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Keyboard Layouts for the 21st Century? 1044

Posted by Cliff
from the leaving-qwerty-behind dept.
jules asks: "Trying to do some programming on an iBook the other day brought to my attention the fact that despite the constant improvements to the design of computer hardware and software, the keyboards we use are still a throwback to the early 1980s. I mean - my Mac doesn't have room for page up/down or home/end keys, but it devotes a whole key to a sort of double-S shape that I will never press. And my PC keyboards all waste plastic on a backwards-apostrophe key and a scroll-lock (+ LED!), while functions that you use all the time, such as switching between windows, cut/copy/paste, back/forwards, undo/redo etc, all have to double-up with other keys.. Have any organizations actually tried to re-invent the keyboard recently? (..not counting the manufacturers who stick a few 'multimedia' keys along the top for consumer PCs). Would this be doomed to failure because of the tens of thousands of legacy apps that expect things to be the way they are? What sort of keys would you include in your fantasy keyboard layout?" It's not just the keys on your keyboard that are important, it's also how you arrange them. What kind of keyboard arrangements might we see in the future?
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Keyboard Layouts for the 21st Century?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 15, 2003 @09:54PM (#5311375)
    And that is the Happy Hacking Keyboard [yahoo.com] designed explicitly for RMS. If you aren't using it you aren't hacking.
  • Xmodmap (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 15, 2003 @09:54PM (#5311378)
    I xmodmap useless keys to more linux friendly functions. E.G. the `windows' key is mapped to next workspace.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 15, 2003 @09:57PM (#5311398)


    Last time I checked, they were doing a lot of research on chair mounted split keyboards [cornell.edu]

    Another split keyboard [stanford.edu]

    Split hanging keyboard where the arms are straight down helped by gravity [thecraftstudio.com]

    On a side note:
    Did you miss out on this good post and all the replies? Check them out... [slashdot.org]

  • Re:where do i buy? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 15, 2003 @09:58PM (#5311405)
    An IBM Model M [3m3718.com] keyboard's keys all fit nicely on each other's slots.

    I rearanged the keys on one and am learning Dvorak in my spare time.
  • by sudog (101964) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @09:58PM (#5311410) Homepage
    The reason that keyboards haven't changed much is because they don't need it. If something is (almost) as good as it's going to get, why jerk around and try to make it better?

    So what do I think is the best keyboard I've used and wouldn't bother trying to improve it? I've used everything from a VIC-20, TRS-80 keyboard, to those old IBM electronic typewriters, to a Fujitsu 4725 PS/2.

    The Fujitsu cost me $70(CDN) and I swear it's the best keyboard I could've purchased. Not because it's the good ol' QWERTY layout with a nice big backslash right below the backspace (where it DAMN WELL belongs,) and not because it's the same layout that everyone's been using for decades (and is most comfortable with and thus fastest with,) and not because it's so indestructible it'd probably work well as a bludgeoning weapon in case I were ever attacked in my room:

    No, not for all that. What makes this keyboard better than any other I've so far used is that this Fujitsu has *perfect* key action. It's clicky--but soft enough that it just *begs* you to type as fast as you can. It can take all the pounding you can dish out, and the tactile and soft audible feedback make it a real pleasure to work with.

    Thank you Fujitsu, for making REAL keyboards!
  • Re:Sys Req (Score:5, Informative)

    by sebmol (217013) <sebmol@CHEETAHsebmol.de minus cat> on Saturday February 15, 2003 @09:58PM (#5311412) Homepage

    IIRC, the SysRq key was introduced with the 286 protected mode. It was thought that this key would provide access to operating system functions in that mode while a regular app is running.

    It never served any real purpose.

  • by poulbailey (231304) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @09:59PM (#5311417)
    > I mean - my Mac doesn't have room for page up/down or home/end keys,
    > but it devotes a whole key to a sort of double-S shape that I will never press.

    That would be the paragraph sign [symbols.com]. It's used in law.
  • Re:Hopefully, (Score:2, Informative)

    by Jellybob (597204) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:02PM (#5311439) Journal
    I'm fairly sure that Saitek make a one handed keyboard for FPS's (and... other... activities that require one handed control ;))
  • by Anonymous Freak (16973) <prius DOT driver AT mac DOT com> on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:04PM (#5311453) Journal

    The Microsoft Office keyboard has app-fwd and app-back keys, as well as dedicated cut, copy, and paste. Plus, it shows the most common uses of the F-keys, instead of 'F3', it says 'Open'. Plus, it has a scroll wheel, for those who want to scroll a few lines at a time without using the mouse. Plus, things like having an extra backspace (as well as open and close parenthesis) above the number pad. You can click here [microsoft.com] for Microsoft's page on it.

    There are a few companies that make clones of this keyboard now, complete with scroll wheel. I don't know the names of any of the clones, all of the ones I have seen are by very generic companies.

  • Re:Sys Req (Score:5, Informative)

    by jericho4.0 (565125) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:04PM (#5311455)
    The 'Sys Req' key, or 'System Request', is meant as a sort of direct conduit to lower level funtions.

    For example, on Linux kernels with system debugging enabled, you can use it to force the machine to sync disks, reboot, dump debugging info out the serial port, etc. On a Sun box, you use the equivalent key to drop into the BIOS (which includes a CLI and lisp).

  • Re:Sys Req (Score:5, Informative)

    by Octothorp (6389) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:07PM (#5311473)
    It never served any real purpose.

    ..on a lot of machines. However, you can now use it for it's intended purpose under Linux see the file sysrq.txt in the Documentation directory of the kernel source.

    You can do useful things like sync your disk before you have to power cycle the machine. Or, kill all processes on the current VT.

    --

  • by Jason1729 (561790) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:09PM (#5311493)
    He also must not be a *nix user if he has no use for the backwards-apostrophe key.

    It looks like you and all the people who have replied so far also aren't *nix users. The ` key serves a very important function.

    In the shell, whatever is between `'s is executed and replaced with the output.

    Jason
    ProfQuotes [profquotes.com]
  • by joeface (182928) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:10PM (#5311496)
    Win32 vi, you say?

    Try this [vim.org]

    I know this isn't the same as having a vi interface for Outlook, etc...but I'm in love with it.
  • Re:Cording (Score:5, Informative)

    by FosterSJC (466265) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:11PM (#5311509)
    For those wondering what this cording business is about, it is actually "chording" or "chordal", or just plain chord. Doug Engelbart, the interface pioneer, Salon article here [salon.com] is pictured with the mouse's forerunner, and a chordal keyboard. More interesting are the recent developments in alternate and one-handed keyboards. A nice picture gallery is here: Alternate Keyboards [griffins.ca]. The blurbs are small, and a googling will provide more info on the particulars. In response to the main post, I would say that customized chordal movements on a one-handed keyboard could help improve speed on common tasks, and leave another hand open for the mouse at the same time.
  • Re:where do i buy? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:12PM (#5311518)
    just make a picture of your keyboard your wallpaper. you dont want to be looking down at your keyboard anyway. try to memorize where most of the keys are and fumble your way around. i think you'd learn better that way. you just have to get used to where the keys are without looking.
  • Re:Back tick? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:32PM (#5311641)
    I thought he stated clearly in the summary that he was using a MAC, not a PC. It'd be neat to see someone install Windows on a MAC.
  • by frenetic3 (166950) <houston&alum,mit,edu> on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:35PM (#5311657) Homepage Journal
    Has all of the above (spinny analog v control, play/stop/prev/next buttons, mute, etc. and some useless buttons -- shopping, favorites, etc.)

    Review of Logitech Elite Keyboard (scroll midway-down for a big pic) [ign.com]

    otherwise a kickass keyboard, been using it for a while.

    The analog vol control especially is excellent and one of the few keyboard gimmicks I've seen in the past few years that I actually find myself using a lot.

    -fren
  • by Pharmboy (216950) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:35PM (#5311658) Journal
    And all my PC keyboards waste plastic on these little windows looking keys next to alt that seem to do nothing in linux.

    They don't do much in windows either, except piss me off. I HATE playing a game, and hit one of the windows keys, and the damn thing swaps out. You swap back in, and the whole world is sideways. (that means your dead, to all you non-gamers)

    I don't use the number pad keys personally. I use the arrows for gaming. I still use my old IBM keyboards without windows keys on most of my windows boxes. They are also just better keyboards. Way better.

    I want a keyboard with no windows keys, and a removable keypad button set, making the keyboard narrower. I don't need more keys, I can remember all the combinations I need, I just want a smaller more comfortable keyboard.

    Oh, and decent TACTILE feel. God I hate the mooshy feeling of most keyboards, including the Toshiba laptop Im typing on now. Thats the main reason I still salvage old IBM keyboards.
  • Happens all the time (Score:3, Informative)

    by iamacat (583406) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:36PM (#5311667)
    I am running XP on my Mac to some DOS/Win games. You should check out Virtual PC. However, ` is pretty useful in MacOSX, at least if you use Terminal.
  • Re:Story troll? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Forgotten (225254) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @11:11PM (#5311864)

    You must be so embarrassed now.

    Nope. If someone can't be bothered to learn what the paragraph symbol is, or come up with a better and less ambiguous description of it, they've got no business submitting questions like this. I assumed the poster was an idiot because the post is idiotic. That remains true.

    The other points still stand too - how do you add keys for specific functions without bloating the keyboard to impossible size? Meta keys are the only workable solution anyone's found. And s/he's talking about a notebook for goodness sake!

    Let alone the backquote key. Ironic that one of the requested functions - window switching - is command-backquote (or tilde), a one-hand press, and logically associated by proximity to command-tab (switch processes).

    A lot of thought has already gone into that keyboard (and the shortcuts) by people apparently a lot smarter than the poster. The reasons why the less optimal components of keyboard layout are plainly obvious (retraining people who know the QWERTY layout, industry standardisation). The criticism presented is hopelessly naive at best. It STILL reads like a troll.

  • by oneiros27 (46144) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @11:12PM (#5311878) Homepage
    One of my friends pointed Unicomp [pckeyboard.com] to me a while back. They make the old IBM keyboards [I assume it's similar to how Lexmark is the old IBM printer division].

    Yes, it's $50 for one of 'em, but well, those people who like the feel of the keyboards think it's worth it. [and it's heavy enough to beat your annoying co workers with, or even stop a rampaging day-trader].

    Oh -- and it's dirt easy to move the letters on the keys, as they letters are on a little cap which it not actually part of the key.

    It's useful for playing pranks on people who hunt and peck, or for confusing people and hiding random messages. [and after someone's going away party, I'm short a few 'e's and 's'es, as I had to strip down one keyboard just for the letters].

    And speaking of rearranging keyboards -- why is that computer keyboards have the 1-3 row on the number pad at the bottom, while telephones have it at the top?
  • by yerricde (125198) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @11:19PM (#5311916) Homepage Journal

    why is that computer keyboards have the 1-3 row on the number pad at the bottom

    Computers have 123 on the bottom because adding machines and calculators have 123 on the bottom.

    while telephones have it at the top?

    Telephones have it 123 on the top because rotary-dial telephones had 123 at the top of the dial.

  • Re:Sys Req (Score:2, Informative)

    by OSSMKitty (125119) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @11:25PM (#5311945)
    The last I knew, Sun machines didn't have a BIOS, they had a PROM. They also didn't have Lisp, they had Forth. 'Course, it has been awhile...
  • Re: Separate keys (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 15, 2003 @11:37PM (#5312008)
    A meta key is a key that's all about other keys. It doesn't do anything on its own, but modifies the function of another key (on the Mac they call them modifier keys). "Meta" key is just the elitist "I read the whole jargon file every week you bastards" geek way to refer to them. ;)
    Control was once a meta key (in the terminal days) because it did something out-of-band - like rang the bell, or moved the cursor - instead of just sending another character to the teletype. Arguably it isn't really so meta anymore because everything it can do is contained in ASCII (in essence, the band widened to contain it, mostly because people wanted to remotely control or script things through terminals that were once directly attached).
    Unfortunately meta keys are the least standardised part of the keyboard. Macs now have five - Control (if you include it), Shift, Command, Option, and the newest "Fn" function modifier key, which is ironically used partly so other keys (like the function row) can be used for direct control of the hardware (backlight, volume, etc) - analogous to what Control originally was.
    The saddest testament to Microsoft's user interface design is that they managed to use their monopoly power to swiftly add not one but two new keys to the standard PC layout, and still managed to do virtually nothing useful with them. At least you can map them to interesting things in X (or to get the option key back if you're using a USB PC keyboard on a Mac - more irony there).
  • by Mr. Slippery (47854) <tms@nOspam.infamous.net> on Saturday February 15, 2003 @11:51PM (#5312080) Homepage
    One of my friends pointed Unicomp to me a while back. They make the old IBM keyboards

    Thanks for the pointer! I just dug an old-school IBM keyboard (those all-metal ones) up at work, so nice...just wish it was a little quieter.

    My favorite keyboard is an old 101 key "Suntouch" made by Siig [siig.com]. It's got just the right amount of "clickyness" and the right stroke distance for me (just slightly less force needed to depress and just a little smaller stroke distance than the classic IBM one, at least that's how it feels to me). My first one was getting worn out and I found this one at Goodwill, of all places - just about jumped for joy.

  • by pfinder (264393) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @12:04AM (#5312139)
    The story I got is that those of us from the old 10 key mechanical adding machines could key numbers faster than the telephones could accept the input so they reversed the keyboard. This dates back to the early 60's
  • by bnavarro (172692) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @12:11AM (#5312174)
    The SysReq or "System Request" key is a key left over from the IBM 3090. 3270 Terminals (of which the PC could emulate with the appropriate expansion card) interact with mainframes in a very similar manner to Web browsers with a CGI form page -- everything is stored locally in a buffer, then sent in a transaction when the "Enter" button is pressed (which, by the way, is not the same as the PC Enter button, so when in 3270 emulation mode, the ALT keys are reassigned to this task). The terminal then waits for a response back from the mainframe, usually an entire page of text & input boxes to display all at once. The cycle is then repeated.

    Occasionally, just like with web pages, the transaction would somehow get lost in the ether, and the terminal would just sit there forever waiting for a response back from the mainframe which would never come. This is where the SysRq key comes in. You would then press the SysRq key, and the transaction would be cancelled, and control is returned to the terminal.

    So, in effect, the SysRq key is the Mainframe equivalent of the "Stop" button on a web browser.

    The fact that the SysRq key made it onto IBM PC's shows you just what IBM's original strategy was with the PC market: A "brilliant" mainframe terminal; that is, a terminal capable of doing a little bit more than a simple 327X "Smart" terminal, but ultimately, as far as IBM was concerned, it was still a Mainframe's world, and the PC was ultimately beholden to it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 16, 2003 @12:55AM (#5312344)
    people keep talking about the paragraph sign, but I assure you there are no whole keys dedicated to this symbol on a mac.
  • by moncyb (456490) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:05AM (#5312382) Journal

    My memory is a little fuzzy on it, but I think it was used to temporarily stop scrolling--kind of like the Ctrl-S and Ctrl-Q keys do in Unix. In a terminal (aka command line) program, sometimes the information would scroll off the screen too fast to read it. Being able to halt the scrolling allows one to read in such situations.

    I think FreeBSD uses that key to enable paging up and down a terminal session.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 16, 2003 @02:11AM (#5312634)
    Telephones have it 123 on the top because rotary-dial telephones had 123 at the top of the dial.

    No they didn't. [google.com]

  • Re:where do i buy? (Score:3, Informative)

    by possible (123857) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @02:55AM (#5312783)
    I love my dual Dvorak/QWERTY Kinesis Classic QD keyboard. Their website is here [kinesis-ergo.com] -- you can dynamically switch back and forth between qwerty and Dvorak while you adjust to the new layout.

    It's great for programmers because you can actually remap any key to any other key and even program macros directly into the keyboard's memory, so if I have a particular repetitive sequence of commands that I use in my editor, I can temporarily map, say ALT+6 to that sequence of keys. Doing it at the hardware level is great because it works on every OS, etc.

    And Dvorak is wonderful too. I don't have to wear wrist braces any more. I can touch type VERY fast. It's a good keyboard design for playing games.

    Only thing that bothers me is that laptops still come with QWERTY. I want a Dvorak laptop. I don't want to be pulling keys off and trying to stick them in different places.

  • Re:Sys Req (Score:3, Informative)

    by ReverendRyan (582497) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @03:01AM (#5312805) Homepage
    The sequence to safely reboot a locked Linux box is:

    Alt-SysRq-R --- Turns off keyboard raw mode (sets to XLATE)

    Alt-SysRq-S --- Syncs the filesystems
    Alt-SysRq-E --- SIGTERM to all processes except init
    Alt-SysRq-I --- SIGKILL to all processes except init
    Alt-SysRq-U --- Remount the filesystems readonly
    Alt-SysRq-B --- Reboot (like pressing ctrl-alt-delete in DOS)

    An easy-to-remember saying is "Raising Skinny Elephants Is Utterly Boring"... I found that in one of my Linux books (although I cant remember wich one, so I cant give proper credit... sorry).

    The sequence should work even when the system appears to be locked hard. Often, all that is required is Alt-SysRq-I, wich will kill the runaway process(es) that has caused the system to crash.
  • Re:where do i buy? (Score:3, Informative)

    by packeteer (566398) <packeteer AT subdimension DOT com> on Sunday February 16, 2003 @03:01AM (#5312808)
    "QWERTY" keyboards are from typewritter designs. They are designed to have common combinations of keys spaced out so that the hammers of a typewritter wont jam as often. "Dvorak" keyboards are designed to have the most common used letters right under your fingers so that you have less space to move therefore typeing quicker. Personally i dont mind the keyboard im using to type this post... IBM makes a good keyboard and even though this thing is over a decade old all the keys are still working and most of what i do is still the same as what was done in the past.
  • Re:where do i buy? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Tet (2721) <slashdot&astradyne,co,uk> on Sunday February 16, 2003 @06:26AM (#5313218) Homepage Journal
    "Dvorak" keyboards are designed to have the most common used letters right under your fingers so that you have less space to move therefore typeing quicker.

    And for another layout designed following a statistical frequency analysis, see Maltron [maltron.com]. The Maltron layout not only puts commonly used letters under your fingers, but also places the keys to minimise RSI when you do need to move away from the home row.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:15PM (#5314288)
    This information is contained in the indispensable volume, 'Why Clocks Run Clockwise (and other Imponderables)'.
  • Scroll lock (Score:2, Informative)

    by Epsillon (608775) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @01:20PM (#5314319) Homepage Journal
    And my PC keyboards all waste plastic on a backwards-apostrophe key and a scroll-lock (+ LED!),

    This guy doesn't use command-line much, then? ;o)

  • Re:where do i buy? (Score:0, Informative)

    by DrZircon (28779) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @05:58PM (#5315621)
    This is complete nonsense. The story that the QWERTY layout is to do with keys not jamming is an urban myth. As is the story that the Dvorak keyboard is much faster - the famous tests that show this "fact" were run by Dvorak and are entirely skewed. If Dvorak is so fast how come all the typing speebd records are held by QWERTY users. If QWERTY layout is to stop keys jamming how come the longest English word you can get out of the topline only is "typewriter" (the name of the company that introduced QWERTY)

    Learn some history, don't just pass on mis-information!!!!!

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