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Typing’s evolution to computer

Gone are the days of the bell that signaled an approaching right margin, then the crashing slide of the carriage return. There’s no more need to stop to untangle the typebars stuck together in front of the ink ribbon. Our world has moved far beyond the Royal typewriter in the back bedroom of my parents’ home.

Keyboards seem to get smaller as they advance computing technology. Texting’s thumb-typing certainly can’t reach 80 to 100 words per minute. The compact keyboards of netbooks and smart phones take less space, but don’t seem to be a step forward. Juxtaposed to the eager consumers of the iPad and smart phones are the Model M keyboard geeks. These are the folks who have used the same beloved keyboard for the past 25 years. IBM’s Model M keyboard, widely used from 1984 to the early ’90s, is still revered by many professional typists. The Model M “Clicky” keyboard has a heavy design with a buckling spring mechanism on each key. To the Model M-addicted typist, the most satisfying attribute is the responsiveness of the keys, including the feel of the physical “click.” Many claim that typing is faster and for a creative writer, more productive on a Model M keyboard.

Unicomp, a company based in Kentucky, is producing the Model M keyboard using some of the original IBM manufacturing equipment. While standard keyboards are currently available for less than $10, new clicky keyboards sell for $69. Other websites sell the original IBM Model M keyboards, used or still in the box for $45 to $100 or more. Adapters are available for use with today’s computers, converting the outdated AT or PS/2 plugs to USB. Clicky keyboard users claim that the Model M lasts for decades. Some say they still use the same keyboard that came with their 1984 computer.

Speedy typists have long imagined an improved layout of the alphabet on the keyboard.

There is a popular rumor that the QWERTY layout was designed to slow down the typist. According to the researchers at Earthlink.net, C.L. Shoals first designed the typewriter with the alphabet in order across two rows of keys. When the metal typebars locked up for certain letter combinations, he rearranged them not to slow the typist, but to reposition letters that had a tendency to cause jams. His change actually improved typing speed.

In 1932, Professor August Dvorak of Washington State University designed a new keyboard to bring vowels and the five most frequently used consonants to the home row. The new arrangement allowed 400 common English words to be typed from the home row, compared to 100 on Shoals’ keyboard. The newer keyboard has never been widely accepted, perhaps because of the time most of us spent typing “a s d (space) j k l (space)” for our typing teachers.

So there are still remnants of the old days in our computers. If you miss the old machines, but still have a fascination for the sleek feel of a smart phone in your hand, you can find a “haptics” app that adds tactile and audible typing effects. Now you can pretend to use a Royal #10 or IBM Selectric as you surf the web and update your facebook page.

Patty Harshbarger, co-owner of Computer Renaissance in Bradenton, can be reached at (941) 753-8277.

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