. Qwerty is the keyboard layout for people that speak Dutch. The second language in The Netherlands is English, and if we're honest it is in Flanders as well. French has withered away to being a course-subject in school.

So, the Flemish would be way better off typing on qwerty keyboards. They're also far more convenient on notebooks than azerty. Plus you won't freak foreigners out when they quickly want to show you something on your computer. People say that they're used to typing on azerty and it would be difficult for them to switch to qwerty. That's not true. It's not difficult but you'll only see the azerty-drawbacks once you type qwerty. The Flemish are typing on azerty out of habit. Well if it's a habit it's a bad one. Nothing that can't be unlearned.

These are the main disadvantages of azerty:

  • The 'a', a vowel, is not under your finger, but in the worst possible location.
  • You need to hold shift for every digit you want to type.
  • You need a special key (Alt+Gr) just to type an '@' or a backslash.

For programmers there are extra disadvantages:

  • The placement of the parentheses and curly/straight brackets is horrible.
  • You need shift for every dot ('.') you type.

It's even worse on Apple keyboards. I would definitely advise against buying an Apple notebook with an azerty keyboard layout because it makes you miss out on basic OS X functionality.

Switching between apps in OS X is done with cmd+tab. Switching between windows of the same application in OS X is done with cmd+backquote, where backquote is conveniently placed right above the tab-key on a US Qwerty Apple keyboard. Guess what, the backquote isn't even on an Apple azerty keyboard.

For programmers on Macs it gets downright ridiculous, it's not even funny anymore. Here's the list of keys you don't have on an azerty Apple keyboard, but are indispensable for programmers:

  • No backquote:`
  • No tilde: ~
  • No backslash: \
  • No pipe: |
  • No curly brackets: { and }
  • No square brackets: [ and ]

You then ask yourself, but what if I do have to type French characters on my qwerty keyboard in Belgium? Well, if you're using a Mac there's no problem at all, because that got fixed in software. You can type any variation of a vowel by holding down that key and a pop-up dialog will appear where you can choose the variation, or you can learn the very logical keyboard shortcuts for the french vowel-variatons. To be complete I'll sum them up:

  • alt+e e = é
  • alt+` e = è
  • alt+u e = ë
  • alt+i e = ê
  • alt+c = ç

And then, again Apple specific, if you are convinced you don't need to type on azerty, a keyboard not fit for your primary languages, and you decide to go with qwerty, buy a US QWERTY keyboard and not Apple's hideous International Qwerty. I don't know why they ever even came up with this aberration. But unless you want your backquote, tilde, backslash and pipe in other-than-the-default locations, and a ridiculously small vertical return key to boot, you should buy US QWERTY, the only standard qwerty keyboard layout on an Apple computer.

To sum it all up, people of Flanders:

Koop geen azerty, het is niet gemaakt voor onze taal. Wij spreken geen Frans. Wij spreken Nederlands, zoals Nederlanders. Dus koop qwerty, en als je een Mac koopt, koop US QWERTY.