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History of the QWERTY Keyboard
As children grow up they have to face quite a few disappointments in life. They learn that pixies, the tooth fairy, and the other one in the red dress don’t exist. They discover that the green vegetables are not just a garnish; and meet the QWERTY keyboard.
The child makes a great effort to go through the positive process of daily brainwashing to learn the letters of the alphabet; a-for-apple, b-for-ball, c-for-cat… until finally all twenty-six are imprinted in his mind in the correct order and a world of reading and writing awaits. Much of the latter part of this world will be explored using word processing packages such as Microsoft Word, and children these days are introduced to these programs from an early age. .
A child’s first encounter with a computer, however, can be something of a shock. Setting his eyes on the keyboard for the first time, the boy is aghast to discover that none of the letters are in their correct places; as if someone made a huge anagram of the alphabet, and everything the boy learned went out the window. Wisely the child begins to write using this unusual new arrangement, with the index finger and the protruding tongue a typing speed of 3 – 5 words is reached every minute through the hunting and plucking method. Of course, with practice the child can soon become proficient in using the keyboard, but why are the keys laid out in this alphabet soup fashion in the first place? The answer lies back in the days of the first typewriters.
In the late 60s, an American inventor named Christopher Scholes developed the first rudimentary typewriter with a group of associates. The keys on this early machine were originally placed in alphabetical order, but this led to problems with the type bars jamming when typing at speed. To remedy this, Scholes relocated the keys with the aim of keeping the most frequently used letters separate, and the result is the QWERTY keyboard.
Shortly after this, however, improvements in typewriter design ended the blocking problem, so technically the QWERTY system was no longer needed, but it survived even in the computer age, where there is no type bars for jam.
It has its rivals, however, the best known of which is the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard, which was patented by August Dvorak in Seattle in 1936. This layout was to challenge, but never win QWERTY, even though it had several advantages over it, such as simplicity to learn, greater comfort when typing and favoring the right hand.
Although this layout bears no resemblance to the familiar QWERTY, it can be mastered in a short time, and it is worth noting that the world record for typing speed, held by the late Barbara Blackburn who reached the -top speed of a staggering 212 words. per minute, was obtained using the Dvorak system. The Dvorak Simplified Keyboard is available on all major operating systems, but, despite well-founded claims of superiority in accuracy and ease of use, it has failed to dislodge the rigid QWERTY layout.
So, after surviving for over a hundred years, does the QWERTY layout on the modern computer keyboard have anything more to offer than that of early typewriters? Well, yes and no.
The keys are all in the same places, of course, but it takes much less effort to type than it did on a manual typewriter. But the real difference lies in the many symbols and special characters that can be inserted into documents using keyboard shortcuts that simply do not have room for them on a typewriter. Open Microsoft Word and check them by clicking Insert/Symbol, and browse the many menus. You will see that there is a vast array of symbols and characters at your disposal, from the commonly used arrows, ticks and foreign currency symbols, to fun ones that include smiley faces, skull and crossbones, yin and yang, and , for those festive letters, that guy in the red dress.
You can create your own keyboard shortcuts quite easily for these characters, which means that the ones you use regularly can be typed directly on the page, adding impact to important documents, and fun to less formal ones. When you consider that some typewriters could only print an exclamation mark by typing an apostrophe, back space, full stop, you can see how far we’ve come.
It is worth taking the time, perhaps through a training course, to explore the hidden world of Microsoft Word. There are many other features that this powerful tool has to offer.
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