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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 worst_name_ever ( 633374 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @09:49PM (#5311336)
    And my PC keyboards all waste plastic on a backwards-apostrophe key

    Must not be a *nix user if he has no use for the tilde key!

    • by sawilson ( 317999 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @09:59PM (#5311413) Homepage
      And all my PC keyboards waste plastic on these little windows looking keys next to alt that seem to do nothing in linux.
      • by Xtifr ( 1323 )
        On my Debian box, those are assigned to Meta, and I use them all the time.
      • by HisMother ( 413313 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:21PM (#5311573)

        I've got a whole drawer full of them. It's oddly satisfying to pry them off with a penknife and toss them in the drawer, knowing you'll never need 'em.
      • 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.
    • by rampant mac ( 561036 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:07PM (#5311475)
      Must not be a *nix user if he has no use for the tilde key!

      Ha! Show's what you know! When I drop to DOS on my Windows machine and do a "dir" all I see is:

      Progam~1 [Directory]
      Documu~1 [Directory]
      ILoveY~1 [Directory]
      Slamme~1 [Directory]

      See? We're just advanced as you "Unix" users!

    • 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.

      ProfQuotes []
    • 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 Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 15, 2003 @09:49PM (#5311341)
    that explode when someone types 'first post'
  • backtick (Score:2, Funny)

    by aePrime ( 469226 )
    And my PC keyboards all waste plastic on a backwards-apostrophe key

    And he's a programmer? I believe it's called a backtick. I take it he's never written Perl, or LaTeX, or ... .
  • My Vision (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Dictateur ( 638553 )
    I think what I would like to see is a keyboard wich changes contextually. Something like a screen with different kind of keys in differents applications. Of course there would still be some always there keys.
    • I'd definately like that, but only if it came with an LCARS skin. Star Trek, here we come! Oh, and when the system crashes, the keyboard has to keep the buttons visible but make the backlight flicker. That would add the final touch of authenticity to it...
      • LCARS Panel (Score:3, Funny)

        by Kenshin ( 43036 )
        Oh, and when the system crashes, the keyboard has to keep the buttons visible but make the backlight flicker. That would add the final touch of authenticity to it...

        No, the final touch of authenticity would be having it explode in your face when you take damage in a game.

        I never did figure out why the Enterprise's workstations were built of explosive material...

  • Back tick? (Score:4, Funny)

    by sdhughes ( 235715 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @09:51PM (#5311351)
    You never use the back tick? How's Microsoft Windows treating you?
  • One key,

    that turns the microphone I use for voice pattern recognition, login, and entering commands in a
    simple, easy to use voice command structure. Maybe
    some sort of bastard child of the keyboard built
    for one hand specifically for the types of games
    that benefit from a bunch of extra programmable
  • Xmodmap (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I xmodmap useless keys to more linux friendly functions. E.G. the `windows' key is mapped to next workspace.
  • YESS!!! GIMME SLACK! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 15, 2003 @09:54PM (#5311379)
    Oh damn. I've been draeming about this for a few months now.

    I want a keyb that has pry-out keys which each contain a resistor/whatever to mark what they are.
    Then I can remap my keyb without confusing my coworkers (well, some of them) and I don't have to wonder which mapping is in effect. Also I want to be able to "break" teh numpad off and move it to the left side and back, or even leave it totally seperate.

    And I want a pony.

    Alternatively, an LCD touchscreen wouldn't be half bad.

    Hey IBM, if you make either of these things can you please give me a big fat check? Or at least a demo unit? You b'stards seem to make things I think of whether I keep the idea to myself or not... and god knows that simply thinking of an idea on your own proves that you own it. ;-)

    okay i luv you buh bye
    ~the alternating coward
  • Sys Req (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ejaw5 ( 570071 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @09:54PM (#5311383)
    Anybody care to explain the purpose (if any) for the Sys Req button (shared by Print Screen). My impression of it is that it may have had some use way back in the day before my time, but can't think of any purpose today.
    • Re:Sys Req (Score:5, Informative)

      by sebmol ( 217013 ) <sebmol@seb[ ].de ['mol' in gap]> 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.

      • 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.


        • Re:Sys Req (Score:3, Informative)

          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: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).

    • 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 A_Duck_Named_Ping ( 612873 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @09:55PM (#5311384)
    Realize that the PC revolution was fueled by worprocessing and spreadsheet software, which both lend themselves to keyboard/keypad input devices. At some point -- aren't we living in the future yet? -- the input devices must make an evolutionary leap. If you look in the video editing and medical imaging field, the input devices reflect the nature of how the work is done (dials, sliders, toggle buttons). A fictional example of one possibility is the type of 3d input device used in Minority Report. We still are mostly creatures of the keyboard (damn blogs!), but at some point, the next killer app may bring about the emergence of a better input device. Oh yeah, and voice recognition might not suck so much someday ;-) -duck
    • > the input devices must make an evolutionary leap

      I disagree. I think they should make a revolutionary step.
    • Voice regognition??

      "tab if Silent equals false left curly bracket newline tab tab printf left round bracket double quote percent sign s double quote comma space Output right round bracket semicolon newline tab right curly bracket space forward slash star space Output debug information space star forward slash newline newline ..."

      I think i'll stay with my keyboard thanks.
  • Stupid iBook Fn Key (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Flamesplash ( 469287 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @09:55PM (#5311385) Homepage Journal
    I borrow an ibook from work every now and then and it's frustrating to have the fn (function) key be the bottom left most key where on my Sun and PC keyboard it's Control. I've made many a Vim error due to it, good thing there's undo.:w
  • cmd-` is a common shortcut in apps to cycle windows (standard behavior in Cocoa, I think).

    As for keyboards of the future, there won't be any. People will simply "plug in" using a more direct neural interface ;).

  • 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 Anonymous Coward
    As a software developer, my keystroke volume is not really huge, and I end up using the mouse very frequently.
    Therefore for many months I have been on the mailing list, waiting for the "coming soon" X2 version of the half-keyboard.

    The core principle - I WANT to be able to do the alphabet, the underscore etc, and the cut/copy/paste with my left hand only. This would produce so much "consumer surplus", that I think folks might then switch. ANY new keyboard design should incorporate this general principle, even though the details might not be a-la-Matias.

  • by enos ( 627034 )
    There's only one company that universally changed the keyboard for virtually all PCs: Microsoft.
    Sorry to say it, but only a monopoly could do that. If logitech made keyboards with extra keys, and bioses/oses didn't support the extra keys, it'll die quick. Plus, my special keys are better then your special keys, so in the end we get nothing. Sun is the other example, but they also have a monopoly (on Sun boxes).
  • I don't see wh we can't have the cording keyboards that Englebart introduced with his mouse in 1968.

    • 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 [] 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 []. 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.
  • 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.

  • by $$$$$exyGal ( 638164 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @09:58PM (#5311408) Homepage Journal
    We need:
    • Fast-forward
    • Rewind
    • Pause
    • Play
    • Stop
    • Record
    • etc...

    And most of all, all keyboards need an analog volume changer. With IBooks, you can change the volume using some function keys... but there needs a little spinny thing to change the audio (like what is in most refrigerator's to change the temp).

    And lastly, I can't seem to find that double-S thing on my IBook?

    --sex []

  • 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.

    • by IdahoEv ( 195056 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @11:43PM (#5312047) Homepage
      Have any of you programmers actually used Dvorak or Maltron keyboards

      Yeah, every day. I switched to dvorak six years ago. True, the pure dvorak layout is not well designed for programming. But it's advantages in English are astounding.

      I use dvorak layout on a Kinesis contoured keyboard [].

      Cool thing is, the 'board is hardware macro programmable. A footswitch puts the keyboard into "second layer", which normally maps the right hand keys to a keypad. Instead, I have the second layer activate macros. On my left hand, keys with the footswitch down activate HTML macros, like followed by eight left arrows and a carraige return. On my right, single keys activate macros, like "t" (where K is on a qwerty) gives me a pair of curly braces on two lines, and arrows back up to put me on a line in between them, like this:
      <cursor left here>
      one key in the middle of the board saves me about eight awkward keystrokes.

      footswitch-"f" gives me:
      for (<cursor left here>;;)
      saving me about a dozen keystrokes.

      I've got dozens of such macros. I never ever type "" or "{" or "(" (except I just did :). Every common syntax, keyword, or markup tag is a one-key macro. I rip off HTML/XML and C/perl/java like nobodys' business.

      No carpal-tunnel strain from reaching for weirdly placed "{" and "" keys all the time, because they're all in my macros.

      The 'board is USB and mac/pc switchable and the macros are in hardware, so I can take it with me to group meeting / LAN party / whatever and work with any machine, anywhere, with all my layout customizations and macros.

      And I won't even get started on the kinesis' contour shape, which addresses 8+ major ergonomic concerns where things like the MS Natural and such only address 1.

      I can switch between qwerty/dvorak with a keystroke, without losing my macros, so that friends can try out the keyboard.

      I've been using this setup for half a decade. Kicks ass, I'm telling you.

      • I use an old IBM metal keyboard that I've been using since the mid 80s. The keys haven't worn out and it feels very solid and professional. Not bad for something that was free and has been around for well over 15 years. And I'd call that much more cost effective than the Kinesis keyboard (free amortized over 15 years vs. $375 ... hmm...)
      • Look at that touchpad on your iBook. Now, imagine a keyboard made like that, *ideally with an LCD that can display any layout you like*.

        There was a keyboard like this previewed in slashdot -- but I can't find it today.

        But essentially, it uses the hall effect to tell where your fingers are -- and it reads not only letters, but gestures.

        Do something like this, and every keyboard is completely reprogrammable. Why not have a different key combination for every programming word, for example?

        Of course, there is the issue of the learning curve -- but you can ease into that by allowing the *user* to reprogram his keyboard, and just keep his keyboard layout on the internet, and download it when he begins work.

        That way, for typing English, you use Dvorak. For programming, you use a special programming set, which can alternate to Dvorak for comments or text.

        Indeed, I'm waiting until PDAs wise up to this, and allow input by such a "keyboard" as well. I can type quite quickly. I can't scratch the screen as quickly, and I have to press too hard to do it anyhow, and you can't erase what you've already scratched into the screen [okay, that's a joke].

        Of course, this all makes me wonder if this isn't some sort of a repost.

  • 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!
  • 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: 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.

  • > 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 []. It's used in law.
  • 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.
    • LCD Keyboard (Score:5, Interesting)

      by iamacat ( 583406 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:44PM (#5311705)
      Better yet, why not design a future keyboard with a small, backlighted LCD on top of each key? Than each OS or program can customize key labels. So when you change the input language, labels change. And in Quake the numeric keys will really show different weapons.

      Also imagine the pure joy of virus writers when they realize just what they can do with the victim's keyboard.

      • 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 eyefish ( 324893 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:04PM (#5311451)
    I think the original poster is right about we needing keys for the most frequently done operations. My take is that we need extra keys that do the following:

    - Copy
    - Cut
    - Paste
    - Undo
    - Help

    Optional keys:
    - Volume up
    - Volume down
    - Mute/Unmute
    - Play
    - Stop
    - Record
    - Fast forward
    - Fast rewind
    - Next (chapter/song/video)
    - Previous (chapter/song/video)

    I also wonder how many people actually use the ALT, CTRL, SHIFT and similar keys on THE RIGHT SIDE of the keyboards (for as long I can remember I have NEVER pressed any of those keys on the right side, I only used their sister keys on the left side of the space bar).

  • by Anonymous Freak ( 16973 ) <> 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 [] 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.

  • 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 maynard ( 3337 ) <> on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:07PM (#5311477) Journal
    Had to buy a PS/2 to USB converter so I could keep using my Kinesis [] keyboard. Bunches of people I work with swear by the Mac pro keyboards but they drive me nuts. I absolutely love my Kinesis I made it a requirement for employment when I started at my current job. My boss thought it was weird but didn't have a problem laying out the $300 or so for the keyboard to get me onboard.

    Frankly, this is a career. I fuck my fingers/wrists up and I don't have a job. And I swear, that keyboard has saved my wrists. I had all sorts of problems after years of using a normal keyboard, but after taking the time to get used to the Kinesis I found my tendonitis receeding and the pain going away. I still have to take breaks while doing long keyboarding sessions, but that keyboard saved my career. I like it so much I bought one for home. I can't recommend it enough for the serious typist.

    I would liken the keyboard to keys shaped along the inside of a bra... and that always helps when I'm typing away. :)

  • 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!)
    • The problem is, the current keyboard design wasn't designed for Most Users, it just sort of evolved.

      There aren't 12 function keys because it's a good idea. In the late-eighties, there was a one-upsmanship contest going on to see who could squeeze the most in the space; for a long ten was the standard, but enough keyboards were marketed as "better" because they had 12 keys that it eventually became the standard.

      (is there a single application that uses all 15 F-keys on a Mac keyboard??)

      Let's go back to you. As a writer, what do you do with back-tik and Scroll Lock? Wouldn't it be great if you could depend on PrtScn to print? Wouldn't replacing the mess of F-keys with standard commands like Cut/Copy/Paste/Undo be beneficial to your work as a writer? (forget for a moment that you've memorized ctrl-x etc.; wouldn't have been better not to have to?)
      • Using the function keys means moving my hands from the home key positions. While I have to do that for control or alt, it's not that far a move. The numbers are far enough from home for me. Beyond that is more than I want to have to reach while I'm writing.

        But that's just me. I map other functions on to the keyboard myself (for example, I write a lot of scripts, and I use alt with different keys for different margin settings and for character names). It would be ironic to think a writer who is more-or-less a part time programmer has a better feel for re-mapping a keyboard than a "real geek" does.
  • 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 DarkVein ( 5418 )
      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 Anonvmous Coward ( 589068 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:19PM (#5311562)
    A lot of work is being done to simplify keyboard layouts. Soon all keys will be replaced with brightly colored rectangles. Instead of 101 keys, you'll have a few large buttons which, coincidentally, lend themselves beautifully to touch screens. Instead of one character per button, each one is labeled with a multi-digit number. This way they were able to greatly reduce the number of buttons needed.

    Here's an example... []

    As you can see, they're very efficient. A panel like this can control an entire starship.
  • Salesman: Look, the new Cyrius Cybernetics keyboards can talk! Describe whatever layout you want, and the AI in the keyboard will implement it. His name is Marvin.

    Customer: Hello, Marvin. What are all those blinking lights for?

    Marvin: They hurt.

    Salesman: Shut up, Marvin. They're primarily decorative, but Marvin can assign them to whatever LOCK keys you specify.

    Marvin: I've had this terrible pain in all the diodes down my left side. I mean, I've asked to have them replaced, but nobody listens.

    Customer: It seems unhappy.

    Salesman: Well, Marvin would feel much better if someone took him home, if you take my drift.

    Marvin: No I wouldn't.

    Customer: Are you sure it will work with my Compaq 8000, at home?

    Salesman: Definitely.

    Marvin: They plugged me into a compaq once.

    Customer: And what happened?

    Marvin: It committed suicide.

    Customer: Why are you so unhappy?

    Marvin: I've got a brain the size of a planet, and look at what they've got me doing.

    Customer: Do any of the peripherals here have better personalities?

    Salesman: Oh, no...

    Speaker: I wanted to let you know what a joy and a privelege it's been to make error sounds for your computer enjoyment! It's been really wonderful! Would you guys like to hear some public domain music? I used to be an elevator!
  • by jaavaaguru ( 261551 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:31PM (#5311639) Homepage
    My preferred keyboard [] has things like cut, copy, paste, home, end, undo, help. I find it quite useful.
  • New input technology (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Gyorg_Lavode ( 520114 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:34PM (#5311655)
    New input technology is going to be gesture based, probably on gesture technology so that rather than push 2 buttons to cut and paste, you move your hand in a specific gesture to cut and paste, (think Minority Report).

    There are attempts at this right now, but the best solution so far is probably the 2 dimensional equivelant from []. They have keyboards, mouse pads, and number pads all that combine both traditional input buttons and gestures to do things like cut and paste. Of course, like all new technologies, it's on the expensive side, but hopefully in the next 10-20 years we're controlling a 3 dimensional display by waving our hands. (Will make playing spell casting games a lot funner.)

  • Dvorak (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Tyreth ( 523822 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:35PM (#5311662)
    Seems to me that it would be worth someone making a dvorak keyboard on the hardware side. ie, it sends the buttons as qwerty, but the layout is dvorak. That way you can take this keyboard and use it on a computer set up for qwerty.

    It's probably already been done I'm guessing. Be nice to have a toggle too to switch between dvorak and qwerty layout.

    I wish there was an easy way for us to switch everyone over.

  • Several points (Score:3, Interesting)

    by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:37PM (#5311676) Homepage Journal

    1. Developing a keyboard layout for the 21st century is like developing an incandescent lightbulb for the 21st century. Keyboards (and incandescent light bulbs) both work but neither one is necessarily optimal.
    2. If you aren't using the tilde key, you're short on imagination. Not only does it provide the backtick character (which most non-Unix types will admittedly never use) but the tilde is used to designate an approximate figure.
    3. Keyboards with fixed characters are cheap and so will be around essentially forever, or for at least 20 more years. It would be nice to get a keyboard with an LCD or OLED on each key cap so they can be reprogrammed and have the layout actually show up. Unfortunately any keyboard which came out with this layout today would be USB, and USB 1 sucks, while USB 2 is too expensive at the moment. (USB implementations have latency problems.)
    4. Ultimately we should be leaving the keyboard behind and move to some other method of text input. I suspect that we will get some combination of pupil tracking, voice recognition, and somatic cues that when put together will end up being much more efficient than current input methods. If you are truly looking to the future, then forget the keyboard entirely. If you are looking to, say, tomorrow, just use a dvorak layout, switch around your key caps, and get it memorized before you try using someone's qwerty.
  • by MrByte420 ( 554317 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:39PM (#5311685) Journal
    And my PC keyboards all waste plastic on a backwards-apostrophe key

    This guy is Obviously not a BASH scripted - I love my backwards apostrophe key each an every time I want to use the results of a command as a parameter in another command!

  • by rwise2112 ( 648849 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @10:45PM (#5311718)
    Well, if Apple had their way, the keyboard would only have one key. ;)
  • by Bendebecker ( 633126 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @11:12PM (#5311877) Journal
    One that has the numberpad replaced with all the common hotkeys used in vi. That would effectively double the size of the keyboard though...
  • 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.

  • The "SysRq" Key (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BobStikigreen ( 621661 ) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @03:01AM (#5312804) Homepage
    It's the REAL bastard key on the PC's layout. I always suspected it was for compatibility with an IBM terminal emulation or something. I only remember one program that used it, DESQview. For all of you that are confused, DESQview was a multi-tasker for MS-DOS. If you were an old-school MS-DOS hacker you may have used it. If not, be happy that you were spared the pain =). Can anyone else name an app that used it? I'm talking default mappings here. Please spare me the "you used MS-DOS you infidel! I've been using UNIX since I was in the womb!@#!#" nonsense, some of us were young and had shitty computers.
  • by RAMMS+EIN ( 578166 ) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @05:33AM (#5313141) Homepage Journal
    No use for the backwards apostrophe? Obviously you don't do a lot of scripting and TeX. :-p

    IMHO, you should not depend on the big boys to bring you a good keyboard. They still only ship the purposefully inefficient QWERTY keyboards... Dvorak keyboards are available, but at outrageous prices. My advice is to help yourself, and make your own keyboard and your own key bindings.

    I started by taking a permanent marker and drawing the Dvorak symbols on my QWERTY keyboard. Moving the keys is not an aption, as for some reason they won't fit in places other than the ones they are meant for. Besides, I get a lot of visitors, and I don't expecrt them to learn Dvorak if they just want to use my computer for a while. Leaving the QWERTY symbols in place accomodates those who need them. Be warned though: after you switch to Dvorak, your typing spood will be more awful than you ever imagined. If you persist, you will soon find yourself in the situation that you can't type on QWERTY nor on Dvorak. If you type a lot, however, you will notice that Dvorak significantly reduces strain. Eventually, your typing speed will increase beyond what you had on QWERTY, simply because the upper bound is higher.

    One more note about Dvorak: Dvorak also designed keyboards for people with only one hand. These are highly popular (in as far as people consider anything other than QWERTY, that is) today, because they allow you to type with one hand and mouse|phone|drink| with the other. Their layout could also be useful for PDA's, wihich typically have limited space for keys.

    Besides something radical like changing your keyboard layout, there are various other things you can do, most notably, assigning hotkeys to common events. What is possible and how it can be done largely depends on the software you are running. If yau are using X11, chances are your function keys mostly go unused. In many window managers, they can be bound to window management events, so that you can, for example, use to switch to the next window, to go to the previous one, to maximize the current window, and to iconify it. This is easily done in WindowMaker through the Wprefs app shipped with it. If you want to assign other shortcuts to common operations like use to save a file instead of +, you could supposedly change your keyboard setup so that generates +. If you want to assign keyboard shortcuts to operations that previously hod none defined, for example, Copy and Paste as New in GIMP, you probably need some specialized software, which I think Apple and MicroSoft ship with their GUIs, but I am not aware of any such software for XFree86.

    Those are just a few things you can do to improve your productivity here and now, without waiting for the big guys to do it for you. I've upped my productivity, up yours!

    "When in danger or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout."
    -- Lazarus Long

  • by Bozovision ( 107228 ) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @08:30AM (#5313400) Homepage
    Here's one - .

    BUT, history shows that it is almost impossible to go up against an incumbent pervasive technology with a similar technology. The new tech has to offer a great deal more for people adopt it in large numbers. This is not to say that there won't always be unusual keyboard variations - but it's likely that these will be marginal.

    And now an advert: I know about One Bamboo because they are members of the Cambridge Hi-tech Association of Small Enterprises. Anyone reading this near Cambridge, UK could be interested. Two meetings a month - the next is a pubmeet at the Free Press on Tuesday 18th - 8pm.

  • by dghcasp ( 459766 ) on Sunday February 16, 2003 @02:29PM (#5314699)
    One of the saddest days of my computing life was when I retired my last Apollo computer. I can't find a good picture of the keyboard on the 'net, this one [] will have to do.

    Note the extra 23 keys in the keypads to the left of the main keyboard and above the keypad. It's hard to explain what they all did if you're not familiar with the Apollo DM user interface, but basically you had keys for:

    cut,copy,paste: Point mouse anywhere on screen and hit key; cut either selection or whatever was in the area of the mouse

    again: point mouse at any command in a window, hit key, command is executed again (like double-click, drag, middle-click in xterm but without all the gymnastics)

    arrow keys that moved the mouse so you didn't have to take your hands off the keyboard...

    open shell window, open editor window, open editor window read only, ...

    page up, page down (nothing unusual there,) page left, page right for when editing those huge images or documents...

    window system command: think +nw+ret to change stacking order of windows where your cursor is. Anything you could do with the mouse you could do with two-letter commands and the window command key...

    Of course, HP bought apollo and killed the line. And now instead of 23 keys that were actually useful, we all have 12 function keys that almost no application ever uses...

Each new user of a new system uncovers a new class of bugs. -- Kernighan