The computer keyboard, whether a basic or ergonomic keyboard, is the main method of interaction with a computer, and some people spend most of the workday using it. When the first computer keyboards were designed, there was no consideration given to the hours of unnatural positioning that the hands, wrists and arms would endure. Ergonomic keyboards are designed to create a more natural technique for entering data.
The basic typewriter (built in 1867) was the forerunner of the basic keyboard. It was initially designed to be used with just two fingers. The 10-finger setup was developed in 1878, and the now-famous QWERTY key layout was standardized. This layout was specifically set up to reduce a typist's speed so that typewriters would not jam up.
The advent of personal computers in the 1980s saw the invention of keyboards that were not mechanical, allowing typists to go as fast as they wished. Faster typing lead to longer and more troublesome issues with stress and strain on the hands and wrists. Thus, the ergonomic keyboard and laptop ergonomic keyboard emerged to minimize strain for computer users.
An ergonomic keyboard differs from a standard keyboard in many ways. Ergonomics is all about designing to fit human needs, so the keyboard is set up in a way that more naturally accommodates the user. A basic keyboard requires the user's hands, wrists and arms to be held perpendicular to the keys. An ergonomic keyboard is split and angled out, so the hands can be held at a more natural, spread-apart angle. Those ergonomic keyboards that are split permanently in the frame are called fixed-split. There are also keyboards on the market that can be split into several pieces and arranged to best suit the user, known as adjustable splits.
Ergonomic keyboards still have keys set in the QWERTY setup with common buttons such as ENTER, BACKSPACE, TAB and the FUNCTION keys set in the same position as a basic keyboard. However, there may be some rearranging of these elements to best capitalize on the more natural movements of the hands. One example is the space bar: on an ergonomic keyboard, the bar is often pushed to the right side to accommodate the traditional right-thumb method of hitting it.
Speed and Accuracy
Another difference between the ergonomic keyboard and the basic keyboard is the learning curve. With rare exceptions, people learn to type on a basic keyboard. Muscle memory allows users to gain speed and accuracy when typing. Switching to an ergonomic keyboard requires some adjusting, and it's common for speed and accuracy to suffer initially. However, most people will adjust in time and eventually speed and accuracy are faster on an ergonomic keyboard than on a traditional model.
Ergonomic keyboards do cost more than their standard counterparts. Fixed-split models are entry level and compare in cost to high-end traditional keyboards. Adjustable-spilt keyboards and those with additional features can be much more expensive. In general, you can expect to pay three to four times as much for an ergonomic keyboard as you would for a basic keyboard.
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