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Does anyone have a good explanation why the keyboard of computers has this weird way of arrangements?

QWERTY and others? I know they take it from typewriters? but still?

why didn't they arrange it alphabetically, in the first place?

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7 Answers

They were arranged in the QWERTY order so that keys wouldn't be easily broken. In the very old typewriter days, if you hit too many keys too close to each others too often, they would start interfering with each other. The QWERTY method was designed so that keys that are usually close to each other in words are not so on the keyboard. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QWERTY for more information.

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lol..."hurt" each other...they would get jammed, yes –  Mark Apr 11 '09 at 6:28
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Many people do believe that the QWERTY intending to slow you down story is just a myth. Here's one article: independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=356 –  Tony K. Apr 11 '09 at 7:48
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Old typewriters have long arms for each key on the keyboard which have the "type" (i.e. the outline of the letter) at the very end of each arm.

When you press a key the arm swings out, and through the ribbon makes its imprint of the letter, and then swings back in again when you release the key.

Each arm is angled so that they hit the same point on the page, but if you press two keys that are in the same part of the keyboard in very quick succession these arms can (and do) collide.

The QWERTY layout was supposedly then designed so that most words would use letters from opposite sides of the keyboard, which reduces the risk of the arms colliding.

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I think you'll find this story enlightening. It includes the most thoroughly researched report I've seen on the origins of the QWERTY keyboard.

http://www.reason.com/news/show/29944.html

A watershed event in the received version of the QWERTY story is a typing contest held in Cincinnati on July 25, 1888. Frank McGurrin, a court stenographer from Salt Lake City who was purportedly the only person using touch typing at the time, won a decisive victory over Louis Taub. Taub used the hunt-and-peck method on a Caligraph, a machine with an alternative arrangement of keys. McGurrin's machine, as luck would have it, just happened to be a QWERTY machine.

According to popular history, the event established once and for all that the Remington typewriter, with its QWERTY keyboard, was technically superior. Wilfred Beeching's influential history of the keyboard mentions the Cincinnati contest and attaches great importance to it: "Suddenly, to their horror, it dawned upon both the Remington company and the Caligraph company officials, torn between pride and despair, that whoever won was likely to put the other out of business!" Beeching refers to the contest as having established the Remington machine "once and for all." Since no one else at that time had learned touch typing, owners of alternative keyboards found it impossible to counter the claim that Remington's QWERTY keyboard arrangement was the most efficient.

There's lots more relevant information at the site, I urge you to read it.

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sadly, qwerty was superior just because it was so good at avoiding typebar clashes, not because it was superior typing fast. –  rpr Apr 19 '09 at 17:00
    
@rpr: Avoiding clashes WAS the way to increase typing efficiency back in the day of mechanical typwriters. –  Chris Sobolewski Dec 18 '10 at 16:23
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What makes you believe alphabetic would be better?

When typewriters were being developed there were many layouts and many competitions to find the best layouts. QWERTY won - it was the fastest and jammed the typewriters less often.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QWERTY#History_and_purposes

Now we have electronic keys and the mechanical limits don't apply but nobody has demonstrated that alternaitive layouts would be better - not even Mr Dvorak has shown his claims to be true in real world tests (I'm sure I'll get lots of angry comments for saying that but it's true).

Also, QWERTY has a lot of inertia. Changing keyboards would annoy an awful lot of people and this is a big factor.

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The main reason we use a QWERTY layout today is tradition. It's far from the most efficient layout. Its letter placement is mostly arbitrary or based on flawed premises (e.g. the most commonly used letters should be scattered across the keyboard as widely as possible). Keys were even moved around so that early typewriter salesmen could show off their product by typing the word "TYPEWRITER" using only the top row of keys.

Edit: Check out this link for more information.

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People say that qwerty is invented to slow you down and dvorak will speed you up, that might be true for the English language.

But maybe there are natural languages that are more suitable for qwerty than for dvorak? For instance in Dutch you use the k much more often than in English.

Maybe each language should have its own keyboard?

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There are German keyboards with different key arrangements, and I would have thought that the Dutch would use these too. –  ChrisF Apr 11 '09 at 9:34
    
There are even differences between US and UK keyboards - though only in the placement of the " and @ (usually) –  ChrisF Apr 11 '09 at 9:34
    
They have really different key arrangements or just extra features for Umlauts? –  tuinstoel Apr 11 '09 at 9:36
    
@ChrisF, You are right, there is also AZERTY (french) and QWERTZ (german). Wikipedia knows everything. –  tuinstoel Apr 11 '09 at 9:40
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Qwerty was chosen because it was the fastest layout for mechanical typewriters. There were an awful lot of staged typing competitions in the 19th century so that manufacturers could show off their layouts. Qwerty won. –  Jimmy J Apr 11 '09 at 9:55
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@Jimmy J

When typewriters were being developed there were many layouts and many competitions to find the best layouts. QWERTY won - it was the fastest and jammed the typewriters less often.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QWERTY#History_and_purposes

Now we have electronic keys and the mechanical limits don't apply but nobody has demonstrated that alternaitive layouts would be better - not even Mr Dvorak has shown his claims to be true in real world tests (I'm sure I'll get lots of angry comments for saying that but it's true).

Was it fastest? Sure, any layout that could prevent typebar clashes would have been faster than one that does not. But is any part of what you say based on facts? Man, you should really read what you link into. First of all, it was fastest and jammed typewriters less often? Quote behind your link:

Under "Contemporary alternatives":

There was no particular technological requirement for the QWERTY layout, since at the time there were ways to make a typewriter without the "up-stroke" typebar mechanism that had required it to be devised. Not only were there rival machines with "down-stroke" and "frontstroke" positions that gave a visible printing point, the problem of typebar clashes could be circumvented completely

...and...

The early Blickensderfer's "Ideal" keyboard was also non-QWERTY, instead having the sequence "DHIATENSOR" in the home row, these 10 letters being capable of composing 70% of the words in the English language.

That was just from part of the article - it seems to be full of text that instead of supporting your view points out the very issues that, in writing English language supports the assumption that logically Dvorak is faster to write with and perhaps even more importantly will put great deal of less strain on your hands - you know, only 100 english words can be typed without leaving home row and most commonly used letters of language reside on top & bottom rows - Dvorak keyboard devotes the home row to nine of the 12 most common English letters--including all five vowels and the three most common consonants (T, H, N)--while the six rarest letters (V, K, J, X, Q, and Z) are relegated to the bottom row. As a result, 70 percent of typing strokes remain on the home row, only 22 percent are on the upper row, and a mere 8 percent are on the hated bottom row; thousands of words can be typed with the home row alone.

Another design principle of Dvorak has to do with alternating hands:

Whenever the left and right hands type alternate letters, one hand can be getting into position for the next letter while the other hand is typing the previous one. Yet QWERTY typing tends to degenerate into long one-handed strings of letters, especially strings for the weak left hand. More than 3,000 English words utilize QWERTY’s left hand alone, and about 300 the right hand alone.

More about QWERTY's faults can be found at: discovermagazine.com/1997/apr/thecurseofqwerty1099/

But I still wonder your choice of link - perhaps this part was interpreted by you to mean that "no alternatives have been demonstrated better":

Several alternatives to QWERTY have been developed over the years, claimed by their designers and users to be more efficient, intuitive and ergonomic. Nevertheless, none has seen widespread adoption, due partly to the sheer dominance of available keyboards and training. Although studies have shown the superiority in typing speed afforded by alternative keyboard layouts economists Stan Liebowitz and Stephen E Margolis have claimed that these studies are flawed and more rigorous studies are inconclusive as to whether they actually offer any real benefits. The most widely used such alternative is the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard; another increasingly popular alternative is Colemak, which is based partly on QWERTY and is therefore easier for an existing QWERTY typist to learn while offering several optimisations.

Just by analyzing the design principles and how they were put into effect should at least convince anyone that Dvorak puts much less strain on hands - and has clearly very obvious benefits that affect writing speed when writing in english - it seems to me apparently that not only has Dvorak been especially designed to benefit in several ways of common letters and also common letter combinations (left hand, right, etc.) but surprisingly Qwerty not only seems to be designed without much thought on these things but it actually miserably fails by having things Dvorak does really good designed exactly opposite way - like the home row, or alternating hands.

So finally, at least I don't feel angry - I'm happy with using Swedish variant of Dvorak (I'm finnish, I write mostly in english so I chose that instead of DAS layout, but I need å, ä and ö so regular dvorak wont cut it). I just wonder about you saying "but it's true" when clearly not even your link spoke in favor of you :)

Also, QWERTY has a lot of inertia. Changing keyboards would annoy an awful lot of people and this is a big factor.

That is true, however it's not a problem for me. It doesnt matter much to me what layouts other people use - and regular dvorak is supported enough that I can challenge you to find me one OS (for home computers, not some special weird stuff nor Contiki for C-64) that does not readily ship with dvorak layout as one option ;) The variant I use though, that one I have to carry on USB stick with me if I want to use it on computer other than my own.

@tuinstoel

People say that qwerty is invented to slow you down and dvorak will speed you up, that might be true for the English language.

But maybe there are natural languages that are more suitable for qwerty than for dvorak? For instance in Dutch you use the k much more often than in English.

Maybe each language should have its own keyboard?

Well, Dvorak is optimized specifically for English and while qwerty clearly is not optimized for any specific language it might be that it would be faster for some languages - especially for some from totally different language family (although finnish is unrelated to english and yet the claim is that Dvorak is, if not faster, at least not slower in writing finnish than qwerty).

There actually is a layout designed with much of same principles as Dvorak, but for finnish: DAS - The Improved Keyboard Layout for Finnish

I chose Dvorak when I decided to switch layout because I write numerous times more english than I do finnish - and there was this claim that Dvoraks variant with å, ä & ö included would not be slower than qwerty in writing finnish, but on that page about DAS layout in the list of it's features and improvements over qwerty there was also following line:

  • DAS layout suits also for writing English - at least it is better than Qwerty. Therefore it is not necessary to switch back to Qwerty if you write occasionally English.

For those who think that not only Dvorak is inferior to qwerty but simply think that likely there simply is no better I recommend checking that link above to description of how DAS is made - even though it's for writing finnish, my point is not trying to get others to use DAS, just to understand that qwerty is not that great (possibly not in any language).

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