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An AZERTY keyboard is very similar to the ubiquitous QWERTY keyboard, except that the Q and W keys have been switched with the A and Z keys, respectively. It is named an AZERTY keyboard because, like the QWERTY keyboard, the first six letters in the first row of alphabetical keys spell "AZERTY." This type of computer keyboard is commonly used in France and Belgium, with slight variations between the two.
Computer keyboards with the original QWERTY layouts are descendants of manual typewriters, which were patented in 1868 by mechanical engineer Christopher Latham Sholes. After much experimentation and adjustments, Sholes strategically placed the keys into what is now the common QWERTY keyboard layout, to prevent manual typewriter keys from jamming together when pressed. When the computer met the computer keyboard in the late 1940s, engineers maintained the familiar QWERTY system.
As typewriters have lost ground and computers have become more common, computer users have pursued improved key placement instead of the customary QWERTY keyboards. The DVORAK and AZERTY keyboards are examples of some of the various keyboard systems in use. The AZERTY keyboard relies heavily on the traditional QWERTY arrangement, altering key placement only slightly. Keyboards with the AZERTY arrangement are used mainly in France, Belgium, Lithuania and various French-speaking countries in North Africa, which have their own tweaks for various vowel symbols and function keys.
The French AZERTY keyboard system includes individual keys for letters with specific diacritical marks, such as the French ç and é. "Dead keys," or keys that produce no character until another key is pressed, input other diacritical marks common to the French language. This is unlike the QWERTY keyboard, where special function keys or a special character map must be accessed to include the letters.
The AZERTY keyboard layout differs slightly among the various operating systems, as well. For example, Windows® computers do not provide for the common œ symbol, but Linux systems do. Capital letters with diacritical marks, such as É, Ç and Œ are missing from the Windows® AZERTY keyboard layout. Special drivers or computer software might be needed to provide patches for missing symbols.