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BS and Membrane Technology

Written By:
Date Posted: June 20, 2002

Today's keyboards aren't what they used to be, no sir! Back in my day, we had our BS technology; our keyboards had chassis's which allowed 'em to be thrown off a 3-story building and still work - barely dented. Yes those were the days. Now we've got these newfangled Wireless Ergonomic E-Mail button membrane keyboards. To heck with them, I say!

This article really entails two things: The history of the Universal or QWERTY keyboard layout and a comparison between BS and Membrane technology used today in keyboards, one of the most used interfaces to the computer at present.

QWERTY keyboards are known as Universal keyboards - they are the standard by which keyboard manufacturers produce their keyboards today. It was named this due to the "q,w,e,r,t,y" pattern in the upper left hand corner of the keyboard. QWERTY was originally designed by Christopher Sholes to slow typing down.

Wait a second& why would we be using a keyboard layout made to slow us down? Let's look back before keyboards - typewriting. In 1868 Christopher Latham Sholes was awarded the operative patent for the typewriter. After receiving this patent, Sholes still had many 'bugs' to work out, and spent a good deal of time with the machine, working out the kinks. One of the kinks in the machine was key jamming, which was prone to happen often and could hurt the machine. If a typist typed two letters one after the other too quickly, the "hammers" would hit each other; the typist then had to dislodge the hammers and that could get a bit messy. So, Sholes came up with a keyboard layout that would place letters which would be most likely struck closely in succession on opposite sides of the layout.

Eventually, due to the ability to touch type with QWERTY efficiently [first demonstrated when in a "typing contest" a QWERTY typist managed to type quicker than someone on a stenograph-styled machine] it became the standard.

In 1936, August Dvorak patented his "Simplified Keyboard" - DSK. It was designed to balance the load of typing more evenly - those letters, which would be stricken most, would be under the strongest fingers. The credibility of the claims that the Dvorak is faster is outside the scope of this article. If one is truly interested, I recommend reading an informative article at: However I do believe that Dvorak perhaps is the better layout - although due to my experience with QWERTY I still stick with it. For those of you who think Dvorak is a legacy item no longer used, you will all be pleased to know that all windows versions greater than 3.11 are Dvorak compliant, and a simple setting can change the layout setting.

On to the Keyboards!

To this day I still use the IBM Model M keyboard. This keyboard was released with the original IBM PS/2 computer. It is known for it's weight, feedback, and distinctive keystroke sound. There are some Model M's which are branded by Lexmark on the back - Lexmark bought the design from IBM in the late 1980s.

Model M's are 101 key keyboards, and still comply with all ps/2 requirements [read on for Pentium 4 possible incompatibilities and fixes.] What makes this keyboard so special?

The first aspect that is most obvious upon actually typing is the sound and feel of the keyboard. There is a noticeable and quite prominent 'click' which is not as high pitched as some Chiconey keyboards (which are quite nice too,) the sound is not soft and "mushy." The Model M's keys also have a bit of resistance to them - not so that it's hard to push them down, but just a tad bit more pressure is needed to fully depress a key. Now, for those of you up late at night, or up in the wee hours of the morning, perhaps this is a disadvantage for you. Also, many people prefer not to hear the keystroke - companies like Dell, IBM, and hundreds of others have manufactured (or sub-contracted other companies) to make quiet keyboards. Let's take a look at why these keyboards are quiet, and what the keyboards are sacrificing, if anything, to obtain this quietness.

The model which I will use for comparison will be the IBM Active Response keyboard, which uses a method utilized by most "mushy" keyboards today - but what about an ergonomic keyboard? All ergonomic keyboards I've seen have used membrane technology, but I have always been a believer that ergonomic keyboards not only hinder a typist, but also do not relieve any stress from typing. I never proved that of course, but I've always felt more "natural" with standard keyboards. An article was just released at the , describing how ergonomic keyboards might not be as helpful as many might hope to believe.

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