Concerning new keyboard layouts - They’re out there now!

The early developers of typewriters were obsessed with similarities between their keyboards and piano keyboards. Most typewriters therefore had eight to ten rows, since separate keys were needed for capital letters before the invention of the shift key. Most of these pioneer keyboards were arranged in strictly alphabetical order.

Christopher Latham Sholes, the American inventor responsible for the first production typewriter in 1873, found that the alphabetical arrangement of keys led to jamming when the typewriter bars of the fast typists were on the up strike. Sholes consulted his brother , a teacher, who developed the idea that the bars of letters used frequently in combination should come from opposite directions.

The brothers Sholes created the “QWERTY” keyboard we have today. The real purpose of this configuration was to avoid key jamming.

At the time Sholes introduced the QWERTY keyboard, even the most proficient typists used two fingers—it was thought impossible to learn how to touch-type, even though the letters were arranged in alphabetical order!

Sholes, aware of consumer resistance towards new configurations of previously standardized products, sold his customers on the “scientific arrangement” of his new keyboard. Sholes claimed that the QWERTY keyboard required the least possible movement of the hands while typing. The exact opposite was the real truth!

Sholes’s QWERTY arrangement necessitated a finger trek of great movement around the keyboard to form the most basic English words. Yet Sholes’s misleading advertising is still believed by most typists today.

With the advent of sophisticated typewriters, word processors, and computers that work without traditional bars, the need for the QWERTY configuration is gone. Many theorists have proposed more efficient letter arrangements, and the Dvorak keyboard has gained rabid adherents, but the question remains whether a century of QWERTY keyboard use can be overcome by such a mild force as logic!

Source: Imponderables
By: David Feldman (Quill)

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