18 November 2004

The awful German keyboard

Mark Twain wrote a great little article called The Awful German
, where he commented about some of the more interesting
and difficult parts about the German language. While I am nowhere
near as eloquent as Twain, I would like to voice my opinion that German
keyboards are total crap when it comes to programming.

Let me explain why I say that. It's not because Y and Z are swapped. I have gotten used to that one already. It has to do with all those special programming characters. Personally, I usually program C, perl or HTML. In C and perl, I use the curly braces { and } as well as [ and ] a lot. And don't forget all those backslashes for printf and whatnot. And, in Unix, I pipe a lot of stuff (that's | for those unfamilar to unix), and since I am currently referring to another guy's programs in his home directory, I like to use the ol' ~username trick to get there.

It turns out that the characters { [ ] } \ ~ and | all requre the use of the 'Alt Gr' key, which is the right-hand ALT key, and very inconvienent to get to. That's the major annoyance. But there are little things also, like the > and < characters are the same key, one with shift, one without. I really don't know which uses shift and which doesn't, and I'll probably never learn because I am trained that both use shift on a US keyboard. It makes so much sense on the US keyboard - The one pointing left is on the left and the one pointing right is on the right. On my German keyboard, they are on top of each other, and right next to the pipe symbol, and it just makes my brain explode trying to find what I need. And why aren't the { and } keys next to each other like the [ and ] or ( and )?

Other important programming characters ; / and ' all require a shift on a German keyboard but no modification on a US keyboard.

This is really slowing down my coding. I have gotten used to the swapped Y and Z and several of the different locations for things, but my fingers just haven't figured out the different modifiers required to make a lot of the symbols I need to write code.

I have decided that the 'Gr' in 'Alt Gr' really should be 'Grrrrrrrr' because it makes me growl when I have to reach for that key and huntdown a common programming character.

And don't get me started on the @ symbol.... That's why nobody gets email from me anymore - I just can't find the darn thing.

So, if you were making a keyboard layout that needed to make life convienent for programmers as well as german typers (which means we need the umlauted u, a and o, plus the s-z and, or course, a euro key), how would you do it? I think it would help to put the 'Alt Gr' modifier key on both sides of the space bar like the shift and CTRL keys. It probably should be moved farther away from the space bar too, like swapped with that useless and crappy window key.

That's about the dumbest key on any keyboard. Of course, that's a different story entirely.


At Thursday, 18 November, 2004 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi this is steev. i dont want a blogger account. so i'm anonymous.

uh, anyway, yeah, i know what you mean. reminds me of trying to use brazilian portuguese and castellano keyboards in south america. the @ symbol was always hard to do there too. and quotes, single or double, were hard to figure out. there was even slight variation between different espanolingcountries, like between argentina and chile. it was annoying.

but hey you couldprobably just order a US keyboard for your office, right? but then you wouldnt be able to make umlauts as easy, right? for when you email your german coverkers?



At Tuesday, 30 November, 2004 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know what i have done before when returning temporarily to germany?? i told the computer i was using an american keyboard, although it was still german. take a marker and rewrite what is on a given key and you are good to go. :-) dont even have to buy an american keyboard....

i found it impossible to switch back and forth from at home (american keyboard) and at work (german layout) while living on base in germany, so i just had to swtich to german layout all the way, but.. i didnt do any programming either. still remember that the @ is over the 2, just like here, only with the alt grrrrrrrr key! ;-)



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