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The QWERTY Keyboard

Author: George Rhodes, Founder of The Keyboard Teacher.George Rhodes

Designed in the 1860’s by Christopher Sholes, the QWERTY or universal keyboard has undergone continuing criticism. Foremost, it has been accused of intentionally slowing the typist due to the mechanism of the typewriter being unable to “keep up” with keyed entry. To accomplish this Sholes, supposedly, arranged the keyboard keys in a pattern that proved the most difficult to key, thus reducing the keying speed of all typists.

The writer has purchased one of Sholes’ early typewriters, one actually constructed of wooden type bars. To his surprise, using this typewriter he was able to type at a sixy plus words per minute rate. As touch typing, the use of all fingers, was unheard of in the 1860’s what motivated Sholes to slow his typewriter? Nothing. It didn’t happen. Sholes undoubtedly separated the keys that were frequently typed one after the other to prevent, or reduce, their clashing–but not for the purpose of slowing the typist.

The specific arrangement of the keys on the QWERTY keyboard, or any keyboard, is of limited significance. This results from the typewriter and computer keyboards being serially operated, the operator able to strike only one key at a time. Ideally, any serial keyboard should be arranged to permit the maximum number of alternate hand keystrokes, and conversely, the minimum number of sequenced “same finger” keystrokes.

For 130 years the QWERTY keyboard has served the data entry needs of both the typewriter and computer. Today, QWERTY remains the data entry standard simply because an alternate keyboard arrangement has not proved to be more efficient. Thus, may the uninformed use of the QWERTY keyboard, particularly by economists, as an example of a poorer product remaining in use while a better product is available be brought to an end.

QWERTY, in its typewriter setting, survived a century of attacks -12- from its critics. Today, in a computer setting, QWERTY is subjected to challenges from those attempting to advance the status of voice recognition technology. As with previous challenges, QWERTY will remain in place until a superior input method comes forth, one based upon factual evidence–not rumor or self-serving theories and software reviews.