NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, December 2007
The QWERTY Keyboard and Microsoft Office 2007
By Bob Schneider, Editor,
The PC Keyboard, Spring Hill Teaching Computer Club, FL

drbob1012.new(at)hotmail.com (click to email author)

Obtained from APCUG with the author's permission for publication by APCUG member groups.

Back in the mid 1800’s, when the first practical typewriter was built, inventor C.L. Sholes arranged the keys in the QWERTY layout for a practical reason. He had to separate the most common letters to prevent the hammers from jamming. So many people knew that layout that although it was no longer necessary, it was maintained with the advent of electric typewriters. A much better (in terms of ease-of-learning and speed-of-typing) is the Dvorak keyboard layout developed in the 1920's. It puts the most commonly used keys under your eight “home” fingers. Once millions of people started with computers using the old QWERTY layout, better alternatives were doomed. Changing to a new keyboard layout involves the most difficult of human learning tasks. The technical term from memory researchers is “proactive interference.” That means an old memory (such as an old cell phone number you used before) interferes with your ability to learn a new memory (your new cell number). In layman’s terms the most difficult task is to unlearn something you know well in order to learn something new. That is why we standardize some procedures, such as operating a standard transmission in a car. You will never find a car with the brake on the left pedal and the clutch on the right pedal, and you already know the gear-shift sequence and location. Airplane pilots will always find the altimeter in the middle of their visual field.

I’ve been a fan of and using Microsoft Windows for some time, starting with Windows 2.0 in 1989. There are surely many people who have been using it longer than I have, although I have not yet met one. For most of those years, Microsoft advertised the strength and beauty of following the Windows format. Using its standard Graphical User Interface (GUI), all programs would have the same look and feel. Learn one program and you could quickly learn to navigate around in any similar software. Microsoft required that look and feel, with common menu items, before it allowed a program to have the Windows logo. That was a giant advance from the haphazard layout and menu systems of early DOS programs. As a college professor and software teacher, the advantages for student learning and computer novices were quite obvious.

Now we have Office 2007. I suspect that if Corel (Word Perfect) had released that office suite, Microsoft would have denied them the right to use the Windows logo. The common Windows GUI was thrown out in Word and Excel. Traditional menu items were removed, unfamiliar icons and menus appeared, and familiar processes were moved to obscure places. The better you were at using earlier versions, the more you will have to first unlearn to use Office 2007. The brake pedal is on the left, first gear is on the right, and the altimeter is hidden behind the co-pilot. I am a power user of Microsoft Office. Actually, I used to be a power user. Now I must constantly go to the help menu (sorry, it is not a menu any more) to find the location of even the most basic procedures. I know how to do them; I just don’t know where they are. It is time consuming and frustrating. There are some really nice features in Office 2007. One of them, unfortunately, is not “make it like the earlier versions.”

This article has been provided to APCUG by the author solely for publication by APCUG member groups. All other uses require the permission of the author (see e-mail address above).

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