Keyboard design

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Please try to limit the opinions of other people's ideas and save it for the discussion pages. If you think someone has a particularly good or bad idea, say so in the discussion page. This discussion/argument/feud can be noted in the article, but in a less familiar style.

See also keyboard layouts.



  • Omit the CAPS LOCK key and status LED from the keyboard! This could save valuable real-estate inside the OLPC and on its face. When was the last time you pressed the CAPS LOCK key on purpose?? Typing in all caps is usually either a mistake or rudeness. My new Microsoft keyboard even has a (software) option to disable the CAPS LOCK key. Apple also allows to disable/assign the CAPS LOCK key-function via Mac OS X system preferences.
    • that is actaully a pretty good idea. I still use caps lock sometime but is is usally when I am programing and I wouldn't miss it too much my self. Lotu
      • This is actually a pretty dumb idea. Most of the alphabets in the world do not use CAPITAL letters. Therefore, the keyboards for those alphabets will not have this issue. And for the languages like English which use the Latin alphabet, capslock is essential for people to learn how to use a STANDARD keyboard. Anything less is ghettoization and it is wrong.
        • I don't follow how capslock is helpful, much less essential, to learning how to use a keyboard. As to usefulness of the key: I've remapped the silly thing to something far more useful to me (a Hyper- modifier) many many years ago, and I don't miss the functionality of capslock in the least. -kp
          • Capslock is used to switch between "normal" letters like Thai, Khmer, Kannada,.. and Latin Letters. --Bz 17:31, 30 June 2006 (EDT)
            • So replacing the CAPS LOCK with LANG key is in order (for non Latin alphabet languages). And this key should have also a LED attached to it. Note that language switching can be a bit more tricky when working with complex directionality (such as when left-to-right text is intermingled with right-to-left text. A key for Unicode's RLM/LRM could be usefull in this situation. - cl
            • I assume this has been followed, because there's no caplock key on my XO, which is probably okay. But I should be able to get caplock anyway by "double-clicking" shift, or maybe ctrl-shift ect. Is this a possibility? Dan Robinson
            • This may be true for the USA-International layout - which is a language setting - but 99% of Americans couldn't care less. It's an irrelevant issue and a moot point. I already dealt with this CAPS problem. I altered my keyboard registry and turned caps into another backspace.
  • I like the CAPS LOCK key because you can map it to CTRL for smooth hotkeying <3

Dvorak and V for 200million wrists

Switching to Dvorak

To access the dvorak layout on an XO, start the Terminal activity, and type

setxkbmap dvorak

To return to your national keyboard, use the same command with the appropriate keyboard layout name. For example,

setxkbmap us
setxkbmap ara

Setting up to be able to switch keyboard layouts from the keyboard currently requires editing /etc/X11/xorg.conf, as described at Customizing NAND images#Keyboard. The keyboard switching key is the times-divide key in the Latin keytops, but with a different graphic in some other keytop image sets for other alphabets.

QWERTY considered harmful

If enough are to be manufactured, maybe it would not cost too much to

  • Use an ergonomic split keyboard in the shape of a V for 200million healthier wrists
  • Configure it with the Dvorak layout or some other better than QWERTY layout

--Rogerhc 18:31, 28 May 2006 (EDT)

QWERTY and its variants are standards (ISO, EN, DIN) with acceptable mappings when using with less common languages. Dvorak isn't a standard
This turns out not to be the case. ANSI X3.207:1991 (previously X4.22-1983), "Alternate Keyboard Arrangement for Alphanumeric Machines"--Mokurai 20:26, 2 November 2006 (EST)
and as its layout is based soleley on letter frequency of the English language, it isn't of much use for non-english or non-programmers.
Again, not the case. Wikipedia mentions and links to Dvorak keyboards for several other languages: Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, German, Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish, French, Dutch, Hungarian, and Esperanto. We have the Norwegian and Swedish layouts displayed here at Keyboard layouts, which describes keyboards commonly available in Linux distributions. --Mokurai 20:26, 2 November 2006 (EST)

I've got a G1G1 and I want to vote for Dvorak key labels on future keyboards, too. It's excellently aligned with OLPC project goals:

  • Giving kids the best technology, not necessarily being "compatible" or "standard"
  • Being inexpensive (free feature - no per machine cost of layout choice)
  • Steering unscrupulous adults away from the machines
Please forgive me for perhaps not understanding the format here.

See for ideas on keyboards, somewhat from the past. At one time I thought I had invented the chord KB, then a glove version, then a V KB, but wasn't up to date on what was already developing, and didn't have the resources to develop them myself. The XO keys are too small for my fingers, so I use a USB plug-in KB anyway. So my version of the V KB is still worth considering. My ideal, in part for the moment, might easily fit on the XO, at least in the small key version. It would have maybe 15 character keys for each hand plus three modifier keys for each thumb, where they're easier to push than under the pinky. Space is a character key, so it's a finger key. Modifier keys could be pushed in many combinations, giving many more possible meanings for each character key than you're likely to remember. Any one modifier key could be locked in by "double-clicking" it. No letters on keycaps. So it needs to be easy to call up a help screen for dvorak, other languages and such. All keys should be easily reprogrammable. This would work somewhat as a conventional KB, until you started pushing extra combinations if modifier keys, approaching a chord keyboard. Are we beyond the possibility of meaningful evolution of KBs? More details available, and they're "open source".

I like lots of key options because I'd much prefer keyboard commands over mouse or touchpad for most purposes. The latter are, or are similar to, analog devices, while being often used on 'digital' icons.

Still QWERTY after all these years? :( Please manufacture future XO's with the Dvorak keyboard layout. The only reason QWERTY is still used is because people are used to it. Why not give people the better keyboard layout when we introduce them to computers? --Jop 16:01, 26 March 2015 (UTC)

We're happy to manufacture XO laptops with a Dvorak keyboard layout as part of an order. See Buying XOs for details. Different minimum order quantities may apply. --Quozl 21:43, 26 March 2015 (UTC)

V keyboard

The V shape takes too much room and would require a split rubber-membrane, which augments costs.
English is a highly used international language. Many other languages have similar letter frequency. Chinese pinyin even does and is commonly used to type Chinese. Standards are driven by large projects like olpc. Keyboards can be built for hands. Is moving standards and design forward good policy for olpc? (I don't know but I ask. Little changes that work well maybe.) --Rogerhc 16:14, 29 May 2006 (EDT)
I agree. Even if dvorak might not suit exactly for non-english, well nor does qwerty, and it's even less efficient. Maybe OLPC is the last chance we have to give dvorak a chance. For those that live in a qwerty word, it's not so hard to live in a non-qwerty one. Most local languages keyboards have slightly different keyboard, with on or two extra letters and the punctuation all mixed up and it's relatively simple to learn them. While living in france, it took me two months to learn to type in AZERTY, and I could switch from one to the other easily. It's not that hard to go against standard. And all it takes it's a different silk screen on the keyboard... --Avsa
Dvorak is a standard, under the name ASK (Alternate Standard Keyboard, ANSI X3.207:1991). It is provided on every recent version of Windows, Mac OS, Linux, and BSD Unix. No changes to the hardware are needed for using it for touch typing. There are also Norwegian Dvorak, Left-Handed Dvorak, and Right-Handed Dvorak layouts provided with many of these systems, and Dvorak layouts for [other languages]. A US ASK keyboard is not optimal for all languages using the Latin alphabet, but its basic principle is applicable to the design of other alternate standards: placing the vowels under the left hand, and the most common consonants under the right hand.
Keyboards for Indic alphabets such as Devanagari already put all of the vowels on the left and all of the consonants on the right; Korean does it the other way around, but the effect on ease of learning and ease of use is the same. In each case, the various consonant series are placed in horizontal or vertical lines as a memory aid. It took me more than a month to switch from QWERTY to Dvorak, but only a day or so each to learn to touch-type in Sanskrit and Korean.--Ed 2006-7-31
  • If proper posture is utilized from the beginning, an individual can type rapidly on any surface including knees while seated on the floor. My experience has been as a typing teacher for 3rd - 12th graders. The arms should be loosely away from the body so that an upside down V is naturally formed from left elbow to left thumb on spacebar and right thumb to right elbow.

although using proper gesture sometimes helps ease the pain and let the blood flow through to keep the fingers working the whole time

At least we should get rid of the slant, which is only there in imitation of manual typewriters that needed to space the typebars evenly.

Chord Keyboard

At the outset of the Computer Rennaissance in the 1970-s a few companies sold a five key chord keyboard which seemed to offer various advantages. The pioneering SRI R&D into collaboration (via the Augment project) used such a keyboard, as shown in Doug Engelbart's 1968 Mother of All Demos. Could be interesting to think about seeding popularization of such an arrangement on OLPC, PDA-s, mobile phones and TV remote controls - maybe to augment full keyboards on OLPC.

L Pfeffer April 6,2006

I am developing a two handed chorded keyboard[1] (which also works with just one hand to make learning easier) for my project and it would be great if this would be useful for OLPC as well.

--Jecel 15:20, 11 April 2006 (EDT)

IBM had a Chord Keyboard project. There were twelve keys for the four fingers, dished on the sides and corners so that a finger could push two keys next to each other, or four keys meeting at a corner. If I recall correctly, there were three thumb keys, also with the option of hitting two at once, for a total of seven thumb positions. Experiments showed that the keyboard was easy enough to learn for basic typing, and had great advantages for those willing to learn a large number of chords for common words and phrases. Naturally, it had no public acceptance, and was not made into a product.--Mokurai 02:58, 1 November 2006 (EST)

"The Chord Keyboard", Nathaniel Rochester, et al., December 1978 IEEE COMPUTER.

"Chord Keyboard Architecture", IBM Technical Report TR00.2934-1, December 15, 1978. From the IBM Poughkeepsie Labs.

"Teaching Typing on a Chord Keyboard", IBM TR 00.2918, December 26, 1977; the Poughkeepsie Labs again.

F.C. Bequaert and N. Rochester, "One-Handed Keyboard and Its Control Means," US Patent 4,042,777, issued Aug 16, 1977.

There are a lot of problems with chorded keyboards. They're not intuitive, they're not popular, they don't work well for people with disabilities (physical or mental), they are more difficult to learn, they are more prone to errors, it would be difficult for people using chorded keyboard to adapt to normal keyboard.--Jj05 12:55, 19 December 2006 (EST)

There is also the GKOS two-handed chorded keyboard that can either be a set of six physical keys behind the device or optionally an application used by thumbs on a touch screen device. It can be used either by two two hands or by one hand. No memorizing of chords is necessary with the on-screen keyboard as all symbols are shown dynamically on the keys. Android and iPhone GKOS applications are available for free. This could easily be used e.g. on a touch sensitive OLPC screen. Other examples are also explained at the GKOS site.

Straight key-layout

Whatever the logical layout (querty, dvorak, or non-latin), the biggest issue, methinks, for RSI is the physical layout of the keys. This may be a good place and oportunity to get rid of the slanted-column traditional layout and opt for a matrix-like layout. I would not be happy giving millions of kids physical layouts that, from the beginning, force them to adopt awkward hand and wrist positions that may lead to RSI. See Kinesis countoured keyboards, or Maltron keyboards.

Removing the 'column slant' or jagged layout is a great idea. Most new devices do not have it (qwerty keyboards on mobiles, pdas, even the amazon kindle), and neither does OLPC keyboard if you look at the right side (the arrow keys, enter and erase key etc.) Jagged keys is just a stupid throwback to the typewriter. (If you need even more evidence, sneak a peak at the keypads used at checkouts - all of them have grid or 'matrix' style layouts. 2007-12-08
Creating a split ergonomic keyboard is not feasible due to cost and space issues. However creating a straight key layout (e.g. TypeMatrix) avoids many problems associated with the jagged layout. In the normal jagged layout, the 'B', 'Y' and '6' keys are a long reach, the entire bottom row is aligned unnaturally and is difficult to hit, especially the ZXCVB keys. Using a straight keyboard layout is much more intuitive and doesn't add anything to the manufacturing cost, and saves on space.--Jj05 13:06, 19 December 2006 (EST)

This is a great idea as well. --Jop 16:03, 26 March 2015 (UTC)

Separate slant layout

IMHO, the best layout would be a V (separate left and right sides), but with the left keys slanting to the up right.

Look at normal keyboards. The right arm will angle from the right shoulder up towards the middle; the right hand keys have the same slant (good). Now look at the left keys: the left hand wrist has to turn to make the same bottom right to upper left finger stroke.

With a horrible english keyboard layout bias, for me, the worst factor of the split V keyboards currently available are:

  1. Left hand keys stroke the wrong way,
  2. I use the left index finger for "y" (normally a right index finger at long distance) and right index finger for "b" (normally a left index finger at long distance). These two keys need to be duplicated on both sides of the split, yet never are.

Rather than saying "We can't have left/right separate because twice the parts is too expensive", or debating which single layout style -- up left slant, straight up slant, etc -- is best, why not have a single membrane, wider, with the keys at the different sides slanted at different angles?

Once you consider a single wide membrane with different slant angles, you have most of the benefit of the V keyboards. You don't get the wave curve of things like the Microsoft natural keyboard (unless I'm mistaken; can membrane keyboards curve like that?), but you do get the separation/spacing benefit.

--Keybounce 11:31, 12 February 2007 (EST)

Keyboard Backlight

It seems to me that this laptop might need to work sometimes in low lighting. It would be good to possibly turn on a backlight under the keyboard. It sounds easy to have translucent rubber so the light shows through to help see keys. --imajeff 2006-04-10

Touch typing is far more efficient. --Mokurai 02:58, 1 November 2006 (EST)

The following keyboard always worked for me, do these keyboards have removable keys or are they going to be sealed units to avoid dust and dirt damage, i like the idea given of luminous keys, or key LED's;

Perhaps an all in one piece of rubber keyboard like the grey one that was included in the old zx spectrum (if you took the cover off), there are not going to be as many lights or sinks to wash hands in I am presuming? Or even an eluminated surrounding area to the keys could be considered?

Or possibly another idea for enabeling users to type in the dark would be to have a sort of WaterMark, faded kepboard that could be displayed on or off at the press of a function key. This would mean that the users could see on screen, as they were typing, the actual keyboard layouts that they are typing on, locating where the keys are! And therefore they would then not need a backlight for the keys in any form, they could simply use the display that they are reading from to show an outline drawing of the keyboard and individual keys as they type. This is all aimed at getting the users who may not have access to extensive lighting and electricity at home up-to-speed with using the keyboard layout as quickly possible, even if this is at home in the late evening.

Illuminating the keyboard

(section as suggested in even though the section above on Keyboard Backlight was noticed after that suggestion was made. The thing is, I thought that "Illuminating the keyboard" is a good idea, yet I thought that it meant a light onto the keys rather than a light under translucent keys, which is also a good idea.)

My keyboard design concept has a "foldable illuminator" that brings a row of LEDs to bear. In my thought, lighting onto the keys is much more itimate, natural and efficient than backlighting. Please visit at GIZMODO.COM domain and look around my pictures for the keyboard design concept in [2] Feel free to contact me at -Spike

Keys with a light emitting diode array in each of them

I cannot remember where I saw the idea. It was in an article years ago and that article referred to a science fiction novel by Dr Arthur C. Clarke where the author of the article had seen the idea. I think that the novel mentioned was set in the future at the American Quincentennial in 2276, though I do not remember the name of the novel. The idea was that each key would be illuminated with a glyph of the character which would be entered into the computer if that particular key were pressed. In that way the keyboardS would be software alterable so as to be suitable for a variety of writing scripts and languages. As we now have Unicode with many scripts encoded and each language not only needs its script yet may also need various particular characters, (for example, the different set of accented characters needed for Spanish and Portuguese) I wonder whether a feasibility study of whether such keys could be produced and what they would cost could be carried out by the hardware experts. They could perhaps be very useful in India where the keyboard could be switched by software from Latin script to an Indian script as desired. This could also provide the advantages of illumination which would otherwise be provided by keyboard backlighting or by illuminating the keyboard.

William Overington

2006-04-11 0818Z

Whoa! I think normal exchangable keycaps are just a little cheaper! :-) IMHO this would only be worthwhile if there is a pressing need to be able to change the keycaps dynamically. It might be useful for devanagari but the scripts that it would seem to be most useful for (CJK) seem to get on fine with software solutions. 03:51, 12 April 2006 (EDT)
Such a thing was being made, if I am not mistaken, at It is, unsurprisingly, very expensive. The e-ink suggestion below, could be cheaper. +Klar 04:19, 11 December 2006 (EST)

Yes the cost could be prohibitive. However, I have now thought of a possibility which could perhaps produce some of the benefits of such a keyboard. I have started a new section for it.

A more cost effective solution maybe through United Keys, see

Keys with a small piece of electronic paper on each of them

I saw a television item about electronic paper technology. I found the following on the net.

I cannot find a date on the document. Does anyone know how new is this technology?

Suppose that there were an option of a type of keytop for use on a laptop where the keytop had a piece of electronic paper built into its surface. Would that then mean that there could be a special gadget, which could be a laptop peripheral, which could fit over a keytop and reprogram the piece of electronic paper so as to display the desired glyph? Thus someone could, by a fairly slow, one at a time process, reprogram the glyphs displayed on each of the keys of the keyboard. This could mean that customized keyboards for various languages, such as those of Africa and India, could be produced in small quantities, even one off, relatively easily. Naturally, if electronic paper keytops were developed there could be machines made which could be used to customize the keytops in bulk; however, hopefully the one-keytop-at-a-time programming gadget could also be developed.

A better option: do not require a separate machine or dongle. Instead use the approach of OLED keyboard manufacturers: allow a userspace utility to (re)program the e-ink on the keyboard on the fly. Power is only used when the layout is changed, so this will have no adverse effect on battery life in day-to-day usage, except for users who toggle between layouts (e.g. dvorak, qwerty), languages, and even specialized keyboards (e.g. Blender or AutoCAD glyphs instead of letters to facilitate learning), and even then the impact will be minimal.

Q: Does anyone know if the electronic paper technology could stand up to continual pressing with fingers?

A: If the electronic paper or e-ink is placed beneath a clear, hard plastic cap, this should not be an issue.

William Overington

2006-04-13 0754Z

Some links regarding the electronic paper and electronic ink technologies.

Re: "Does anyone know if the electronic paper technology could stand up to continual pressing with fingers?" Just put a small peice of hard plastic between it and the rubber in the keyboard. No need to put any pressure on the paper itself.

Have dedicated <HELP> and <SAK> keys

The concept linked to the <Secure Attention Key> is "give me an input field that cannot be spoofed". For the login on newer Windows operating systems such a key is emulated by <CTRL><ALT><DEL>. The impact is potentially high.

This really is important for security. For a secure GUI, use of the key must not be optional.

The concept linked to the <HELP> key is "being able to get help in any situation without losing pointer context (location/buttons)". (There is no <HELP> key on your PC keyboard but there should be one, <F1> is sometimes used to give help.) The impact of <HELP> for first time users is high.

Both of these basic functionalities seem important enough to justify a dedicated key.

Please don't follow the tempting way to tie any single high level functionality like <XML> or <Wiki Word> to a key (OLPC News 2006-07-01). As you can see on your favourite Multimedia keyboard that's a dead end, there are simply too many.

Quiet Keyboards

The amount of noise generated by typing on the keyboard should be considered in the design. If fifty children are taking notes in a small classroom as the teacher is speaking, it could add up to be a considerable distraction. Likewise, children may have to share a small living space with parents on a night-shift sleeping schedule, infant siblings, etc., and noise complaints in the home could mean that homework doesn't get done. Besides, the other components of this system have the potential to be essentially silent, and I think that this would be a desirable point for commercial sales. Mike Serfas 20:21, 13 August 2006 (EDT)

The current design has the keyboard as a membrane--it makes no noise. --SamatJain 21:13, 13 August 2006 (EDT)
  • Noise is energy - lost energy - and therefore lost efficiency. I agree with you. However, these students shouldn't be pressing the keys this loudly anyway. I was taught to press firmly and crisply, but not hard or loudly. This is a good habit to be taught and to maintain. It reduces wear on the keyboard, as well. Perhaps a new keyboard could be invented with mechanical tweaks under the keys to slow down the key as it approaches the bottom of the board.

Key Names Printed in Native Language

The name of keys should be translated to native language, i.e., instead of having keys named as "ENTER" and "ERASE", for Brazilian Portuguese layout you should read "ENTRA" and "APAGA". The keyboard layout pictures show the English key names on Brazilian Portuguese layout. In this keyboard all keys have images not texts

Use Colored Key instead of ALT GR

A solid color key could be used instead of the awkward sounding ALT GR key. This color could also be used for the alternate characters printed on the right half of the key caps creating a clear association.

New Keyboard Design for XO laptop next generation should use OLED or E-ink technology.

Art Lebedev Studio will release a new OLED-based keyboard in November 2007.

Related news:
OLED-Tastatur kommt für 1564 Dollar, 30. April 2007
Optimus Maximus Keyboard Priced & Dated, 30. April 2007
Optimus OLED Keyboard: from legend to laughing stock, 27. April 2007

I have also thought about same idea for some time, but I am not a hardware engineer, have no change and time to realize it. What I know is that some guys in MIT Media Lab work with E-Ink, which could be the future display technology used in OLPC laptop next generation. E-ink has also some products for the mini panel display. We know that OLPC laptop is that xo laptop is designed totally international, and manufacturers should produce different keyboard layouts for different countries. This is not technically difficult, but not a flexible solution, especially when children learn foreign language or doing multilingual chats. With e-ink based or OLED based design XO laptop will have a multilingual keyboard. Manufacturer needs to produce just one type of keyboard. Keyboard layout switch is possible, total electronically and very easy. Don't forget that, as Thailand new government rejected OLPC project temporarily about 7 months before, the for Thailand produced B1 machines was the problem or waster for OLPC just because of its keyboard layout for Thailand[3]. When the laptop next generation uses this innovation design, Manufacturer should produce just one Product for the whole world and could ship it to everywhere. This could also reduce the risk and cost for the OLPC project under large scale, and be a change to push the E-Ink or OLED technology on the market. --Scott Zhu 14:40, 30 April 2007 (EDT)

Per Applied Design’s feature article for the August 2008 issue, United Keys,, is set to release a keyboard with a cluster of nine OLED topped key switches to the left of the main keyboard in late 2008. Ideally, one would use smaller e-ink displays atop the regular keyboard keys for the OLPC project. It appears possible but probably too expensive.

Slant Keyboard to Reduce RSI

While creating a completely ergonomic keyboard would be costly, one small change could improve usability. Contrary to the way most keyboards are designed, the ergonomic studies I've read show that it is much easier on your wrists if the keyboard slants downward from front to back (negative slope). To clarify, this means that the edge with the space bar on it is higher than the edge with the function keys. This positioning lets the hands drop into a more neutral position, reducing strain on the wrists. (See Cornell University Ergonomics Web for more information on this and other ergonomic considerations.) - Steve Dennett (17 Dec 2007)

Home Row Tactile Indicators (bumps)

Given the tight spacing and small size of the keys, it is very difficult to place one's fingers on the home row without looking. It would help a great deal if the F and J keys had some tactile indicator (e.g., bumps, ridges, etc.), as nearly all modern keyboards do. - Steve Dennett (17 Dec 2007)

Small as they are, F and J do have tiny bumps on them so you can find them in the dark. - Dov Grobgeld (22 Jan 2008).
  • Indeed. Its brilliant. I shall invent a new tactile means of identifying letters. I will call it "braille", and I will put it on a "braille keyboard". Man, thanks for the idea. Copyright!

user modifiable size keyboard

by using plastic rolls and then having it increase or push the keyboard keys up or out on to another sub-layer. It is important that the children can continue using the collaborative software and hardware they have grown up with to continue sharing. (, where the idea is viewed as code and licensed under the gpl v3. As copyright for ideas does not follow from the text in all areas,this type of license I have decided to adopt.) Dbmoodb 09:44, 28 March 2008 (EDT)

Universal keyboard. Multilanguage [[4]] sample idea in small size [[5]]