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1281239.  Sat Apr 14, 2018 2:12 pm Reply with quote

This is something QI ought to look into: why is the 140-year-old QWERTY layout still a standard feature of computer keyboards?

It was developed in the early days of mechanical typewriters to prevent metal type bars from jamming, by ensuring that commonly occurring letter pairs such as "th" didn't appear on adjacent bars. Its original purpose has been long since rendered irrelevant, and a variety of alternative layouts have been proposed since then, but none has achieved widespread currency - not even the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard, which is provided as an alternative with most modern operating systems.

The QWERTY layout has a number of in-built disadvantages, some of which are discussed in this article. Only 32% of strokes are on the home row, whereas 52% are on the upper row - hardly surprising when you consider that two of the least common letters (J and K) are on the home row, whereas the two commonest (E and T) are on the top row.
More than 3000 English words use the left hand alone, whereas only 300 use the right hand alone - particularly odd considering that the majority of users are right-handed. Quite a number of common letter combinations require "hurdling" - jumping between the top and bottom rows, missing the home row entirely. (As an example, try typing "minimum".)

Speaking entirely personally, I find the most annoying feature to be the presence of "A" (the third commonest letter) under the left-hand little finger, and also in a position where it's easy to hit "Caps Lock" by mistake. (I would however point out that the Dvorak layout, and several of the other proposed alternative layouts, place it in exactly the same position!) Simply swapping round the "J" and the "A" would constitute a considerable improvement as far as I'm concerned.

There are minor variations in other countries that use the Roman alphabet - AZERTY in France, QWERTZ in Germany - but essentially they're all based on the same pattern. Why, when the rest of information and communications technology has moved on by leaps and bounds, are we still wedded to this outdated Victorian invention?

1281256.  Sat Apr 14, 2018 4:43 pm Reply with quote

Try typing on some other layout and see how slow it becomes. There are a number of parking meter type machines around that ask you to enter your reg no on a non-qwerty keyboard, it is amazingly difficult to do it as quickly as you would on a normal keyboard. We are just too used to this set up to change now.

1281267.  Sat Apr 14, 2018 8:11 pm Reply with quote

Hmm - convergent evolution at work on a grand scale.

Here we have a situation where if you were to design a keyboard layout today then it would be substantially different to the qwerty layout. But for historical reasons we're "stuck" with a bad design.

That's like the human eye with it's blindspot - if you were to design the eye from scratch it'd be a quite different arrangement.

There is a major difference though. The qwerty layout is (to use Dawkins term) a meme - and memetic evolution is much faster, and usually much easier to manipulate, than biological evolution.

It wouldn't be that difficult to "educate" out the old qwerty layout with a more efficient layout.

1281279.  Sun Apr 15, 2018 2:13 am Reply with quote

crissdee wrote:
Try typing on some other layout and see how slow it becomes.

Only because you're not used to it. I learned the Dvorak layout a few years ago and became reasonably proficient at it. In fact I'd say I was a better typist with Dvorak than I am with QWERTY, because I trained myself to touch-type properly, with the right keys under the right fingers, rather than with QWERTY where my fingers just fly all over the place. I'm out of practice now unfortunately.

Also I note that people don't seem to have had any trouble learning to input text on mobile phone keyboards, where the layout is completely different from a computer keyboard.

bobwilson wrote:
But for historical reasons we're "stuck" with a bad design.

Not "stuck" with it at all. Changing the mapping between key presses and characters is a straightforward task to implement in software. I'm on Windows 10 at the moment and I've just added the Dvorak keyboard to my list of input options (although I'm not using it at the moment). Other keyboard configurations can be downloaded, even if they don't come with the operating system. There's no reason why individual users can't choose the configuration that suits them best, rather than having a "one-size-fits-all" policy.

There is of course the issue of the letter symbols that appear on the keycaps themselves, but it's easy to cover these up or put stickers over them if you need to. When I was learning Dvorak I deliberately didn't look down at the keyboard, because if I so much as glanced at the QWERTY layout it would confuse the hell out of me!

I have to say that Dvorak has its disadvantages as well, and I'm not sure if I'd wholeheartedly recommend it. (In particular the "L" is in a rather awkward position at the top right.) But there are plenty of other layouts available such as Colemak, which I haven't looked into.

Of course there's no particular reason why text should be input by means of three rows of individual letter keys at all. There are "chorded" systems available that use combinations of keys to input text, which can be a great deal faster, although they're harder to learn.

I'm just amazed that with all the other innovations in computing technology that people have adapted to over my lifetime, there's been so little experimentation with text input. I suppose people who don't like the traditional system can now use voice input or touchscreen technology, so maybe the incentive to find an alternative to QWERTY is less than it was.

1281420.  Mon Apr 16, 2018 10:37 am Reply with quote

Brock wrote:
Also I note that people don't seem to have had any trouble learning to input text on mobile phone keyboards, where the layout is completely different from a computer keyboard.

Smart phones in the UK and US all come with qwerty as standard.

1281428.  Mon Apr 16, 2018 11:29 am Reply with quote

Yes sorry, I meant the inputting of text using the number keys, as in text messaging. Some people are better at this than with QWERTY (I'm not one of them).

1281700.  Thu Apr 19, 2018 12:06 pm Reply with quote

I'm pretty competent with QWERTY so I'm not actually in favour of changing things. There also comes a point where unless you're copying something from another text, you need to type no faster than you think.

My husband is a one-finger typist and resists all attempts to get any faster because he says he is currently typing at the speed at which he thinks.

1281725.  Thu Apr 19, 2018 5:02 pm Reply with quote

I may have mentioned this before, but I was waiting in an office some years ago, while a cheque for the delivery I had made was being written, and the woman next to me was typing on a computer faster than I have ever seen anyone type before or since. I would guess she was making well over a hundred keystrokes a minute, possibly as much as two hundred, with no discernible pause at any time. I can operate my keyboard at that speed, but it comes out as;

[sldknng;apelrjkg;aerkdgn;dzorijbgb[ wsijgfb[dlkfjvsdp; cgbnj[seojg ['klbmxfglkjbv[sdopfbj'zdlfkcvnm [fdslkvm sd' zldvmk[zdpok ]\sdpimfpdknb ;cclkvm bd'f zgkvjm'dglcvkmzcg[pofbkv'xfzcvkmb 'xclkxgvms[zklmj ;sfgldkmvbsfg'lfkbmvdf'lkbmxlckvbm;\zxlkkxcvna[se

when I do. She was writing actual words and sentences and stuff.

1281756.  Fri Apr 20, 2018 5:19 am Reply with quote

crissdee wrote:

[sldknng;apelrjkg;aerkdgn;dzorijbgb[ wsijgfb[dlkfjvsdp; cgbnj[seojg ['klbmxfglkjbv[sdopfbj'zdlfkcvnm [fdslkvm sd' zldvmk[zdpok ]\sdpimfpdknb ;cclkvm bd'f zgkvjm'dglcvkmzcg[pofbkv'xfzcvkmb 'xclkxgvms[zklmj ;sfgldkmvbsfg'lfkbmvdf'lkbmxlckvbm;\zxlkkxcvna[se


You, meanwhile, may have just summoned the daemon Covfefe...

1281784.  Fri Apr 20, 2018 8:31 am Reply with quote

That's what I was going for, mate!

1281789.  Fri Apr 20, 2018 8:34 am Reply with quote

100+ is fast. I got to 75 wpm, and that already stumped many a judge (in the county court where I was a clerk).

Added: even more remarkable was my skill to put the document back into the machine (we're talking IBM Electric typewriter-with-ball), and get it right where it should be so I could correct a wrong letter, using the correction ribbon). *looking smug*

Last edited by 'yorz on Fri Apr 20, 2018 8:37 am; edited 1 time in total

1281790.  Fri Apr 20, 2018 8:36 am Reply with quote

That was keystrokes, not words. I understand that is becoming a more common guide, as many jobs involve data entry rather than writing letters and stuff.

1281791.  Fri Apr 20, 2018 8:38 am Reply with quote

I said wpm. That means words per minute.

A good typist reaches a speed of 350 keystrokes p/m, which equals about 70 words.

1281794.  Fri Apr 20, 2018 8:44 am Reply with quote

I know, that's why I explained that I was talking about a different measurement. 75wpm would probably equate to 300 kpm, so very impressive!

Did you ever try one of those stenograph (?) machines that they use in court? Almost silent and only 10 keys (I think).

ninja'd again! But I wasn't far off!

1281822.  Fri Apr 20, 2018 11:44 am Reply with quote

It is the convention here that a "word" isn't quite what you thought it was. When measuring typing speed, a "word" is five characters (with punctuation and spaces counting as characters). Accordingly, "I see" is one word, while "congratulations" is three. To get a PA's job, you'd normally be expected to be able to do about 65 words per minute.

Data entry jobs usually state their requirements in terms of key depressions per hour, since actual words don't always feature. 65 words per minute equates to 19,500 key depressions per hour, but no data entry job would demand such a speed. 9,000 key depressions per hour is a more typical requirement, but then data entry jobs are not as well paid as PA jobs.

The UK no longer uses court stenographers. The last few were made redundant in 2012, with court cases now video recorded and typed up from the recordings. This has caused problems when old cases have needed to be typed up, since there are only a few dozen people of working age left who still know how to type up a case from the stenographic record. They can pretty much name their price if they are hired for a day's work.

The US still uses court stenographers though, and to work at a jury trial you need to be able to operate at 200 spoken words per minute; for this purpose a "spoken word" means two syllables.


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