[Next] [Up] [Previous] [Next Section] [Home] [Other]

The Toughest Nut

The 44 keys on a conventional electric typewriter commonly had this arrangement on typewriters in the United States and the English-speaking part of Canada:

!   @   #   $   %   ¢   &   *   (   )   _   +
1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   0   -   =
                                          ¼
  Q   W   E   R   T   Y   U   I   O   P   ½
                                       :   "
   A   S   D   F   G   H   J   K   L   ;   '
                                         ?
     Z   X   C   V   B   N   M   ,   .   /

An electric typewriter, therefore, can have a large, double-height, carriage return key.

On a computer keyboard, however, the ¼ ½ key is replaced by the { [ key, which has the } ] key to the right of it, and so the Enter key is only a single-height key, located to the right of the " ' key, so that you get:

~   !   @   #   $   %   ^   &   *   (   )   _   +
`   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   0   -   =
                                              {   }   |
      Q   W   E   R   T   Y   U   I   O   P   [   ]   \
                                           :   "
       A   S   D   F   G   H   J   K   L   ;   '
                                     <   >   ?
         Z   X   C   V   B   N   M   ,   .   /

On the previous page, various possible alternative keyboard arrangements for the IBM PC were explored; in some of them, there was a double-height Enter key, and the { [ and } ] keys were kept side-by-side, either by placing the } ] key to the left of the ! 1 key, or by placing the } ] key where the Caps Lock key is located.

Is a reasonable re-arrangement of the keys on a keyboard possible that would allow having the { [ and } ] keys side-by-side, while also allowing a double-height Enter key, which does not extend the keyboard to the left as much as those arrangements did?

One extra key would still be needed, though; and the ~ ` key, to the left of the ! 1 key, in the traditional Esc key location, would be the most suitable for that.

Recently, I saw a photograph of an old IBM Executive typewriter with the following keyboard arrangement:

[   @   #   $   %   ¢   &   *   (   )   _   +
]   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   0   -   =
                                          !
  Q   W   E   R   T   Y   U   I   O   P   1
                                       :   "
   A   S   D   F   G   H   J   K   L   ;   '
                                         ?
     Z   X   C   V   B   N   M   ,   .   /

as opposed to the more conventional arrangement from before the typewriter-pairing keyboard was modified to handle braces and square brackets in the same way as the bit-pairing keyboard, as seen in a pure form on the Tandy Model 100 portable computer:

!   @   #   $   %   ^   &   *   (   )   _   +
1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   0   -   =
                                          ]
  Q   W   E   R   T   Y   U   I   O   P   [
                                       :   "
   A   S   D   F   G   H   J   K   L   ;   '
                                 <   >    ?
     Z   X   C   V   B   N   M   ,   .   /

So, if the location of the ~ ` key on a typical PC keyboard, traditionally used for the Esc key on computer keyboards is available, one possibility might be this:

{   }   @   #   $   %   ^   &   *   (   )   _   +
[   ]   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   0   -   =
                                              !
      Q   W   E   R   T   Y   U   I   O   P   1
                                           :   "
       A   S   D   F   G   H   J   K   L   ;   '
                                     <   >   ?
         Z   X   C   V   B   N   M   ,   .   /

While this arrangement might have historical precedent behind it, moving the ! 1 key from the position that provides a uniform numerical progression of the keys with the digits on them would be too radical for many, I fear.

One other somewhat reasonable possibility exists:

+   !   @   #   $   %   ^   &   *   (   )   {   }
=   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   0   [   ]
                                              _
      Q   W   E   R   T   Y   U   I   O   P   -
                                           :   "
       A   S   D   F   G   H   J   K   L   ;   '
                                     <   >   ?
         Z   X   C   V   B   N   M   ,   .   /

but again, I fear that this is too radical a rearrangement.

However, perhaps these keyboard arrangements might still be useful as alternatives to an arrangement that splits up this pair of keys:

}   !   @   #   $   %   ^   &   *   (   )   _   +
]   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   0   -   =
                                              {
      Q   W   E   R   T   Y   U   I   O   P   [
                                           :   "
       A   S   D   F   G   H   J   K   L   ;   '
                                     <   >   ?
         Z   X   C   V   B   N   M   ,   .   /

which would be the default during IBM PC-compatible operation, while an arrangement based on the typewriter-pairing keyboard:

}   !   @   #   $   %   ^   &   *   (   )   _   +
{   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   0   -   =
                                              ]
      Q   W   E   R   T   Y   U   I   O   P   [
                                           :   "
       A   S   D   F   G   H   J   K   L   ;   '
                                     <   >   ?
         Z   X   C   V   B   N   M   ,   .   /

would be the default during normal operation, when that constraint did not apply.


Further thought has led me to feel that the issue of the square brackets and curly braces can be dealt with by providing two extra keys, so that both the old typewriter-pairing arrangement, for compatibility with APL-ASCII, and the new arrangement, for IBM PC compatibility, are present. A reasonably-sized keyboard can include room for both arrangements, as shown below:

Copyright (c) 2007, 2009, 2010 John J. G. Savard


[Next] [Up] [Previous] [Next Section] [Home] [Other]