A set of input keys on a terminal or computer. It includes the standard typewriter keys, several specialized keys and the features outlined below. See QWERTY keyboard, Dvorak keyboard, AZERTY keyboard and virtual keyboard.|
Enter (Return) Key
In text applications, it ends a paragraph or short line. In data applications, it signals the end of the input for that field or line.
The four arrow keys move the cursor on screen. They are used in conjunction with shift, alt and control to move the cursor in bigger jumps; for example, CONTROL UP ARROW might scroll the screen. Some earlier keyboards didn't have cursor keys, in which case, control or alt was used with some letter key.
Control, Alt, Command and Option Keys
Used like a shift key, these keys are held down while another key is pressed to command the computer in a variety of ways.
Commonly used to exit or cancel the current mode such as exiting from a menu. Also used to clear an area or repeat a function such as redrawing the screen.
Locks a combination number/cursor keypad into numeric mode only.
Home and End Keys
Commonly used to move the cursor to the extreme left or right side of the current line. Often used in conjunction with shift, control and alt; for example, control-home and control-end usually move the cursor to the beginning and end of file.
Page Up/Page Down Keys
Used to move the cursor up and down a page, screen or frame. Often used in combination with shift, control and alt.
Used to call up a menu or perform a function, they are located in a cluster on the left side or in a row across the top of the keyboard (F1, F2, etc.). They are often used with the shift, control and alt keys to extend the number of options.
Used to delete the character to the left of the cursor (erase typos) and may be used with the shift, control and alt keys to erase segments of text. The extra-wide, typewriter-style key is preferred.
Used to erase the character at the current cursor location. Used in conjunction with the shift, control and alt keys, it is used to erase any segment of text, such as a word, sentence or paragraph.
Usually a toggle switch to go back and forth between insert and overwrite mode. Also used to "paste" a segment of text or graphics into the document at the current cursor location.
Most computer keys repeat when held down, a phenomenon first-time computer users must get used to. If you hold a key down that is used to command the computer, you'll be entering the command several times.
Keyboards may cause a click or beep to be heard from the computer when keys are pressed. This is done to acknowledge that the character has been entered. It should be adjustable for personal preference.
All Keyboards Are Not Equal
Keyboards feel different, and touch typists should spend a few hours with any keyboard, especially on a laptop, before purchasing it. Key placement is extremely important. Even the most popular laptop keyboards can have awkward cursor, page up/down, home and end key placements. It is not uncommon to have ridiculous designs such as the delete key next to a cursor key. For slow typists, all this means little. For fast typists, it is critical.
In addition, most keyboards today use a membrane technology underneath the keys that does not have the springiness and feel of earlier keyboards that used individual key switches. Premium keyboards from third parties do however still use the switches, and to a fast touch typist, the difference is dramatic. See mechanical keyboard, Maltron keyboard and Avant Stellar keyboard.
Try these for size. A young boy has fun on the giant keyboard in the Walk-Through Computer that opened at The Computer Museum in Boston at the end of 1995. (Image by FAYFOTO/John Rich; courtesy of The Computer History Museum, www.computerhistory.org.)
People with the use of only one hand can type on Infogrip's Bat keyboard by pressing keys like piano chords. Some people also use the Bat to type with one hand while they move the mouse with the other. (Image courtesy of Infogrip, www.infogrip.com)
In the 1990s, Samsung introduced an excellent, ergonomic laptop keyboard that offered an adjustable V shape, and IBM introduced its famous TrackWrite keyboard. The latter, known as the "Butterfly" keyboard, popped out of the laptop into a full-size keyboard. There has been little innovation on laptop keyboards ever since. (TrackWrite image courtesy of Craig Leres, www.xse.com/leres)