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Subject:Re: new keyboard From:David Hamilton <david -at- URSUS -dot- COM> Date:Sun, 21 Mar 1993 01:21:13 PST
Steve Hollander writes:
> WHAT IF somebody developed a keyboard that recaptured the display function:
> When the computer is off, the keyboard is BLANK. When turned on, the keyboar
> display is loaded by whatever program (or op system) the computer is using.
> Thus, the A key would routinely display "A" but if the Ctrl key were pressed
> and Ctrl-A meant "Abort," the keyboard display (LCD, probably) would say
> "Abort." The f---ing F-keys would display WHATEVER THEY WOULD DO AT ANY GIVE
> TIME! (The COMPUTER knows what it'll do when Shift-F9 is pressed; it can dam
> well tell us!)
> Think of the $million$ in training that would be saved. Think of how much
> easier it'd be to write manuals. Think of how happy the software writers'd b
> since they'd have to create (and sell!) new versions with keyboard drivers
> built into them. The template saleshumen, of course, would have a fit; but t
> rest of us'd be on Easy Street.
The biggest problem with the your idea is that it would greatly
increase the cost of the keyboard. Right now, the keyboard switch
assembly for a "standard" keyboard layout costs about $20 in quantity
(from Korea). Once the case, cable, keycaps, processor, and assembly
are added in, we have keyboards in the $80-100 range. Adding the
display for each keycap would increase the cost by an order of
magnitude, not counting the amortization of the R&D effort required.
The largest segments of the desktop market are strongly price-driven.
Purchasing departments save a few dollars per keyboard by buying
inferior equipment. How do you think they would react to a keyboard
costing $700 or more?
The second problem is convincing the software vendors to support such
a keyboard. While there are no major technical hurdles on the
software side, the a major redesign of the keyboard drivers would be
required. Updating the keycap displays would slow the overall
keyboard response. There is also the problem of synchronization for
very fast typists. The display text would increase the size of the
program executable files, as well. The software development cost
would not be trivial and the vendors would pass this cost on to the
The software vendors would only make these changes if forced to do so
by market pressure. Until they did, there would be no advantage to
the keyboard hardware folks developing the keyboard design.
The third problem is primarily technical. LCD displays wouldn't work
well, given the current limitations. Touch an LCD display displaying
text and you'll immediately see part of the problem. The text will be
distorted and obscured. Now add the problem of contouring they keycap
with the display. Then add the problem of carrying the wiring from
the display around the key switch. Any of the current techniques
would either be prone to wear (and thus failure) or change the feel of
In addition to an extra microprocessor required to handle the display
functions, there is a fundemental problem with the way keycodes are
generated by the keyboard. For most keyboards, a keycode is not
returned to the computer when the CTL key is pressed or released.
Instead, a different keycode is returned by the keyboard if CTL is
pressed in simultaneously with certain other keys (the notable
exception being the PeeCee).
In short, while millions of dollars might be saved by your suggestion,
many more millions would be required to take advantage of it. The
only vendors that would profit from the situation are the keyboard
If all those who design and use computers have been unable to agree on
the relatively simple matter of a standard keyboard layout, what
chance would a radical change in concept have? How many different
places are there to put an ESC key, brackets, etc? How much
productivity is lost when users must move between keyboard layouts?
Currently, they cannot even agree what to call the ALT key(s). On
some keyboards these are labeled META, while on others they don't even
exist. It sounds like a very simple problem to solve, with provable
benefits in productivity and portability, doesn't it?
I like your suggestion - I just don't think it will happen.
Sr Tech Writer (and former hardware/software designer)