When you look at all the extras and options that are available for new computer keyboards, it can be hard to believe that their original design came from mechanical typewriters that didn't even use electricity. Now, you can buy ergonomic keyboards that bear little resemblance to flat, rectangular models with ordinary square keys. Some flashier models light up, roll up or fold up, and others offer options for programming your own commands and shortcuts. They use switches and circuits to translate a person's keystrokes into a signal a computer can understand.
A keyboard's primary function is to act as an input device. Using a keyboard, a person can type a document, use keystroke shortcuts, access menus, play games and perform a variety of other tasks. Keyboards can have different keys depending on the manufacturer, the operating system they're designed for, and whether they are attached to a desktop computer or part of a laptop. But for the most part, these keys, also called keycaps, are the same size and shape from keyboard to keyboard. They're also placed at a similar distance from one another in a similar pattern, no matter what language or alphabet the keys represent.
Most keyboards have between 80 and 110 keys, including:
- Typing keys
- A numeric keypad
- Function keys
- Control keys
The typing keys include the letters of the alphabet, generally laid out in the same pattern used for typewriters. According to legend, this layout, known as QWERTY for its first six letters, helped keep mechanical typewriters' metal arms from colliding and jamming as people typed. Some people question this story – whether it’s true or not, the QWERTY pattern had long been a standard by the time computer keyboards came around. typing keys include the letters of the alphabet, generally laid out in the same pattern used for typewriters. This layout, known as QWERTY for its first six letters, helped keep mechanical typewriters' metal arms from colliding and jamming as people typed. Because this pattern had been long established as a standard, manufacturers developed keyboards for computers using the same layout, even though jamming was no longer an issue.