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Keyboard Basics


In computing, a keyboard is a typewriter-style device, which uses an arrangement of buttons or keys, to act as mechanical levers or electronic switches. Following the decline of punch cards and paper tape, interaction via teleprinter-style keyboards became the main input device for computers.

A keyboard typically has characters engraved or printed on the keys and each press of a key typically corresponds to a single written symbol. However, to produce some symbols requires pressing and holding several keys simultaneously or in sequence. While most keyboard keys produce letters, numbers or signs (characters), other keys or simultaneous key presses can produce actions or computer commands.

Despite the development of alternative input devices, such as the mouse, touchscreen, pen devices, character recognition and voice recognition, the keyboard remains the most commonly used and most versatile device used for direct (human) input into computers.

In normal usage, the keyboard is used to type text and numbers into a word processor, text editor or other programs. In a modern computer, the interpretation of key presses is generally left to the software. A computer keyboard distinguishes each physical key from every other and reports all key presses to the controlling software. Keyboards are also used for computer gaming, either with regular keyboards or by using keyboards with special gaming features, which can expedite frequently used keystroke combinations. A keyboard is also used to give commands to the operating system of a computer, such as Windows' Control-Alt-Delete combination, which brings up a task window or shuts down the machine. Keyboards are the only way to enter commands on a command-line interface.

A keyboard's primary function is to act as an input device. Using a keyboard, a person can type a document, use keystroke shortcuts, access menus, play games and perform a variety of other tasks. Keyboards can have different keys depending on the manufacturer, the operating system they're designed for, and whether they are attached to a desktop computer or part of a laptop. But for the most part, these keys, also called keycaps, are the same size and shape from keyboard to keyboard. They're also placed at a similar distance from one another in a similar pattern, no matter what language or alphabet the keys represent.

Most keyboards have between 80 and 110 keys, including:

  •     Typing keys
  •     A numeric keypad
  •     Function keys
  •     Control keys


The typing keys include the letters of the alphabet, generally laid out in the same pattern used for typewriters. According to legend, this layout, known as QWERTY for its first six letters, helped keep mechanical typewriters' metal arms from colliding and jamming as people typed. Some people question this story -- whether it's true or not, the QWERTY pattern had long been a standard by the time computer keyboards came around.

Keyboards can also use a variety of other typing key arrangements. The most widely known is Dvorak, named for its creator, August Dvorak. The Dvorak layout places all of the vowels on the left side of the keyboard and the most common consonants on the right. The most commonly used letters are all found along the home row. The home row is the main row where you place your fingers when you begin typing. People who prefer the Dvorak layout say it increases their typing speed and reduces fatigue. Other layouts include ABCDE, XPeRT, QWERTZ and AZERTY. Each is named for the first keys in the pattern. The QWERTZ and AZERTY arrangements are commonly used in Europe.

The numeric keypad is a more recent addition to the computer keyboard. As the use of computers in business environments increased, so did the need for speedy data entry. Since a large part of the data was numbers, a set of 17 keys, arranged in the same configuration found on adding machines and calculators, was added to the keyboard.

An image of keyboard -