26 October 2011

US-Deutsch Keyboard - Custom Keyboard for Windows 7

Coming from a background of I.T. in Canada, I am familiar with the QWERTY layout of United States keyboards up to typing speeds of over 100 WPM. However, now that I'm in a German-speaking country, the common layout is now the QWERTZ German keyboard layout. No big deal, right? Just the Y and the Z switched? Not quite - at least for me.

QWERTZ German Keyboard
(Logitech K200)

For me, the German keyboard layout doesn't work. The devil is in the details - such as where to find any of the symbols such as the less than and greater than symbols, which are heavily utilized in programming for the web. I would have had to re-learn tens of new combinations for the symbols that I needed. I tried the German layout for a week, but it was slowing me down too much.

Another option I had of course was to switch the keyboard layout to the US layout, which I did and which allowed me to return to my previous speeds. However, as I continue to learn the German language, I have an increasing need to enter German special characters such as ü (u with umlaut). I was starting to have to use alt-codes extensively, requiring 5 keypresses instead of just one to generate these symbols.

So where would I go from here? I had one keyboard layout which had the symbols I need but was very slow for me to use in my I.T. work, and I had another keyboard layout which I could use at full speed but doesn't allow me to add special characters without alt-codes. Some people like using the language bar in these circumstances, but I don't think this tool works very well, and I would find myself fiddling with it more often than typing in some cases.

No, I took a different path - I created the US-Deutsch Keyboard - a hybrid keyboard layout using Microsoft's Keyboard Layout Creator, starting with the base US keyboard and adding German special characters under alt-states for some of the keys. So for instance, when you hold down Alt-Gr and then type an o, you now receive an ö. This idea has been envisioned before in the form of DeKey, but Paul's solution does not install and function properly for me on Windows 7 64bit. Details on my solution are below.

Full Modified Keymap

Unmodified Key   Alt-Gr Key


Default Layout (no modifier keys)
Shift State (Normal for US Layout)
Ctrl-Alt or Alt-Gr State
Shift + Ctrl-Alt or Alt-Gr State

Download the US-Deutsch Keyboard Layout

Source Keyboard for Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator

The SourceForge Project