De-frogging an Amstrad Plus
The French bring many wonderful contributions to the world – fine wine, fine food and a country that is rich in both culture and history. However, one area where they are sadly lacking is keyboard layout. When compared to the English QWERTY layout, the French layout is somewhat different. On a cursory first glance this seems to be little more than simply switching a few keys around. A and Z replace Q; W replaces Z; and M moves to the middle row to sit next to L. So far so good, and it wouldn’t take a genius to work around these little changes. Unfortunately when you look a little more closely, you soon discover that something rather more drastic has taken place, which quickly becomes very irritating – and that’s the fact that the number keys along the top row can only be accessed by pressing the Shift key!
There is, of course, a perfectly good reason for this and it’s all in the name of accents. As I’m sure many of you will recall from your school days, the French language consists of several different accents which give letters different sounds. Since there quite a few of these, it’s near impossible to add the extra keys in easy to access locations to accommodate this without making some pretty wild changes. The result – shifted numbers, which becomes a right royal pain in the arse when it comes to writing anything that involves numeric input (namely programming).
The Amstrad 6128 Plus I acquired a few months ago is a French machine and of course it comes complete with a crazy French keyboard layout. I’ve spent the last few months trying to get used to this, but when only one of the machines in your collection has this idiosyncrasy, it’s almost impossible to get used to and quite frankly I was beginning to struggle. Imagine my joy when John Thackeray (owner of the rather excellent TradeInPost who among other things specialise in obtaining parts for old Amstrad computers) mailed me to let me know that he’d just got hold of what he initially thought were a bunch of brand new English Amstrad Plus keyboards.
On closer examination, we discovered that they were actually Spanish keyboards. But compared to a French keyboard, these are good match to an English layout, with the only differences being the addition of an accented N key next to L and the switching of some of the special character keys. In day-to-day use this would be barely noticeable and most importantly the number keys are no longer shifted! One of these keyboards could be mine for the very acceptable price of twenty pounds and for that I jumped at the opportunity.
I placed my order with John and the very next day, this arrived in the post:
It was then just a case of out with the old…
and in with the new…
Now usually the story ends there, but in this case there is one further thing you must do to be able to use the keyboard and that is to ensure you have the correct ROM installed. The Amstrad BASIC and OS ROM has the keyboard layout embedded into it, which means you must have a Basic cartridge that is appropriate for the layout of your keyboard. While John (unsurprisingly) didn’t have any Spanish cartridges, he did have a English cartridge which was close enough, so I got him to throw one of those in too and voila a nearly English Plus.
While the machine still doesn’t have a full English keyboard, what it does have is something that is far closer than what it had before, which is much easier to use. As an added bonus, these new keyboards had been packed away out of the light, so have none of the yellowing that the older machines suffer from, making this Plus look very nice indeed!
At the time of writing, John did have some of these keyboards left, so if you have a French Plus, why not drop him a line, he may well be able to help you out…