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History and purpose

The QWERTY keyboard layout was devised in the 1860s by Christopher Sholes, a newspaper editor who lived in Milwaukee, who was also the creator of the first modern typewriter. Originally, the characters on the typewriters he invented were arranged alphabetically, set on the end of a metal bar which struck the paper when its key was pressed. However, once an operator had learned to type at speed, the bars attached to letters that lay close together on the keyboard became entangled with one another, forcing the typist to manually unstick the typebars, and also frequently blotting the document. Sholes decided that the best way out of the difficulty was to find out which letters were most used in the English language, and then to re-site them on the keyboard as far from each other as possible. This had the effect of reducing the speed, and, by doing so, lessened the chance of clashing type bars. In this way was born the QWERTY keyboard, named after the first six letters on the top line.

The home row (ASDFGHJKL) of the QWERTY layout is thought to be a remnant of the old alphabetical layout that QWERTY replaced. QWERTY also attempted to alternate keys between hands, allowing one hand to move into position while the other hand strikes home a key. This sped up both the original double-handed hunt-and-peck technique and the later touch typing technique; however, single-handed words such as stewardesses, lollipop and monopoly show flaws in the alternation.

Alternative keyboard layouts

Other languages

Minor changes to the arrangement are made for other languages.

  • German and Czech keyboards add umlauts to the right of "P" and "L", and interchange the "Z" and "Y" keys both because "Z" is a much more common letter than "Y" in German (the latter seldom appearing except in borrowed words), and because "T" and "Z" often appear next to each other in the German language; consequently, they are known as QWERTZ keyboards.
  • A similar layout is used on Hungarian keyboards, where the home row is longer than usual; it consists of the keys "ADFGHJKL" (although the letter "" is sometimes at the end of the number row).
  • French keyboards interchange both "Q" and "W" with "A" and "Z", and move "M" to the right of "L"; they are known as AZERTY keyboards.
  • Italian typewriter keyboards (but not most computer keyboards) use a QZERTY layout where "Z" is swapped with "W" and "M" is at the right of "L".
  • Portuguese keyboards maintain the QWERTY layout but add an extra key: the letter "C" with cedilla ( ) after the "L" key. In this place, the Spanish version has the letter "N" with tilde ( ) and the "" (which is not used in Spanish, but is part of sibling languages like French, Portuguese and Catalan) is placed at the rightmost position of the home line, beyond the diacritical dead keys.
  • Norwegian keyboards inserts " " to the right of "P", " " to the right of "L", and " " to the right of "", thus not changing the appearance of the rest of the keyboard.
  • The Danish layout is like the Norwegian, only switching " " and " ", and Swedish and Finnish has their letters " " and " " in those places.
  • Some keyboards for Lithuania use a layout known as ERTY, where " " appears in place of "Q" above "A", in place of "W" above "S", with "Q" and "W" being available either on the far right-hand side or by use of the Alt Gr key.
This French Matra Alice uses the AZERTY layout

Dvorak layout

Because modern keyboards do not suffer from the problems of older mechanical keyboards, the QWERTY layout`s separation of frequently used letter pairs is no longer necessary. Several alternative keyboard layouts, such as Dvorak Simplified Keyboard arrangement (designed by Dr. August Dvorak and William Dealey and patented in 1936), have been designed to increase a typist`s speed and comfort, largely by moving the most common letters to the home row and maximizing hand alternation. The effectiveness of these layouts is disputed. Some studies have shown that alternative methods are more efficient, but Dvorak and other alternative typists most often cite comfort as the greatest advantage. QWERTY`s inventor, Christopher Scholes, patented a key arrangement similar to Dvorak`s, but it never became popular.

Some researchers, such as economists Stan Liebowitz at the University of Texas at Dallas, Texas, and Stephen E. Margolis of North Carolina State University, claim that QWERTY is really no less efficient than other layouts. Some believe that there is evidence to support the claim that Dvorak is faster. The world record for typing speed was made on a Dvorak keyboard. Opponents point out that August Dvorak stood to gain from the success of his layout, and that he may have perpetuated his "efficiency myth" to increase his financial gains. Other QWERTY advocates claim that for a QWERTY typist to switch to Dvorak or another layout requires more effort than initially learning to touch-type, because of having to retrain the fingers` muscle memory.

Computer users also need to unlearn the habit of pressing key shortcuts (for example: Ctrl-C for copy, Ctrl-X for cut, Ctrl-V for paste, on Microsoft Windows). However, some programs and operating systems allow the use of alternate layouts combined with QWERTY shortcuts; for example, Apple`s Mac OS X offers a "Dvorak-Qwerty" keyboard layout that temporarily reverts to Qwerty while the Command key is held down.

A Norwegian Dvorak keyboard

Opponents of alternative keyboard designs most often point to QWERTY`s ubiquity as a deciding factor, because the costs incurred by using the supposedly inefficient layout are much less than those of retraining typists. It is not unusual to find Dvorak typists who also touch-type the QWERTY layout for convenience, since QWERTY dominates the keyboard market. The tension between the Dvorak efficiency and the QWERTY ubiquity illustrates the problem of collective switching costs, assuming QWERTY`s relative inefficiency.

Besides the Dvorak layout, there are many other newer alternative keyboard layouts, but those layouts have not gained widespread use.

Miscellaneous facts

  • The longest common English word that can be typed using only the left hand (using conventional hand placement) is stewardesses. The words sweaterdresses and aftercataracts are longer and can also be typed with only the left hand, but they are not in all dictionaries.
  • The longest English word that can be typed with the right hand only (using conventional hand placement) is johnny-jump-up, or alternatively polyphony.
  • The word typewriter can be typed entirely using the top row of the QWERTY keyboard; Clive (Max) Maxfield and Alvin Brown have stated that the inventor of the QWERTY keyboard "craftily ensured that the word `Typewriter` could be constructed using only the top row of letters. This was intended to aid salesmen when they were giving demonstrations.
  • Teeter-totter is the longest word that can be typed on the top row with hyphens.
  • Long English words that can be typed with the keys of one row only include typewriter, property, rupturewort, repertory and prototype.
  • The person is expected to type 30-40 words per minute using the touch typing technique on a QWERTY keyboard. 40-50 words per minute is considered good.
  • QWERTY is the name of the Bible-verse-displaying computer in VeggieTales shows.
  • QWERTY is the most common password on the internet.

See also

  • Keyboard layout
  • Dvorak Simplified Keyboard
  • Ergonomics
  • Fitts` law
  • Path dependence
  • Blickensderfer typewriter
  • ASDF (sequence of letters)
  • WASD
  • Typing
  • QWERTY effect

External links

  • Article on QWERTY and Path Dependence from EH.NET`s Encyclopedia
  • Dvorak vs QWERTY Tool A tool to compare the efficiency of Dvorak, QWERTY and Colemak.
  • The Curse of Qwerty by Jared Diamond.
  • The Fable of the Keys Disputes The Curse of Qwerty.
  • Article disputing the validity of The Fable of the Keys
  • The QWERTY myth.
  • The QWERTY Connection, historical information
  • Introducing the Dvorak Keyboard
  • A study on the theoretical efficiency of keyboard layouts
  • Typewriter Words
  • "Why QWERTY was Invented"
  • Where Once was a Comma Designer Artemy Lebedev`s take on keyboard layout and the history of QWERTY.

Continually Improve Your Life - by Charles Gueli


Northrop Frye, a Canadian literary critic, has said that "the mind best fitted for survival in any world is the mind that has discovered how knowledge can be joyful, leading to a friendship with wisdom that is pure delight. That mind is ready to tackle any kind of knowledge with intentness of will."

Mr. Frye is distinguishing between a trained mind and a dedicated mind. He is suggesting that the trained mind has acquired techniques that, in our world, will probably be out of date in ten or fifteen years. Training is not the important thing; it`s the readiness to take on the training. Open-mindedness is the key element of a dedicated mind.

Our nature is to want to improve our private world. We are all living in a world that falls short of the world we want. We each have a vision of what paradise is, a better place where we`re trying to reach, for ourselves as well as our families. I suggest to you that the best way to reach this better world is to become a more effective person.

Occasional self-improvement is fairly common and easily achievable. Continuous self-improvement is virtually unachievable, but striving for it is the single most effective way to approach your personal paradise.

How can we go about this self-improvement? First, write on the back of a three-by-five card, in large letters:


Put the card in a prominent corner of the mirror you use when you comb your hair in the morning. Look at it every day (including weekends). Before you leave the mirror, think about what you will do that day to improve yourself. If it`s already on your weekly schedule, great! This thinking process still reinforces that you are making time for yourself and prevents your forgetting what you intended.

There are hundreds of ways for you to improve yourself. The general categories are to do something new, to do something better, and to increase your awareness.

Examples include: extending your exercise time, thereby improving your fitness; reading a nonfiction book; improving your time management; learning how to make something using tools, or how to paint, or how to cook; shining your shoes; starting to sort and recycle your garbage; changing your diet so that you eat healthful foods; participating in a community service project; offering advice; listening to advice; caring for someone; revising your itinerary to make it more productive; and so on.

Particularly useful things to learn (if you haven`t already) are how to improve your memory, speed reading, typing, and word processing. These will help you make better use of your time. Also, learning a foreign language can be beneficial and fun.

The list is endless. Choosing ways to improve yourself is the easy part. What`s difficult is maintaining the enthusiasm for the rest of your life and having the self-discipline to make continuous improvement a part of your daily schedule. The Japenese have become very good at it. They work at improvement in the quality of their products, the efficiency of their service, and their daily living habits.

The most important ingredient is your interest level--your attitude. I know a family where a sixth-grader came home with a report card that was all D`s and C`s. His father asked why. "I can never remember anything" was the answer. If you ask this same child about baseball, he can give you the earned run averages and win-loss records of every pitcher on his home team, as well as the batting average of each player. Memory obviously isn`t the problem--it`s a lack of interest in the subject matter."

Most of the effective people I know are concerned with the issue of self-improvement. Those who are already good want to get better. They recognize that the things you do to sharpen skills in one dimension have a positive impact in other dimensions because they are all interrelated. Your physical health affects your mental health; your spiritual strength affects your social/emotional strength.

As you improve in one area, you increase your ability in other areas as well. As you become more involved in continuing education, you increase your knowledge base and you increase your options. Despite what you might think, economic security does not lie in your job; it lies in your own power to produce--to think, to learn, to create, to adapt. That`s true financial independence. It`s not having wealth; it`s having the power to produce wealth. It`s intrinsic.

In spite of all the good things that come from self-improvement, it is extremely difficult to achieve results on a daily basis. It`s hard. It`s work. But it`s also fun. It gives a wonderful sense of satisfaction--a feeling of accomplishment.

Somehow you have to give yourself daily reminders of the points brought up to you in this lesson. Find ways to maintain the realization that self-improvement results in many benefits. Keep reminding yourself what those benefits are and how they will enhance your life. If you succeed in keeping this awareness high, you will maintain your enthusiasm more easily, and you will be more likely to sustain the positive spiral that comes from continuous self-improvement.

And remember, no matter how good you become, there will always be room for improvement.

This article is taken from the 9-part email course entitled "The Path to Success" written by Charles Gueli. You can sign up for FREE at http://www.HammondeResources.com.

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