Computer History

Why did they invent the keyboard?

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Answered 2007-04-14 20:22:54

Keyboards were developed in the 19th century to operate the first typewriters. The concept most likely came from musical instruments such as pianos and organs, where a series of keys and/or levers are used to access individual notes. By the 1930s keyboards were used as interfaces to electrical devices such as teletypes because they were already widely familiar and the technology was well-established. Because computer interfaces began as an outgrowth of teletypes and electric typewriters, and office workers were already familiar with typing, there was no call to develop a different interface. The keyboard, albeit with modifications, simply migrated from the typewriter to the computer as we know it today. Interesting sidelight - the near-universal QWERTY key layout was developed in the 19th century by a man named Christopher Sholes. They layout was actually chosen to be as inefficient as possible! Early keyboards were totally mechanical, and good typists could type faster than the mechanisms responded which caused jams and breakage. Sholes put the most-used letters (e, s, a, etc.) under the weakest fingers of the left hand as a way of forcing typists to slow down. Electric keyboards weren't developed until decades later, but by that point Sholes' layout had become standard, kind of like the oddball size of railroad tracks or the U.S.'s continued use of feet and pounds that are rooted in history. There are alternative key layouts, notably the Dvorak keyboard, that allow typists to work almost twice as fast but they remain a very marginal part of the marketplace.

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