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Definition

keyboard

On most computers, a keyboard is the primary text input device. (The mouse is also a primary input device but lacks the ability to easily transmit textual information.) The keyboard also contains certain standard function keys, such as the Escape key, tab and cursor movement keys, shift and control keys, and sometimes other manufacturer-customized keys.

The computer keyboard uses the same key arrangement as the mechanical and electronic typewriter keyboards that preceded the computer. The standard arrangement of alphabetic keys is known as the Qwerty (pronounced KWEHR-tee) keyboard, its name deriving from the arrangement of the five keys at the upper left of the three rows of alphabetic keys. This arrangement, invented for one of the earliest mechanical typewriters, dates back to the 1870s. Another well-known key arrangement is the Dvorak (pronounced duh-VOR-ak, not like the Czech composer) system, which was designed to be easier to learn and use. The Dvorak keyboard was designed with the most common consonants on one side of the middle or home row and the vowels on the other side so that typing tends to alternate key strokes back and forth between hands. Although the Dvorak keyboard has never been widely used, it has adherents.

Because many keyboard users develop a cumulative trauma disorder, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, a number of ergonomic keyboards have been developed. Approaches include keyboards contoured to alleviate stress and foot-driven pedals for certain keys or keyboard functions.

This was last updated in April 2005

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