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Keyboard Layouts for the 21st Century? 1044

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 Berylium ( 588468 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @09:56PM (#5311393)
    The new MS Office Keyboard from Micrsoft not only includes multimedia and office launching buttons above the function keys but also buttons to the left of the standard buttons dedicated to cut, copy, past, backwards, and forwards. Aside from Undo/redo that accounts for the extra functions you wanted. It even includes an extra large scroll wheel.
  • by path_man ( 610677 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @09:57PM (#5311401)

    I mean come on! Changing the keyboards now would be like changing all the highways in america from the width they are now to half as wide to accomidate smaller, faster (albeit narrower) cars!

    But in all seriousness, everything I need to do in programming and even quite a lot of word processing (I was using vi for corporate memos until about 1999 when I was forced to use a Word compatible program) I can do without my fingers leaving their home positions on the keyboards. We don't need better keyboards -- or better mice for that matter. What we really need are better applications that either dynamically adapt to the condition at the time, or take better advantage of the hardware that we've got.

  • TeX (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zach Garner ( 74342 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @09:58PM (#5311409)
    all waste plastic on a backwards-apostrophe key

    But how will we use TeX without it??!


    As far as things go, I'm sure the average user has more use for a multimedia-specifc keys or internet-specific keys (quick access to their CD/MP3 player, or Internet Explorer) than do programmers.

    When is the last time you saw your mother, et al, use the curley bracket "{". What about the pipe "|". Or the carat "^".

    I know I could not live without them, but most people could easily give them up.

    Have any of you programmers actually used Dvorak or Maltron keyboards. I have. I can still type on either one, but programming on one sucks! The curly bracket is one of my most used keys and it's totally not in the right place for *me*. Anything optimized for writing english text is going to be horrible for any other symbol system.

    Maybe we will get custom keyboards for different sections of the population before too long.

  • Seperate keys? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Senator_B ( 605588 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @09:59PM (#5311415)
    Personally, I feel that allocating seperate/special keys for specific commands will simply make keyboards clunkier and more obtrusive. ctrl + c and crtl + v works fine for me, i don't have to move my hands very far to perform these tasks. Unless keyboard's undergo some sort of radical changes, which is unlikely due to the fact that everyone has been trained on qwerty style keyboards, additional keys will be tacked on in places that are not convieniently reached by the hands. Two and three key combo's improve efficiency, not hinder it.
  • Re:really (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cheesekeeper ( 649923 ) <keeper&mac,com> on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:00PM (#5311419) Homepage Journal
    I was also very sad to see they hadn't even stuck a numeric keypad on there, considering all the room. I think it makes sense, though, when you consider that Apple's designers would have had to put the main typing area severely to the left side of the screen. This would be an ergonomic violation for typing, but would also require moving the trackpad to the left side (even worse ergonomically, IMO.) Granted, Apple could have stuck at least some extra keys on there (maybe page up/down and a forward del), but that would a) contradict their minimalist philosphy and b) differ from their other computers. Consistency is big on Macs. But how about this: a 1/4" battery-operated bluethooth numeric keypad in aluminum?
  • Re:Sys Req (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:01PM (#5311427)
    In linux, if you enable it, you can use it to do such wonderful things as an emergency sync alt-sysrq-s or emergency boot alt-sysrq-b or kill all apps on the current terminal, etc. pretty useful if an app completly locks up.
  • by DarkZero ( 516460 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:01PM (#5311431)
    The poster, in my opinion, makes painfully stupid arguments. His argument basically comes down to, "I'm not using it, so NO ONE is using it; It's useless to me, so get rid of it." Maybe he has no use for a tilde key, but a lot of us do. And maybe he has no use for a Scroll Lock and wants something else, but some of us certainly have uses for it and don't mind having Undo set to Ctrl + Something.

    However, this gave me an idea. Some of us need a tilde key, some of us don't. Some of us need scroll lock, some of us don't. So why not just use the same keys that are already set up in a near-perfect fashion for other things? Personally, I've never had any use for the Numpad (it's faster for me to use the numbers above the letters), so I have Internet Explorer, AIM, Winamp, etc. set as Windows hotkeys on Numpad 1, 2, 3, etc. But what about Scroll Lock? Do Linux, Windows, or any specific programs for them let you set something permanently on or off by having Scroll Lock set on or off? And what about setting keys like the tilde key to other things within the OS besides hotkeys, such as resetting it to Ctrl + C for Copy, Ctrl + V for Paste, or setting it to whatever combination of keys Undo or other specific commands is set to in programs like Photoshop? I haven't used Windows XP or Linux yet, so I'm not really sure if either of them has this capability built-in.
  • by Steveftoth ( 78419 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:04PM (#5311449) Homepage
    I don't think so, it's the fastest way to enter text that doesn't involve a lot of makeing noise.

    Think about it, if you want to enter text what's the next logical step? Gesture based systems? Not really, it won't let you easily enter mass amounts of random text.

    Voice rec? Even if it were perfect, it would require massive changes to places like where I work. As any any cubical farm other voices are distracting from what I'm doing.

    Besides the fact that Voice Rec would really suck for entering code.

    The keyboard is the most accurate, quickest device that we have for entering text into a computer. Until something comes along that is better, we will continue to use it.
  • Story troll? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Forgotten ( 225254 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:05PM (#5311461)

    This reads like a troll. For instance:

    devotes a whole key to a sort of double-S shape that I will never press.

    If you're using a Mac without using the command key, you're really not using the Mac. Unless you're running PPC Linux?

    And my PC keyboards all waste plastic on a backwards-apostrophe

    Ok, you're apparently not running Linux, or you're a Unix programmer who doesn't know how to use backquotes for command substitution in shell programming. Using familiar keys, try entering "man sh ".

    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..

    Yup, they double up with other keys - through the use of that command metakey you've never hit. If you have a way around this that doesn't involve doubling the size of the keyboard, please share. Try this, just for me - press the little funky "double-S" key (the technical term, btw, is "whee whee propeller!") and hold it, then press shift and hold it, then press the key with a slash and a question mark on it (phew!). Now read all about keyboard shortcuts.

    There are umpteen things wrong with modern keyboards, though - you just mention none of them. In all seriousness, have you considered the possibility that you're just an idiot?

  • by TheWanderingHermit ( 513872 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:08PM (#5311484)
    I notice the original author complains about some keys that he feels are a waste of keys, and also complains that keys he needs are either not present or need to work in conjunction with modifiers/dead keys.

    It seems the whole post and the idea of redesigning a keyboard (at least in this context) means, "redesigning the keyboard the way I need it to work for me."

    Maybe this hits me more than others because I'm a writer first, and a programmer second (I'm only programming while I need to, to develop the software for my company so I can make enough money to get back to writing full time). However, I find a bothersome trend with many developers to assume that "what I need is what we all need."

    I don't know how it works on a Mac, but I would think under OSX, if one does not like the way a keyboard is mapped, one can simply change the key map.

    I know for me, as a writer, the keyboard works fine, and I'd rather not see it changed (much), because I'd rather not have to learn a new layout.

    But for me to assume that since the current keyboard works well for me, so it should not be changed, would be as absurd as the original topic, which assumes that most people need keys to switch between windows more than they need other keys.

    (Yes -- I know. I'll be modded to troll immediately because I dared to say the slightest negative thing about a programmer or developer!)
  • by Jedi Alec ( 258881 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:12PM (#5311514)
    Indeed, French keyboards make no sense whatsoever. I mean, why on earth would one want the accents which are used every other word instead of having all the numbers right there on top. I mean, that numerical thing on the side that has all those numbers anyway must be some funny foreign thing too...
  • Re: Separate keys (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Forgotten ( 225254 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:16PM (#5311537)

    ctrl + c and crtl + v works fine for me

    While I agree with your basic premise, the particular example you use causes me to vomit. That is one thing wrong with Windows, and PC keyboards - they're short one meta key. Just having Alt means the control key has to be overloaded for, well, control functions. You'd think that would make sense, but since control characters were enshrined in ASCII they lost their "meta" status, and lot of people need to type them into terminal windows (while also requiring quick key, non-strain-inducing shortcuts for copy and paste). That overloading of the control key is one of my pet peeves about Windows. Half of my use of the Mac is as a terminal to Unix command lines, whether local or remote.

    Please consider joining SPOB, the Society for the Preservation Of Buckybits.

  • by DarkVein ( 5418 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:19PM (#5311558) Journal
    Fingerworks [] makes a good start. This is a little non-traditional, and I like it.

    But, if we're going to stick to a solid mechanical design:

    First of all, I would set an emphasis away from lazy ASCII-ism. I want to be able to type En and Em Dashes, as well has hyphens and minuses--not this silly "hyphen-minus". I could have this right now by killing macron, tilde, acute, and fixing the hyphen-minus as a hyphen. I'd kill backslash too.

    Meta keys are nice, but need to be redesigned. All "edit" functions should fall under an "edit" meta, instead of "control". "Shift" has always bothered me for some reason, but I can't suggest a change in behavior beyond what I describe below.

    Capslock is obviously the first against the wall when the revolution comes. I like CTRL in that position, a lot. I'd put my magical "Edit" meta right there.

    Let's rename "Alt" to "System". Function keys are poo-like. I suggest we have the whole keyboard available for "Function", with the number row providing "F1-F12". Now, we can hold "System" and "Edit" and have "System Edit" keys. Isn't that neat!

    Of course, all this could get confusing. So, my Keyboard Of The Future(TM) will have little displays on all the keys, showing their current function in BIG letters. No silly upper-lower-inthegroove-inblue print on the keys. Hold "Edit", and the Edit functions will be displayed instead of the typographical functions.

    I'd like to note that Apple has taken some of these steps. You can get Em and En dashes with some keyboard combos with the hyphen key. It helps ever so much that MacOS X is totally Unicode. Juxtaposed with x86, Apple is a little bit more consistent with their Option/Apple/Control mechanism, but they still get things confused.

    Really, I think my Dream Keyboard(TM) would be based on the FingerWorks keyboard, only combined with a display. Remember that magnetic paper slashdot covered endlessly? Seems like a perfect application right here.
  • by starling ( 26204 ) <> on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:21PM (#5311576)
    I guess you're not a *nix user. The back-tick is a *very* useful key.
  • by DarkVein ( 5418 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:22PM (#5311582) Journal
    I'd also like to see a "Tag" key. It would let you detour in your text to add an XML tag. This would be more in line with a world where networked [office] documents are the norm, and XML is the standard.
  • by Gushi ( 210940 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:44PM (#5311704) Homepage
    I think the next big wave in keyboard will be a blending of the keyboard and monitor. Imagine a computer whos input was another touch screen that replaced your mouse and keyboard. Applications wouldn't need to depend upon a standard keyboard setup, they would simply create a unique set of clickable icons (cut, paste, BFG...) that would be exactly what you needed for the program you are using.
  • by yerricde ( 125198 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @11:30PM (#5311970) Homepage Journal

    In windows it is supposed to be the equivalent of pressing the right mouse button. Why have a key for that? What a stupid concept... you already have your hand on the mouse so use it.

    What about those who because of a physical disability cannot use a mouse or trackball and instead navigate Windows with a keyboard? What about those whose pointing device has only one button? (No redundant Mac jokes please; some early Windows laptops were like this.)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 15, 2003 @11:54PM (#5312093)
    no, the reason it still exists is that almost everyone knows qwerty and it would be a pain in the ass to reteach it to everyone.
  • by Zeinfeld ( 263942 ) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @12:04AM (#5312140) Homepage
    The thing that always irritated me about the IBM PC scroll lock key is that it never actually worked for that purpose. MSDOS used Control-S and Control-Q to stop and start scrolling. The scroll lock key never worked.

    Of course these days there is not much call for a scroll lock key. If you have reams of output there are much better ways of presenting it in a windows based GUI system. The only use for a scroll lock key is when you are using a console mode program, or rather would be if the #$(#$* thing worked.

    Same thing with PrtSc, which does absolutely bugger all on my machines.

    OK you can remap the keys to do something else, but it would be nice to have some more useful functions:

    Disable Javascript It would be really nice to be able to toggle javascript on and off so that you could browse sites with horrible popup excrecessences or other J-script abuses with javascript turned off and only turn it on when you wanted it

    Boss key bring up excell spreadsheet etc.

  • by Lethyos ( 408045 ) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @12:36AM (#5312281) Journal
    Nothing would enrage me more than to have my software rearrange and/or relable my keys. This is just an absolutely bad idea. You would destroy any learning curve software has and you would demolish any consistency between applications.

    I do agree with you that internationalization would benefit tremendously from such a keyboard -- but chances are, if you are an X language speaker, you'll be in an X language speaking area with appropriately fitted computers. Very few international cybercafes as far as I'm aware.

    User interface hardware needs to be designed such that it is the same today as it was the day before. Users have a hard enough time with crappy software constantly shifting beneath their feet.
  • by callipygian-showsyst ( 631222 ) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @12:51AM (#5312332) Homepage
    And my PC keyboards all waste plastic on a backwards-apostrophe key and a scroll-lock (+ LED!)

    What are you? Some kind of clueless newbie?

    I use the "backwards apostrophe" all the time. For example, I want to edit my "startx" script. I type:

    $ vi `which startx`

    and it brings it up in my favorite editor. I suggest the poster should learn the benefits of the backwards apostrophe before dissing it.

  • by upper ( 373 ) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @12:51AM (#5312333)
    but I still routinely remap the keys to put ctrl next to A. My years on sun keyboards trained me well.

    And I can't imagine using emacs with the control key so far from the home finger positions. If I had live with control down there, I might even convert to vi.

  • Re:Voice commands (Score:4, Insightful)

    by BrainInAJar ( 584756 ) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @03:00AM (#5312803)
    Logistical and programming issues aside, speech uses a different portion of the brain than typing. When you're typing, you aren't using all your mental capacities, so you have time/ability to think of other things as you do your work, instead of devoting all of it to speaking. Also, you can't speak discreetly... If I were, say, browsing porn I couldn't just sit there at work and say "Web quote free lesbian redhead porn endquote search". I can type it without anyone hearing it though.

    Not to mention that I can type much faster than I can speak.
  • by ishmaelflood ( 643277 ) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @08:33AM (#5313405)
    Right hand mouse, left hand keyboard. What I need is a keyboard that allows me to type everything with one hand. That means I need things like caps lock. Shift lock would be good.

    The totally disgusting keyboard that I'm using now indicates that I hit every key except the function keys, backquote/tilde, scroll lock and pause, often enough to keep them legible.

    As to extra functionality, my mouse has five buttons, one is copy, the other is paste.

  • by PigleT ( 28894 ) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @08:34AM (#5313407) Homepage
    "there are hundreds of users for whom it's just one more thing to search through in the hunt and peck."

    If you don't know the ins and outs of the keyboard you're using, who are you to criticise either the layout or the characters included?

    "It would make more sense to have special programmer's keypads,"

    Oh yeah, right. Thanks for the discrimination, but no thanks. I expect a keyboard to be able to generate everything in the ASCII charset with minimal fuss, I don't need some marketroid hippie like you to come along and tell me *I*'m the weirdo.

"You can have my Unix system when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers." -- Cal Keegan