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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | Keyboards | Keyboard Layouts ]

General Layout Issues

The nature of the keyboard's layout has a very large influence on its perceived quality and usability. Some people are very particular about the keyboards they use; I am definitely one of those people. :^) Others don't care quite so much about how the keys are organized. Usually, the more time someone spends at the keyboard, the more they care about layout issues.

So, what differentiates a good layout from a bad one? As with everything related to input and output devices, much of what makes something "good" or "bad" is personal taste. However, there are definitely a number of specific factors that are involved in determining the quality and usefulness of a particular keyboard layout:

  • Key Size: I discussed key size in detail in another section; what I primarily am referring to here is the size of special keys. For example, some layouts have a small <Space Bar> key while others have a large one; larger special keys make typing much easier for some typists.
  • Key Proximity: Some keys are often used in combination with others, and therefore having them near each other is very useful. This is especially true of the modification keys; having them sufficiently near other keys that they can be easily reached and used with the other keys with one hand speeds up many operations. Also, slight changes in the locations of important modifier keys such as <Shift> and <Ctrl> can have a big impact in the usability of the keyboard.
  • Key Group Organization: This attribute refers to how the various key groups are organized. Some designs physically separate key groupings while others do not. Keyboards that have all the keys in one large "cluster" tend to feel cramped and are disliked by many PC users.
  • Ergonomics: The layout of the keyboard has a major influence on the ergonomic quality of the keyboard, meaning how the keyboard feels, and what the impact is on the user physically over a long period of time using it. See this section for more on so-called "ergonomic" keyboards, created to address this specific issue.
  • Size: Some keyboard layouts take up a lot more space than others. For example, my favorite Gateway Anykey keyboards have 124 keys and give you a lot of flexibility--but they are big. So are many of the fancy multimedia PCs with tons of extra keys and buttons. For those who have limited desktop space this can be an issue.
  • Familiarity: No matter how good a particular keyboard layout may be, if you are not accustomed to it, it will be hard to use--at least when you first start with it. This also means that if you become familiar with a very non-standard keyboard configuration, you may find it hard to work with other keyboards. This definitely happened to me. :^)

You'll want to keep some of these issues in mind as we begin to examine different keyboard layouts.

Next: Alphanumeric Key Layouts

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