August 27, 2007 The name Christopher Sholes probably doesn’t ring a bell in the mind of the average person, but if they knew of his contribution to modern technology they might well wish to throttle him. Sholes was responsible, in 1867, for patenting the QWERTY keyboard configuration for typewriters. The New Standard Keyboard is the latest in a long line of attempts to break the illogical stranglehold the QWERTY design has on the keyboard market . The alphabetically ordered, 53 key, US$69.95 model aims to bring simplicity and efficiency to what is still the primary method of computer input.
While the belief that QWERTY was designed specifically to slow down typing is considered erroneous, there is no doubt that it is counter intuitive to beginners. The Keyboard Company strives to make their keyboards instantly accessible through a combination of familiar letter order, color coding and a greatly reduced amount of buttons. The New Standard keyboard measures 12.5 inches by 5 inches and is 7/8th of an inch thick. There are no drivers to install and it supports any USB-equipped desktop or notebook computer running Linux or Windows 98SE/ME/2000/XP or Vista.
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The most common alternative is Dvorak, a design based on human physiology and letter frequencies. Although Dvorak users are still a minority, they also enjoy several claims to fame – the world record for words per minute was achieved on a Dvorak keyboard, and the inventors of Bit Torrent and WordPress both work with the model. The New Standard keyboard aims to combine the efficiency of Dvorak's approach with the user-friendliness of alphabetic order.
Other keyboards attempt to approach the limitations of QWERTY from a more physical angle. The Maltron keyboard retains the QWERTY structure, (though it offers two alternatives), but houses it on a curved, broad base that reduces finger travel by 90%. This allows users to greatly increase typing speed and reduces the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome and repetitive strain injury.
The Optimus Maximus Keyboard uses advanced tech to overcome problems of unfriendly key layout. Each individual key houses an OLED display screen which exhibits the particular function of the key at that moment. When a user presses caps lock or shift, the letters on the keyboard capitalise; when they enter Photoshop, or a game, the buttons display functions specific to that program; and transitions to alphabetical or Dvorak based layouts could be made immediately.
Although most companies, and typing schools, remain committed to the traditional structure and layout of keyboards, it’s possible that after over a century of use we are finally outgrowing the bad habit of QWERTY. Hopefully an increased demand for change will force keyboards to embrace flexibility in their designs - who knows, it might even give us back the flexibility in our fingers.
The New Standard Keyboard is available viaThe Keyboard Company.