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QWERTY is a word made up of the first six letters appearing in the upper right-hand corner of a standard latin script keyboard, and is the term used to refer to the standard latin script keyboard layout.
The QWERTY keyboard layout was first used for the Sholes and Glidden typewriter, designed by Christopher Latham Sholes and a few associates, and subsequently sold to E. Remington and Sons in 1873. Remington further refined Sholes’ design and put the machine on the market in 1874, marketed as the Remington No. 1.
The QWERTY layout was popularized by the Remington No. 2., which was released in 1878, and was the first typewriter to include both upper and lower case letters which were selected by the use of a “Shift” key.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why was the QWERTY layout originally selected?
It’s easy to forget that early typewriters were mechanical devices and that a great deal of precise mechanical engineering was necessary to make them work. One common problem with early typewriters was the tendency for letters to get stuck if closely-space letters were pressed in fast succession. In order to avoid this problem, pairs of letters that would be regularly used next to each other, such as “ch” and “th”, were placed far apart on the keyboard. By avoiding jams, typists could work more quickly and deal with fewer mechanical jams.
Are other keyboard layouts are available?
The QWERTY keyboard layout was not selected for efficiency. As a matter of fact, in some ways it was selected for inefficiency to keep typists from striking neighboring keys to quickly. More recently, several keyboard layouts have been devised to make typing as efficient as possible. Some popular alternatives to QWERTY include:
- Dvorak Simplified Keyboard: Also called the American Simplified Keyboard, the DSK is the most well-known alternative to QWERTY and is supported by most modern computer operating systems. The DSK is designed to keep a typist’s fingers on the home row as much as possible, resulting in 70% of all typing occurring on the home row versus 32% when using a QWERTY layout. However, the overall speed gain measured in tests is relatively modest at only 4%.
- Colemak: The Colemak layout also aims to keep a typist’s fingers on the home row as much as possible, but does so while trying to retain as much of the QWERTY layout as possible. As a result, the Colemak layout is considered easier to learn than the Dvorak layout for users already familiar with the QWERTY layout.
- Workman: Unlike the Colmak and Dvorak, the Workman does not place as much of an emphasis on the home row. Instead, the Workman layout considers the natural movements preferred by each finger and arranges the keys accordingly. When considering finger travel distance alone, the Workman is more efficient than the Colemak.
Why do we still use QWERTY keyboards?
If other layouts are readily available, and mechanical interference is no longer a concern, why do we continue to use a layout that was designed with mechanical interference as a driving force? The simple answer is: inertia. The QWERTY layout continues to be used because it is the layout that the majority of typists know how to use, and switching to a new layout would require a significant amount of time spent retraining the computer-literate workforce.