An extinct keyboard layout

While taking in the wonderful Israel Perosnal Computer Museum in Haifa I came face to face with the Intelligent Systems Compucolor II, a bizarre 1977 home computer built into a repurposed 13″ TV set.

Intelligent Systems CompuColor II home computer

What drew my attention was the strange keboard layout: the arrow keys were clustered at the top right corner. This is in contrast to what you will see on every keyboard in the present century, where these keys are invariably at the bottom right of the keyboard.

CompuColor II Arrow keysSo, here we see a layout that has disappeared without any living descendants: an extinct primordial denizen of the keyboard universe. And for good reason: the standard location puts the arrows nearest the user, where the CompuColor II had them farthest away. It’s bad enough that the mechanical issues of old typewriters forced on us the QWERTY layout, with the most used keys out on the top letter row; since those typewriters did not have arrow keys, there is no reason to apply the same counter-ergonomic approach to them too!

It is interesting to note that unlike today’s notebooks, where space is at a premium, the keyboard in these photos has lots of free space around it, and is no doubt made of individual switches; so there was no reason to put the arrows in this awkward position. Someone just hadn’t thought it through. And of course those were early years for home computing, with each manufacturer trying their own ideas, resulting in an Ediacaran Fauna of weird form factors (remember the venerable Commodore 64, whith only two arrow keys that you SHIFTed to move in the remaining directions?). Small wonder, then, that most of these experiments – like this one – left no trace except as museum fossils!

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