Although we use electronic keyboards now, the ubiquitous QWERTY layout, named for the upper-left row of letters, was born in the 19th century. Rather than being the most efficient, QWERTY was adopted because it prevented frequent jams experienced by early mechanical typewriters. Since that time, a number of alternatives have arisen, including the Dvorak and keyboards designed for physical limitations and better ergonomics.
The QWERTY keyboard was born in 1874, when Remington sold the first typewriter invented by Milwaukee, Wis., newspaper editor Chris Sholes. While the first typewriter had keys arranged alphabetically, Sholes soon adopted the "QWERTY" layout largely to overcome mechanical limitations from key pairs jamming when pressed. Due to being first on the market, QWERTY-style keyboards remain the format used by the majority of typists. But several decades later, an alternative was introduced -- Dvorak.
The Dvorak Simplified Keyboard was developed in 1936 by August Dvorak, a University of Washington psychologist and education professor, and William Dealey. Unlike the QWERTY keyboard, which spread commonly-used keys to prevent mechanical jams, the Dvorak's home keys concentrated common letters, such as "A", "O", "E", "U", "I" and "D" in the home row. Dvorak claimed his keyboard was more efficient, allowing 70 percent of typing to be done from the home row, compared to 32 percent for QWERTY.
New Standard Keyboard
Although Dvorak is the main alternative to the QWERTY keyboard, other layouts were introduced, including the New Standard Keyboard. In a return to the original typewriter keyboard, New Standard Keyboards' keys are arranged alphabetically. Keys A to M are located on the keyboard's left side, and keys N-Z are positioned on the right. In the middle are cursor keys, and function keys are on the bottom.
The Chubon keyboard was created in 1988 by University of Pittsburgh professor Robert Chubon while rehabilitating from spinal cord injuries during a trampoline accident. The Chubon layout is designed for disabled typists, placing commonly used keys together, enabling people with limited hand mobility to communicate. By placing frequently-used keys close together, a person typing with one finger or with a pointing tool can more easily navigate a keyboard compared with the standard QWERTY layout.
In 2008, a Russian company introduced the Optimus Maximus keyboard. While the $1,500 price tag put the keyboard in a class of its own, typists could quickly see more differences. Instead of traditional keyboards with printed letters, the Optimus Maximus included 113 keys -- each with an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screen. The screens could display letters, commands -- even user-supplied graphics. The keyboard supports multiple formats, such as QWERTY and Dvorak, illustrating how far the keyboard has come from 1874.
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