A computer keyboard is often taken for granted as a "simple" tool relative to the complex hardware and software being used within the computer itself. Yet, computer keyboards have undergone significant evolution since their debut in the second half of the 20th century. Taking the time to understand and analyze the parts of a keyboard may help you better appreciate this "unsung hero" of the computing world and broaden your knowledge of computer technology as well.
Parts of a Keyboard:
Character Keys and the Keypad
Arguably the most important functional element of a keyboard, the character keys and keypad allow users to input a variety of important content in a variety of languages. Although you may be accustomed to seeing the standard QWERTY keyboard intended for Latin-script alphabets, there are a variety of different keyboard configurations available for languages which utilize completely different character sets.
Depending upon the specific type of keyboard being used (desktop keyboard, laptop keyboard, and so on) a traditional keypad may or may not exist. The keypad is typically located to the right of the character keys and includes the standard 0-9 number set as well as common arithmetic operations. On laptop computers, these keys are often included above the character keys and are aligned horizontally rather than in a grid shape.
Although Apple computers typically don't utilize function keys, this particular keyset is an integral element of keyboards associated with the Windows operating system. The function keys are commonly labeled "F1," "F2" and so on and are used as a form of secondary command for applications. Instead of using dedicated function keys, Apple keyboards often utilize an "fn" key which, when pressed in combination with other keys, may accomplish results similar to those of the standard function keys.
Interaction of Parts
When a key is pressed on a computer keyboard, a unique process occurs which transmits electrical signals that initiate specific actions. These electrical signals are commonly referred to as "scan codes." Pressing a key transmits the scan code to the keyboard controller unit, which interprets the code and then sends a signal to the central processing unit, or CPU. Once the signal is received by the CPU, this powerful processor will then initiate the appropriate actions based on the specific keystroke.
When you press a key on your keyboard, the resistance and degree to which the key responds to your touch is a product of the hardware mechanisms underneath the key itself. Whereas Apple laptop computers utilize an extremely low-profile butterfly mechanism to minimize the distance between the key and the sensor, other keyboards may use more traditional hardware that allows keys to move greater distances when pressed. For some users, typing on a keyboard with more traditional response provides a greater degree of control and psychological satisfaction than on keyboards where the key is almost flush with the sensor.