Perfect keyboard — the search continues

Alexander Klimenkov

senior technical writer Bercut

While the computers will not learn to code or words directly from our consciousness, the keyboard will remain the main input method. We have become accustomed to the fact that in the modern world everything is constantly changing: operating systems, programming languages, monitors, finally, computers themselves. But computer keyboards remain virtually unchanged. If you do not pay attention to external and ergonomic improvements, at its core, the keyboard remains the same: a row of function keys the row of keys with numbers, three rows of keys with letters under them a space and a number of auxiliary keys, side — Enter, and on the right, optional digital keypad (however, it is sometimes missing). This standard set has not changed for many years. Of course, added keys like “Win” or “Fn” key, but the primary location and the set of all basic keys remains constant. Let’s see if our usual comfortable keyboard, and some speculate that it would like to change and what to leave as is.

What are you missing in modern keyboards?

  • Individual keys for copy and paste
  • Separate keys for switching layouts
  • Other (write in comments)


First, let’s talk about the main — on keyboard with letters. Spend a little experiment. Start typing the word “typewriter quote”. In this track, where are the keys that you press. You will see that all the letters of these words are located in the top row of the keyboard. Do you know why? There is an interesting version that the sellers it was easier to advertise and sell the first typewriters appeared in the 19th century. The seller quickly printed the name of the new device, thus showing the potential buyer the speed of typing, which was still rarely heard. While many consider this beautiful legend, but such a coincidence is not accidental looks.

Surprisingly, on the twenty-first year the twenty-first century, in fact, a new era, and we still use a keyboard sample of the 19th century. Standard QWERTY layout in the form familiar to us appeared about 1878 in typewriters “Remington” and since then almost has not changed. By the way, the Russian layout QWERTY was also invented long before the advent of modern computers. If you happen to print something on the pre-revolutionary “the Underwood”, you’ll quickly become familiar with its keyboard. Will have to get used to the fact that between the keys “b” and “A” will be a button “b”, and under it between “B” and “C” is the letter “E” (“Yat”). A logical decision, given the frequency of use of these letters in the old spelling. By the way, the letter “C” you there do not find — instead, it is the letter “I”. But all the other letters of the Russian alphabet are in their usual places.

Agree to the layouts QWERTY and QWERTY we all have been accustomed to. Any change in a familiar key layout makes us long to “hang out” in finding the right letters. For example, the first computer terminal to accept payments of a Bank for some reason made the keyboard on the screen location of buttons strictly alphabetically. Perhaps it was assumed that customers who are not familiar with computer technology, so it will be easier to type. In the end, it was hard on all. Typing your name on this keyboard, I understand how people feel, for the first time working with the computer. Later in the new models of its terminals, the Bank has already done all the usual layout.

So the location of the keys with the letters on a modern keyboard is just what to change if not wanted. Unless, of course, we don’t want to re-learn fast typing.

Copy and Paste

Now let’s talk about keyboard shortcuts. In every sufficiently complex program has its own set of so-called “hot” shortcuts that you can use to quickly perform some action. Sometimes the number of such combinations comes to the absurd. Here is a typical example:

You may use this program with the mouse, but it is much easier to do it with the help of 247 keyboard shortcuts, the list of which is posted on the following page.

Each of us remembers a few such combinations to your favorite applications. It is convenient and really speeds up work. But there are two combinations that knows for any Windows user: it’s “Ctrl+C” and “Ctrl+V”. The clipboard is used by almost all who gathers on the computer texts from programmers and writers, to astrophysicists and system administrators. By the way, to the clipboard, you can copy not only text, but also, for example, a selected image in Photoshop.

If it’s such a popular combination, why do we still perform this action by pressing two keys, and even located not in the most convenient way? I often find myself thinking that to work with the clipboard I do not have individual keys somewhere on the side of the main keyboard. By the way, it doesn’t have to be keys. I somewhere came across a picture of a prototype keyboard with a rather interesting solution: return the wheel located on the side wall of the keyboard. Turned the wheel down — copied the selection to the clipboard. Turned the wheel up — and- pasted the fragment from the clipboard.

There is a principle: try to find — found — had in his hand. So do those who are tired to wait for the desired buttons on the keyboard — they undertake the production of the mini-keyboards. There are enthusiasts who are experimenting with the location of the keys.

Russian or English

The ergonomics of the interfaces is the concept of the regime. In the book of JEF Raskin “Interface: new directions in designing of computer systems” switch languages just cited as an example to illustrate this concept. Our keyboard can be in one of two modes — mode of Russian language and mode of English. It is important that the current mode on the keyboard does not appear. The only language indicator — two small letters in the lower right corner of the Windows screen. He almost always is outside the focus of attention of the user.

When we tweet and text on smartphones and tablets, we can see in the picture with the button is the symbol that will be printed when we press. But on a normal computer keyboard no clues there. As you know, “there are two kinds of typing blind: not looking at the keyboard and not looking at the monitor”. If you mostly use the second, then most likely, the problem is typing in another layout you are familiar with firsthand. Sometimes I notice my mistake of typing more than one sentence. And those who when you are typing, look at the monitor, too often wrong, just notice it faster. Adds convenience and the fact that in Windows you can configure different methods of switching languages.

I love Russian language, but I envy those who live in countries with Latin alphabet. Among computer users there are those who are switching languages is necessary not so often. For example, it is possible to program mainly on the English keyboard layout and switch to Russian language only have to write interface texts and comments (the programmers 1C — does not count). Writers of fiction and publicistic texts is also not so difficult — all text is Russian, with the exception of, for example, sophisticated conversations in French, or the choicest of expletives in German. But technical writers feel that the problem in full: often when writing only one sentence is necessary to switch the layout several times. Here is an example of typical sentences from technical documents: “To populate the parameter PARAM system the System calls the procedure procedure package base_procedures with the value TRUE in the input parameter i_save_param”. This example is very characteristic of user and technical documentation for software products and systems Bercut. When writing this proposal, the keyboard layout should be switched 11 times. Imagine how many switches need to do when writing a 100-page document! Although, there are those who even more difficult, for example, Chinese technical writers.

Profession technical writer: what is a typical working day

Now let us discuss how to solve the problem of switching languages in different ways.

So what are you, the Punto Accessry

Probably the most popular way to avoid mistakes when switching the keyboard layout is a program of Punto Switcher from Yandex. This program is able to automatically switch the wrong layout in Russian and English on the typical patterns of typing. The program is really convenient, but it is palliative. We need a comprehensive solution for all languages and operating systems. In addition, do not want to put yourself in the computer program source code, which is known to all that we entered from the keyboard, including usernames and passwords.

Another promising solution: a visible symbol of the current keyboard layout in the keyboard itself and/or on the screen. On the keyboard it is very good backlight. In General, the backlit keyboard is no surprise, but there are more expensive models that allow you to program the color of the backlight depending on the events occurring on the computer. One such event may be changing the language layout. For example, in the Russian layout keyboard glows blue, English — yellow.

The idea of conveying information with customizable backlighting is not new. Even before smartphones, there were phones in which around the perimeter of the body was a strip of LEDs (e.g., in a wonderful Sony Ericsson phones). They could adjust the color and lighting animation, for example, depending on the calling number. In modern smartphones it all came down to at most one or two flashing indicators.

Remember also that the keyboard is almost useless indicator of Scroll Lock. It can also be used to indicate the change the layout. For example, to light led when enabled Russian language.

For those who are while typing looking at the screen, not the keyboard, the current keyboard could be defined under the appropriate color around the image on the monitor. By the way, this decision was long implemented in one of the russifiers for DOS (Keyrus). Remembering this, I wrote myself a utility for Windows that plays such a decision. However, my modest knowledge in programming is not enough for it to programmatically reduce the image area of the desktop. It turned out that the frame slightly overlaps what is on the screen. But even in this form it is much more convenient than the small language indicator in the lower right corner of the screen — in contrast color frame immediately notice the peripheral vision.

The little keyboard in the sea special characters

The usual us keyboard was created before Unicode appeared. Even in the days of DOS it had lacked some needed special characters. And now with thousands of Unicode characters, the problem is only compounded. I am sure that everyone who works with text, set these symbols that are not on the keyboard. For example, I as a technical writer, are lacking special keys for symbols of Russian typography. The simplest example is the long dash [—] Russian quotation marks [“”].

Of course, it is possible to enter the codes of the special characters when you hold down the “Alt” key, but it is extremely inconvenient method for continuous use. There is a much more elegant solution to this problem is a typographical layout of Ilya Birman. This is actually not one, but two layouts — Russian and English — which can be installed instead of the standard Windows keyboard layouts. In layouts Ilya added almost all frequently used special characters. For example, to enter the long dash in any text Windows, you press the combination “Alt+-“. By the way, I’m typing this article using this layout. And the letter “E” at the beginning of this article I typed directly on the keyboard. Although, I must say that this is not the most urgent need for modern technical writer. The documentation Bercut this letter has not yet met even once. But, who knows what else will come up with our systems analysts and programmers :).

Optimal “Optimus”

But perhaps the most radical way to solve the keyboard settings was an attempt to combine the physical keyboard with a screen. I already wrote that on the software keyboards of portable devices, displays exactly those characters that will be typed when you press. Why not do the same on a regular desktop keyboard? To turn the keyboard smooth touch screen — not the best solution, because then it will be impossible to type blindly. But to embed a small screen in each key — it’s a pretty interesting idea. It occurred to the designers of the Studio of Artemiy Lebedev.

So there was a series of keyboards under the name “Optimus”. The Studio has released a set of keyboards with different number of keys — three (remember the homemade keyboard with two buttons to work with the clipboard?) to the keyboard with a full set of keys. The user can program the image to any key depending on the running program or the selected language. Then the user opens the space for creativity and optimization.

I was not able to work with these keyboards. For some reason, they ceased to produce, and they cost quite expensive. Also not very clear as far as they were reliable in daily use. But the idea seems promising.

In addition to “Optimus” there are similar models from other manufacturers. For example, there are concepts with E-Ink screens in each key. But all this is sporadic attempts that never found wide application. Many of them were experienced exhibition models.

By the way, do not forget that for quite some time, there are programmable keyboards with different number of standard keys. For example, such keyboards are used in supermarkets for programmable cash registers. Actually a programmable keyboard is a panel of “empty” keys, each of which can be assigned any action. It connects to the computer via USB and is programmed very quickly using the handy tools. Additionally, we have to work hard with the preparation and printing of pictures for each key. But why not do it for the sake of convenience. Once you set up your such a keyboard and posting it next to normal, it is possible to greatly simplify the work of any programs and systems. By the way, there are normal keyboards with extra programmable buttons).

Keyboard, which we deserve

In General, the desire and ability to create quite a comfortable keyboard to perform virtually any task. But still would like to see in the near future the idea of a keyboard with displays on the keys was further developed. After all, these keyboards will give us the opportunity to fully customize every key — no half measures, and additional tweaks. The search continues.

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