Frex is a keyboard layout I have designed in the first place for my own use. It stands for “French extended keyboard layout for European and Germanic studies”, but I think Frex is a somewhat nicer name, not to mention keyboard names are limited to eight character on Windows. It is intended to solve several problems I had with the French keyboard layout proposed with operating systems (especially Windows):
- as curious as it may sound, you actually can’t write proper French with the so-called French layout from Windows. You indeed miss several characters and diacritics, especially œ, Œ, É, À, Ç, «, », etc.
- I also write very often in other common languages than French. While English isn’t a problem and German could eventually have been deal with (I missed only the ß and German-styled quotation marks), Nordic languages begin to be seriously difficult to write when you don’t have ø, å, þ, ð, etc.
- Besides the current languages I use, I also often write about ancient languages and history, hence I need some diacritics and characters, like ā, ū, ₶, ꞃ, ƕ, etc.
So the objective of the layout I intended to design was to solve those problems, while staying inside some limitations. I wanted especially to keep most of the usual frame of the standard French AZERTY, to avoid lengthy and painful accommodation and muscle-memory training. That’s why the BEPO, while designed for French, was right out, as on one hand I can’t afford to have a loss of productivity for several month the time to learn it, and on the other hand it would be further disturbing at work, as they use standard AZERTY and switching from one disposition to another all the time is not going to ease the learning.
Hence I’ve kept all the letters and the punctuation of the French AZERTY where they were. However I’ve deleted the whole number upper-rank, as I always have considered it useless, since I use only keyboards with keypads.
So let’s have a look on the Frex layout:
As you see, while I’ve kept the general frame of a standard AZERTY, I’ve added new keys in what I felt the most logical way possible. Keys are assembled together in areas, depending of their type. For example, on the upper rank, you have on the first keys the different type of quotation marks, further away there is a currency area and at the right end an arithmetic symbols area.
In the letters ranks, I have associated the signs following visual rather than sound criteria. For example I have put þ on the t key as they are visually similar, although they transcript two very different sounds. I have also kept the principle of grouping similar characters, for example o, œ and ø are in the same area.
The diacritics are also gathered together. It is the red area, meaning that those keys are dead keys. If you have never heard about it, dead keys are modifier keys, meant to be used in combination with another key: you press first the dead key (which doesn’t generate a character) and then the key you want to modify with the corresponding diacritic (for example, to get â, you press first ^, then a). The principle I have used concerning diacritics is that the most common accented letters from French, like é, è, à, etc. are at the ready on the keyboard, while less common ones, as well as non-French diacritics, are composed using dead keys. Those diacritics should cover all, or nearly all European languages.
Among other points, you will also note that I have introduced on the keyboard the ability to make the distinction between the degree ° and the upper o º; whose confusion is usually enough for a (good) scientific editor to reject your text. I have also added the em and the en dashes, as well as non-breaking and thin non-breaking spaces.
Frex is available for download under a creative common licence CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 (follow the link for explanations about what you can and can’t do with the files).
It comes as a compressed archive containing the files. To install it, follow the steps:
- Unzip the archive
- If you don’t know what is the good file for you, use the installer (setup.exe), otherwise you can directly use the good .msi file.
- Once the layout is installed go in Windows settings > language
- Click on the language you want to add the keyboard layout to, then click on “options” (or maybe is it “settings”, I don’t have my Windows in English currently)
- Click on “add a keyboard” and select Frex in the list.
- If you want to keep Frex as your only keyboard for this language, remove other keyboards from the list. Otherwise, keep in mind that you can switch between keyboard by pressing Windows key+space.