Computer Keyboards – The Original Input Device

An overview of computer keyboard basics

Keyboards are possibly the original standard input device. In the very earliest personal computer systems as we’d recognise them today, prior to the introduction of pointing devices, they were the primary method of allowing the user to pass information and data into the system.

Keyboards ordinarily have a full range of dedicated keys including letters, numbers, and special characters. it’s also possible to use combinations of certain keys to create additional characters. Keyboards also contain a range of ‘special keys’ such as the Shift, Ctrl, Alt, Esc and Windows keys. Each of these keys can be combined with others to issue certain commands to the operating system or certain applications.

Despite having the same purpose and a similar form throughout, keyboards do have some variety. Some are designed with a bigger focus on ergonomics while others offer additional features (such as customisable hot keys, volume controls and scrolling). Many keyboards now connect to the computer system wirelessly rather than through a USB or other wired connection. Where a keyboard has a Bluetooth enabled connection, it can be used with both our mobile devices and computer systems.

Ordinarily, keyboards can be placed into one of three general categories:

  • Standard Keyboards have a varying number of keys and capabilities which is dependent on the manufacturer. Standard keyboards can be compact or regularly sized and may contain certain specialised keys (e.g. a gaming keyboard). Standard keyboards may also differ in other ways:
    • Being wired or wireless. Wireless keyboards typically use an adapter that connects through a USB port on the system unit. Others may use Bluetooth functionality that may or may not require an appropriate adapter. Wireless keyboards are often powered by AA or AAA type batteries, although some now are able to function with solar power.
    • Some keyboards might include specialised or programmable keys that are specifically aimed at engineers, graphic designers or gamers.
    • Some keyboards can include additional security features such as fingerprint scanners.
    • Some keyboards might include integrated pointing devices such as track pads.

    An example of a standard keyboard, including ‘hot keys’ and integrated pointing device
  • Ergonomic Keyboards usually have the key layout split into two halves, angled slightly away from each other, so that each hand can use it’s own set of keys. ¬†Additionally, ergonomic keyboards tend to have built-in wrist rests and some may also include an integrated pointing device such as a track ball or touch pad.
Example of an ergonomic keyboard
  • Dvorak Keyboards have the keys rearranged into a more efficient layout which makes it possible for users who are familiar with it to be able to type faster.
The Dvorak Keyboard Layout

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