How did the keys on your keyboard wind up in the QWERTY configuration? You can thank Christopher Latham Sholes. He was a typewriter inventor who used a top row layout of letters eerily similar to today’s QWERTY set-up for his Sholes & Gilden Typewriter. That design was sold to the Remington Typewriter company in 1873, which tweaked the design slightly to one we largely see today.
But not everyone uses QWERTY keyboards! Here are six alternative layouts.
There are some quirky QWERTY layouts that use largely the same base as Sholes’ original keyboard adapted by Remington, but switch a few keys. AZERTY, used in French-speaking countries across Europe and Africa, is one such version.
As its name suggests, it switches Q for A and W for Z in the top line. On the right hand side of the second line of letters, the semi colon key is swapped for the M key. In English-speaking western countries using the QWERTY layout, the numbers row on the top of the keyboard are used predominately as numbers (with symbols made by holding down the shift key), but in France the idea is reversed: That’s primarily your accent row, while holding down shift and hitting a key will give you a number.
QWERTZ is another slight tweak on the tried-and-tested QWERTY layout. Used predominately in central Europe (Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, and other nearby nations), QWERTZ is not necessarily one single layout: country-by-country variations exist that are tailored to better match the needs of that area’s particular linguistic nuances.
Though Dvorak may sound like another string of letters, it’s in fact the surname of this keyboard layout’s inventor, August Dvorak. The inventor felt, when he patented his design in 1936, that QWERTY was uneconomical and uncomfortable—and therefore wasn’t the perfect layout. Dvorak believed that his layout was more efficient, and studies seem to agree.
People using QWERTY keyboards only make 32 percent of strokes on the “home row” (where your fingers naturally rest on a keyboard). For Dvorak, that rises to 70 percent. And likewise, most people are right handed: Dvorak accounts for that, making more than half the strokes right handed. QWERTY calls on people to use their left hands more. But save for a few eager practitioners, Dvorak is the lesser-known layout.
The Colemak keyboard layout is meant to appease those who are uncomfortable with QWERTY but don’t feel like adopting a whole new layout. Instead, it makes 17 changes to key layout, and also does away with the Caps Lock key. It's replaced with a second backspace key, for those of you who make double the amount of mistakes.
The Maltron keyboard may, at first, seem utterly daunting. Rather than a single rectangular grouping of letter-based keys, Maltron produces two square sets of letters, both of which flank a number pad in the middle. The left hand square of letters has the unusual combination of ANISF as its home row, while the right hand square’s home row is set out in the DTHOR combination.
For some countries—and some languages—QWERTY just won’t cut it. Russian, for example, uses the Cyrillic alphabet, which is wholly different from the Latin-based English alphabet. Since 1917 (when Russia reformed its alphabet to remove some letters), JCUKEN has been the default layout for Russian keyboards. It’s wholly memorable, for those of you keen to try it out: its home row reads FYWAPROLDV.