What is a QWERTY keyboard?

Sunday, March 1st, 2009 | Computer Usage

Look at the keyboard of your computer.  The top row contains function keys, marked F1, F2, F3, etc.  The next row has the numbers.  Now look at the next row – the third row – of keys.  You will see that they start off with the following six letters:  Q, W, E, R, T and Y.  From these letters the name QWERTY is derived to indicate a standard computer keyboard.

The way the letters are arranged on a QWERTY keyboard is the most common layout for computers and typewriters using the Roman alphabet – languages such as English, Afrikaans and Xhosa.

Why are the letters not arranged in alphabetical order – ABCDEF instead of QWERTY?  Surely that would make it easier to locate letters for a non-typist.  Some cell (mobile) phones use an alphabetical arrangement, but you’ve probably noticed that instruments with larger keyboards, or those with on-screen keyboards, also follow the QWERTY convention.  Why?

There is some irony in the design of this layout.  Originally designed for typewriters, the QWERTY keyboard was patented in 1874 to reduce the number of typewriter hammer clashes.  If letters frequently used together – such as e and i, and t and h in the English language – are next to each other, and they are hit in rapid succession, the hammers get tangled.  So the keyboard was designed to minimize these clashes.  A consequence of this was a reduction of typing speed.

Over the years everyone got used to the QWERTY keyboard and techniques were developed to allow typing to proceed at a reasonable speed, in spite of the awkward positioning of the keys.  Since this layout became widely accepted as a standard, it was retained on computer keyboards – for this reason the QWERTY keyboard is also known as the Universal Keyboard.

Other keyboards were proposed over the years, but none ever managed to replace QWERTY.

You may protest against this strange arrangement of keys, but this is what you will get if you buy a standard computer.  Would it not be more productive to become familiar with the layout?

The good news is that, with practice, you can increase your typing speed – if you are good you can go up to hundred words per minute.  This is much faster than you can write.

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2 Comments to What is a QWERTY keyboard?

Albie esc keystroke
Sunday, 1 March, 2009

Interesting…that we got stuck with a prehistoric concept just as the Y2K syndrome and the analogue vs digital!!

What bothers me is he CAPITAL LETTERS on the keyboard. There are “equipment” and “ideas” on how to sidestep this, but surely the manufactures of hardware must realise although the keyboard was design for the secretary of the business world, learners in the FP also use lower case letters – abc junior font is the solution on a keyboard directly from the supplier.

Albie the esc keystroke

Mark C
Wednesday, 4 March, 2009

I started out typing with one finger and now can type faster with four fingers. The other six are still as stupid as they were before I started typing. I can get by with this arrangement. Somehow my fingers remember where the keys are. Mistakes creep in but can be rectified easily. The QWERTY keyboard is the OK and should stay.

Just a comment on a stupid habit of mine. Whenever I try out something new and have to save a file, folder or something I always call it qwerty or 12345.

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