Keyboard

In computing, a computer keyboard is a typewriter-style device which uses an arrangement of buttons or keys to act as a mechanical lever or electronic switch. 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 (buttons) and each press of a key typically corresponds to a single written symbol.

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 device for direct (human) input of alphanumeric data into computers. In normal usage, the keyboard is used as a text entry interface 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. A command-line interface is a type of user interface operated entirely through a keyboard, or another device doing the job of one.

There are a number of different arrangements of alphabetic, numeric, and punctuation symbols on keys. These different keyboard layoutsarise mainly because different people need easy access to different symbols, either because they are inputting text in different languages, or because they need a specialized layout for mathematics, accounting, computer programming, or other purposes. The United States keyboard layout is used as default in the currently most popular operating systems: Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. The common QWERTY-based layout was designed early in the era of mechanical typewriters, so its ergonomics were compromised to allow for the mechanical limitations of the typewriter.

As the letter-keys were attached to levers that needed to move freely, inventor Christopher Sholes developed the QWERTY layout to reduce the likelihood of jamming. With the advent of computers, lever jams are no longer an issue, but nevertheless, QWERTY layouts were adopted for electronic keyboards because they were widely used. Alternative layouts such as the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard are not in widespread use. The QWERTZ layout is widely used in Germany and much of Central Europe. The main difference between it and QWERTY is that Y and Z are swapped, and most special characters such as brackets are replaced by diacritical characters.

Alphabetical, numeric, and punctuation keys are used in the same fashion as a typewriter keyboard to enter their respective symbol into a word processing program, text editor, data spreadsheet, or other program. Many of these keys will produce different symbols when modifier keys or shift keys are pressed. The alphabetic characters become uppercase when the shift key or Caps Lock key is depressed. The numeric characters become symbols or punctuation marks when the shift key is depressed. The alphabetical, numeric, and punctuation keys can also have other functions when they are pressed at the same time as some modifier keys. The Space bar is a horizontal bar in the lowermost row, which is significantly wider than other keys. Like the alphanumeric characters, it is also descended from the mechanical typewriter. Its main purpose is to enter the space between words during typing. It is large enough so that a thumb from either hand can use it easily. Depending on the operating system, when the space bar is used with a modifier key such as the control key, it may have functions such as resizing or closing the current window, half-spacing, or backspacing. In computer games and other applications the key has myriad uses in addition to its normal purpose in typing, such as jumping and adding marks to check boxes. In certain programs for playback of digital video, the space bar is used for pausing and resuming the playback.