Why aren’t the letters on the keyboard in alphabetical order?


Posted on Jan 12, 2021      313


The arrangement of letters on a computer keyboard is a legacy of typewriters that appeared in the 19th century.

Smith Premier, a late 19th-century typewriter.

IBM Selectric electric typewriter, 1961.

The principle of this typewriter is simple. The hammer, a lever with a cast-iron matrix of the letter on top, actuates when the finger is struck on the key of the letter. It strikes the ribbon impregnated with ink and between the paper and the hammer and thus leaves a print on the paper. When typing, the hammers alternately strike the paper drum.

Typewriter hammers

The first typewriters invented by Christopher Sholes had the letters on the keys in alphabetical order, in two rows. Besides, it was possible to type only in capital letters, and there were no numbers 1 and 0 at all. They were successfully replaced by the letters “I” and “O. At first, it suited everybody. But with time, typing speed became higher and higher, and then such machines had a serious problem: separate hammers had no time to return to their places and were constantly coupled with each other. Very often, attempts to disconnect them resulted in the breakage of the typewriters.

And it happened because in the English alphabet is a lot of neighboring letters that are used more often than others (for example, p-r, n-o). As a result, neighboring keys were pressed one after another, causing the hammers to clutch and jam.

A typewriter manufacturer drew conclusions and developed a keyboard that placed the letters frequently found in texts far away from the index fingers (before the “blind” ten-finger method was invented, it was mostly typed with the index fingers). That’s how the famous QWERTY keyboard layout appeared (first letters of upper row from left to right) which is used till now. It was adopted for computer keyboards, although there is no problem with clutching the levers (hammers).

QWERTY Keyboard

The layout of the letters on the QWERTY keyboard is not the most rational. Much more convenient layout, which was invented by Arthur Dvorak, a professor of statistics at the University of Washington. It has frequently used letters in the middle-and upper rows. Under the left hand in the middle row are all the vowels, and under the right hand - the most frequent consonants.

The load on the hands is more balanced. Judge for yourself: in an 8-hour working day our fingers make the way on the Dvorak keyboard about 2 km, while on a traditional QWERTY keyboard the same indicator is already 7 km. The typing speed on the Dvorak keyboard is 2 times faster compared to the QWERTY keyboard.

Dvorak keyboard

So, what’s the deal with the Russian keyboard? Why are the letters arranged in this order and not differently? That in Russia, typewriters, like all technical innovations, appeared much later than in the West. By this time, many of the design flaws had already been eliminated. And the Russian keyboard was originally designed as an ergonomic one, with a convenient and rational arrangement of keys. Under the strongest and fastest index fingers were placed the most frequently used letters, and under the weakest ring fingers and little fingers - more rarely used letters.

Unfortunately, the Russian computer keyboard also has flaws. For example, for the comma which is used, agree very often, do not allocate a separate key, and placed it on the same key as the point - in upper case! Therefore, in order to type a comma, press two keys. Maybe that’s why modern schoolchildren who like to sit on the Internet so often miss commas...?


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