Input Devices

To be of any use at all a computer has to be able to take input, yet this basic premise can easily escape the modern computer user. With the quality and range of input devices now available, it seems hard to believe that computer input had once to be literally hardwired. New circuits had to be constructed to solve individual problems by arranging cables and jack sockets on vast circuit boards. Clearly at that time word processing was simply beyond imagining, but years of developments have made this seem absurd, and word processing has become a staple of the computer’s work.

Word processing, of course, relies on perhaps the most basic computer input device: the keyboard. Plainly modeled on the typewriter, in Western countries most modern computer keyboards are based on the QWERTY layout, or closely-related variants such as the French AZERTY layout. There are additional keys not normally found on typewriters such as function keys, a numeric keypad and so on, and even in countries where different alphabets or writing systems are in use, the physical layout of the keys is often quite similar.

The original 1981 IBM PC’s keyboard was severely criticized by typists for its non-standard placement of the return and left shift keys. In 1984, IBM corrected this on its AT keyboard, but shortened the backspace key, making it harder to reach. Then, in 1987, it introduced the enhanced keyboard, which relocated all the function keys, the Ctrl keys, and the Esc key to the positions we commonly see them today. In recent years, so-called “Internet keyboards” have also become popular, including extra buttons for specific applications or functions (typically a browser or email client). Laptops might also have vendor specific keys included in the keyboard.

In the era of the PC, two companies have dominated in the field of input device development, Microsoft and Logitech. For the former, it began in 1982, with the development of the company’s first PC-specific mouse, invented to function concurrently with Microsoft Word. Based in Switzerland, Logitech was founded in 1981 and went on to be a pioneer of cordless input device technology. Between them, the two companies have been responsible for the kind of designs and technologies that have revolutionized input devices and the way users interact with them.

Microsoft counts amongst its innovations the company’s Natural Keyboard, the first widely available and reasonably priced ergonomic keyboard, the first mouse designed for children (the Microsoft Easyball), the Microsoft BallPoint mouse for laptops and the now familiar mouse scroll wheel, which was added to the Microsoft Mouse 2.0 in 1996.

For their part Logitech lay claim to having shipped the world’s first cordless mouse in the shape of the MouseMan Cordless in 1992. They followed this with the introduction three years later of its Marble Optical Technology for trackballs, based on the optical measurement of movement whereby a camera measures the shift of a picture and evaluates it. Finally the union of cordless and optical technologies came in 2001 with the introduction of the company’s Cordless MouseMan Optical, enabled by the optical engine of Logitech partner and technology innovator Agilent Technologies.

Over time, as demands have been made and met by computer users and applications, an enormous range of input devices has been developed that means now, as we tap at keyboards, yank at joysticks, or even speak into microphones and watch the words magically appear “typed” on to our screens, computer input is performed simply and easily. It has been a journey of often under-valued invention though, and one that continues today.

PC Components | Processors (CPUs) | PC Data Storage | PC Multimedia | PC Input/Output | Communications | Mobile Computing

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