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Keyboard Dictionary

I have attempted to gather and define a lot of the jargon and lingo that we keyboard enthusiasts throw around in conversation. Just be warned that the meaning of some non-standard terms can be up for debate and thus I have tried my best to take an objective stance on such offenders.

Term
Category
Description
Black-oval
Branding
"Black-oval" refers to a style of IBM logo found on their industrial and black-coloured consumer keyboards, especially from the early to late-1990s. Typically, these come in the form of a stadium-like solid black oval with a raised white or silver IBM logo aligned in the centre.
Image of Black-oval
Black-square
Branding
"Black-square" refers to a style of IBM logo found on their industrial computers and keyboards, especially from the early to mid-1980s. Typically, these come in the form of a solid black square with a white IBM logo aligned at the top.
Image of Black-square
Blue-oval
Branding
"Blue-oval" refers to a style of IBM logo found on their business and personal computers and keyboards, especially from the early to late-1990s. Typically, these come in the form of a stadium-like solid grey oval with a blue IBM logo aligned in the centre.
Image of Blue-oval
Grey-oval
Branding
"Grey-oval" refers to a style of IBM logo found on their business and personal computers and keyboards, especially from the mid-1980s to the early-1990s. Typically, these come in the form of a stadium-like solid grey oval with a black or very dark grey IBM logo aligned in the centre.
Image of Grey-oval
Silver-square
Branding
"Silver-square" refers to a style of IBM logo found on their business and personal computers and keyboards, especially from the early to mid-1980s. Typically, these come in the form of a solid silver square with a black IBM logo aligned at the top and optionally followed with additional text stating the computer or keyboard's host name or model number.
Image of Silver-square
ANPOS
Concepts
ANPOS stands for alphanumeric point of sale, which refers to a keyboard specifically designed for a POS system that has a full complement of alphanumeric keys. ANPOS keyboards are typically very close in design to standard keyboards everyone is familiar with, however, they may also feature some of the job-specific features most POS input devices have such as card readers or lock keys.
Matrix
Concepts
A matrix is a form of circuitry arrangement useful for negating the need for having separate circuits for each key on a keyboard. Instead, keys placed on a matrix are given an intersection between two traces known as rows and columns, and the keyboard's logic board polls them to see if any combinations are made. A matrix can be formed with an array of wires, or more commonly printed on a PCB or membrane.
Mechanical keyboard
Concepts
The phrase "mechanical keyboard" typically describes a high-end computer keyboard of some sort. The term lacks a universally agreed technical definition, but to most people, it means a keyboard that does not employ rubber dome over membrane switch design but also capable of part-way actuation.
n-key rollover
Concepts
n-key rollover (NKRO) describes a keyboard design that supports complete simultaneous pressing of all keys together without no dropped keystrokes. This feature is considered particularly desirable in gaming circles since it guarantees that the keyboard itself will not be a limit when using extensive key combinations.
Part-way actuation
Concepts
Part-way actuation describes when a keyboard switch closes (and thus registers a key as being pressed) before the key bottoms out. This is considered a positive feature to have by many enthusiasts.
Two-key rollover
Concepts
Two-key rollover (2KRO) describes a keyboard design that only guarantees a minimum of two simultaneous pressed keys together without dropped keystrokes. In practice, many keyboards that are limited to two-key rollover will, in fact, handle more key combinations in use, but there will be some instances of this limit on the keyboard.
Shielded data link
Connections
The shielded data link (SDL) is a type of electric connector designed by AMP, resembling a flattened RJ-45/Ethernet connector. In keyboard circles, shielded data link connectors are known for being the modular connection type IBM used for most of its desktop PC Model M keyboards before the Lexmark era. A variant of this was also used on IBM (and later Toshiba) Model M POS keyboards.
60%
Form-factors
60% describes a small form-factor keyboard that omits the numeric keypad, navigation keys, and function keys. Also sometimes referred to as a "60%-er", such keyboards are the smallest available that do not compromise on keys within the alphanumeric block but often rely on function layers to reintroduce the functionality from lost keys. The Model F-based 1982 IBM Model 200 Alphameric Keyboard is an example of an early 60% keyboard design as we now know it, with the MX-based GK61 and Topre-based HHKB Pro keyboards being examples of popular modern 60% designs.
Battlecruiser
Form-factors
"Battlecruiser" or "battle cruiser" is an enthusiast term that describes a keyboard larger than a full-sized 101 to 105 key keyboard but slightly smaller than a "battleship" keyboard, typically featuring a 10-key function key block to the left of the alphanumeric block as well as one or two rows of function keys on top of the alphanumeric block. A large number of non-IBM battlecruisers also feature an expanded navigation cluster.
Battleship
Form-factors
"Battleship" is an enthusiast term that describes a keyboard larger than a full-sized 101 to 105 key keyboard, typically featuring a 10-key function key block to the left of the alphanumeric block as well as one or two rows of function keys on top of the alphanumeric block.
Full-size
Form-factors
Full-size or 100% describes a keyboard that is complete with an alphanumeric block, numeric keypad, navigation keys, and function keys. Typical modern full-sized keyboards prescribe to the Enhanced layout, which results in 101 or 104 total keys for ANSI and 102 or 105 total keys for ISO. Historically, full-sized could also describe a keyboard using the 83-key XT or 84-key AT layouts. The quintessential full-sized keyboard is the IBM Enhanced Keyboard (the standard Model M), which was largely responsible for cementing the standard that is still so today.
Image of Full-size
SFF
Form-factors
Short-hand for small form-factor, a term that describes keyboards that are smaller than full-size such as 60% and tenkeyless.
Tenkeyless
Form-factors
Tenkeyless (TKL) describes a small form-factor keyboard that is similar to a full-sized keyboard but omits the numeric keypad. This is usually done for reducing the overall footprint of the keyboard without sacrificing function or navigation keys, although it has become popular in gaming circles since it allows the user to bring the keyboard and mouse closer together. In specific, "tenkey" refers to the number 0 to 9 keys. The Model M-based 1987 IBM Space Saving Keyboards (SSK) is perhaps the most well known and first popular example of a tenkeyless keyboard.
Image of Tenkeyless
Unsaver
Form-factors
"Unsaver" is an enthusiast term that describes a keyboard similar to "battleship" and "battlecruiser" keyboards but omitting the numeric keypad, typically featuring a 10-key function key block to the left of the alphanumeric block as well as one or two rows of function keys on top of the alphanumeric block. The term is almost exclusively used to describe the 104-key IBM Model F terminal keyboard for the IBM 3290 and 5080 systems.
ANSI
Layouts
Named after the American National Standards Institute, the ANSI keyboard layout is primarily used in the United States of America, the Netherlands and by many East Asian countries' English only-purposed keyboards. The two physical differences that differentiate ANSI from ISO are the longer left shift key and the rearrangement of the return/enter key from a vertically-massive to a horizontally-massive key.
Image of ANSI
AT layout
Layouts
The AT layout refers to the key arrangement of Model F-based IBM 5170 Personal Computer AT Keyboard of 1984 that was briefly a de facto standard for PC keyboards in the mid-1980s. The AT's layout is a rework of the XT's layout that eliminated many of the stepped keys, switched to a "big-ass" return/enter key, and introduced a separation between the alphanumeric and numeric keypad sections. PC clone manufacturers and other companies briefly adopted the layout, but it was quickly overshadowed by the arrival of the Enhanced layout the following year. The AT name is derived from the IBM 5170 Personal Computer AT to retrospectively distinguish it from the XT layout.
Image of AT layout
Enhanced layout
Layouts
The Enhanced layout refers to the key arrangements that are de facto standard on current PC keyboards. It was developed throughout time via many iterations of IBM and DEC terminal keyboards and was cemented by the Model M-based IBM Enhanced Keyboard of 1985. Following the widespread success of the IBM Personal System/2 family of systems and adoption by my PC clone manufacturers, the Enhanced Keyboard's 101-key ANSI and 102-key ISO layouts both became the standard that most full-size or tenkeyless keys use today albeit with the inclusion of Windows/GUI and menu keys that bring the full-size key count up to 104 and 105 keys for ANSI and ISO respectively.
Erase-Eaze
Layouts
Erase-Eaze is a keyboard feature where the spacebar is split and one side of the spacebar can function as a backspace key. Legally, Erase-Eaze is a trademark of Keyboard Advancements, Inc, however, many companies including Lexmark used the name on their designs. Lexmark-branded Model M5-2s and Model M13s could have Erase-Eaze as an option when ordering, and specifically, the Model M15 had Erase-Eaze as an inherent feature. Whilst never officially supported, all standard Model Ms and Model M122s have the barrels necessary to allow this feature to modded onto the keyboard with some minor hardware or software remap.
ISO
Layouts
Named after the International Organisation for Standardisation, the ISO keyboard layout is primarily used in Europe and the Middle East. The two physical differences that differentiate ISO from ANSI are the splitting of the left shift key and the rearrangement of the return/enter key from a horizontally-massive to a vertically-massive key. Typically, the right Alt key is also labelled as "Alt Graph" (Alt Gr).
Image of ISO
JIS
Layouts
Named after the Japanese Industrial Standards, the JIS keyboard layout is the Japanese's unique multilingual layout. There are several similarities and differences compared to ANSI or ISO; for the latter, JIS utilises an ANSI-like long left shift and an ISO-like vertically-massive return/enter key. However, 4 or 5 extra keys (compared to ISO and ANSI respectively) can be found from the splitting of the backspace, right shift and spacebar keys to support additional Japanese characters and language input keys for muhenkan (left of spacebar), henkan (1st right of spacebar) and katakana/hiragana/rōmaji (2nd right of spacebar).
Image of JIS
Numeric keypad
Layouts
A numeric keypad is a bank of keys usually found on the right side of a full-sized keyboard, featuring keys for inputting numbers and basic operator symbols. Typically found in a 17-key flavour, you get keys for numbers 0 to 9, a decimal key, keys for four operators (/, *, - and +), a num lock toggle key, and an enter key. Variants with more keys exist too, with the 18-key variant that adds a backspace key at the expense of making one of the larger keys smaller being a common upgrade. Numeric keypads can also exist as either a part of a keyboard or a separate device useful for laptop usage. When num lock is disengaged, the numbers and decimal keys become a navigation cluster represented by the secondary legends on the keycaps. Other names for a numeric keypad include 'number pad', 'numpad', or 'ten-keypad' (meaning 0 to 9).
XT layout
Layouts
The XT layout refers to the key arrangement of Model F-based IBM 5150/5160 Personal Computer Keyboard of 1981 that was once a de facto standard for PC keyboards in the early 1980s. The XT's layout was developed from arrangement found on the Model B-based IBM 5251/5252 and Model F-based IBM 5322/5324 System/23 Datamaster keyboards but relegended for PC usage. Early PC clones such as 1983's Compaq Portable adopted the layout, propelling it as a standard for a short period of time. XT is specifically known for its high number of stepped keycaps, vertical but thin enter key, and no separation between the alphanumeric and numeric keypad sections. The XT name is derived from the IBM 5160 Personal Computer XT to retrospectively distinguish it from the AT layout.
Image of XT layout
ABS
Materials
Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) is a plastic commonly used as a keycap and keyboard case material, amongst other things. Along with PBT, ABS is one of two main keycap materials and is known for being the cheaper material out of the two. ABS is less rigid and its texture can wear down and start shining quicker than PBT, but is also cheaper and easier to mould. ABS is also known to yellow when exposed to UV for a sustained period of time.
PBT
Materials
Polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) is a plastic commonly used as a keycap material, amongst other things. Along with ABS, PBT is one of two main keycap materials and is known for being the higher quality material out of the two. PBT is more rigid and stays textured for longer than ABS, but is also more expensive and harder to mould. PBT also does not yellow when exposed to UV for a sustained period of time. PBT is famous for being the material IBM Model F and Model M buckling springs keycaps were/are made from.
SAN
Materials
Styrene-acrylonitrile resin (SAN) is a plastic that was used as the keycap material for IBM Model B keyboards.
Centinewton
Misc
Centinewton (cN) is an SI unit of force equal to one-hundredth of a newton (0.01N). A single newton is defined as force that accelerates an object with the mass of one kilogram one meter per second each second. The centinewton is a popular unit of measurement commonly used in the keyboard space for actuation force readings - for example, IBM's membrane buckling springs actuation force range can be expressed as 64-69cN. Compared to the other popular unit for actuation force gram-force (gf), 1cN is equal to 1.02gf.
Gram-force
Misc
Gram-force (gf) is a metric unit of force. A single gram-force is equal to the mass of one gram multiplied by the standard acceleration due to gravity on Earth. The gram-force is a popular unit of measurement commonly used in the keyboard space for actuation force readings - for example, IBM's membrane buckling springs actuation force range can be expressed as 65-70gf. Some people may simplify the unit as simple grams (g). Compared to the other popular unit for actuation force centinewtons (cN), 1gf is equal to 0.98cN.
I-Point
Pointing devices
The I-Point was a non-isometric computer cursor pointing stick implementation found solely on the IBM Wireless Infrared Keyboard from 2000. In contrast to the more famous TrackPoint, the I-Point acted similarly to a typical game console controller's analogue joystick input.
Image of I-Point
Optical TrackPoint
Pointing devices
The Optical TrackPoint was an isometric computer cursor pointing stick introduced by Lenovo in 2011. Designed as an alternative to the current TrackPoint IV strain gauge pointing stick, the optical TrackPoint was exclusively designed for two of Lenovo's ThinkPad Tablet PC keyboard attachments that were too slim to feature a tradition TrackPoint; the 2011 Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet Keyboard Folio Case and the 2013 Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 Bluetooth Keyboard with Stand. Being an optical device like a typical desktop mouse, a great deal of swiping is required to move the cursor with the Optical TrackPoint. They can also be easily distinguished by the black circle in the middle of the usual red nub.
Image of Optical TrackPoint
Pointing stick
Pointing devices
A pointing stick (also called a "nub") in keyboard context describes a cursor pointing device integrated near or on a keyboard assembly as an alternative to trackball or trackpad mice. Typically using an isometric strain gauge or movable force-sensitive resistor technology, pointing sticks most often come in the form of a small 'joystick' located in between the "G", "H", and "B" keys - a location chosen for quick and ergonomic access. The most famous pointing sticks are the IBM/Lenovo TrackPoint series. Other advantages of pointing sticks include their inherent space-saving, their resistance to the dirt or sweat conditions of your hands, and they are always reliable when wearing gloves. Their major drawback is that they could get in the way of typing for those who do not type in the recommended touch-typing method (ie, hands not crossing between the two sides of the "B" key).
TouchStyk
Pointing devices
The TouchStyk is an isometric computer cursor pointing stick developed by Synpatics and introduced in 2003, becoming the primary alternative to IBM/Lenovo TrackPoint. It is a force-sensitive capacitor based technology that to the end user appears to function just like a strain gauge-based TrackPoint IV pointing stick, making it a more suitable alternative than force-sensitive resistor based technologies. TouchStyks were famously used as the pointing sticks on the IBM/Lenovo SK-8835/SK-884x family of discrete UltraNav and pointing stick-only keyboards. It is possible some actual ThinkPad keyboard assemblies also employed TouchStyks in lieu of strain gauge TrackPoint IV sticks, as implied by Synaptics advertising.
TrackPoint
Pointing devices
The TrackPoint is the market name for four iterations of IBM's and now Lenovo's primary pointing stick implementation. The original TrackPoint describes a trackball and mouse combination feature for 1991's IBM PS/2 L40SX laptop and a red trackball for the IBM ThinkPad 220 micro-subnotebook laptop. However, the later revisions are more famously a strain gauge-based isometric computer cursor pointing stick. TrackPoint II was introduced in 1992 and found its way on many ThinkPads and discrete keyboards thereafter. TrackPoint III revision was issued in 1994, adding a negative inertia feature to improve cursor movement speed. The current TrackPoint IV revision was introduced in 1997, adding an optional middle-button scroll and press-to-select feature to the design. Lenovo has continued to produce TrackPoint IV devices since purchasing IBM's personal computer division in 2005. Both IBM and Lenovo TrackPoints have iconically used a red protective/grip cover as a cap.
Image of TrackPoint
UltraNav
Pointing devices
The UltraNav is IBM's and later Lenovo's term for the pairing of a pointing stick and a programmably trackpad (touchpad) on a ThinkPad keyboard assembly or discrete keyboard. Typically, the pairing is formed with a strain gauge TrackPoint IV pointing stick and a trackpad produced by Alps, ELAN or Synaptics. However, for the UltraNav members of the IBM/Lenovo SK-8835/SK-884x family of discrete keyboards, a Synaptics TouchStyk was used in this pairing instead.
UltraNav
Pointing devices
The UltraNav is IBM's and later Lenovo's term for the pairing of a pointing stick and a programmable trackpad (touchpad) on a ThinkPad keyboard assembly or discrete keyboard. Typically, the pairing is formed with a strain gauge TrackPoint IV pointing stick and a trackpad produced by Alps, ELAN or Synaptics. However, for the UltraNav members of the IBM/Lenovo SK-8835/SK-884x family of discrete keyboards, a Synaptics TouchStyk was used in this pairing instead.
Buckling spring
Switches
Buckling springs (B/S) are keyboard switches that characteristically buckle in a certain direction when pressed. The term most often describes IBM's famous buckling springs switches designed by Richard Hunter Harris.
Quiet Touch
Switches
Quiet Touch (Q/T) is the market name of IBM's, Lexmark's and currently Unicomp's rubber dome over membrane keyboard switch, used primarily as a quiet alternative to membrane buckling springs in Model M keyboards. IBM and Lexmark era keyboards using Quiet Touch were almost always branded as being "with Quiet Touch" in the keyboard's name - for example, the IBM Enhanced Keyboard with Quiet Touch.
Rubber dome
Switches
A rubber dome is a tactile element usually in the shape of a collapsible hemispheral piece of rubber that when paired with a sensing circuit such as a membrane form the most common type of switch in use since the mid to late '90s. Less common but higher specification forms of rubber dome switches exist, such as capacitive rubber domes and/or rubber dome with slider switch designs.
Capacitive sensing
Technologies
Capacitive sensing (often shortened to capsense) is a form of contact mechanism that uses the capacitance-distance property of capacitors to register when key presses occur. The capacitive contacts under the keys are known to have a long lifetime and the complete switches have an inherent n-key rollover, however, capacitive designs are expensive to manufacture. Common implementations include IBM's beam spring and capacitive buckling spring switches, and numerous foam and foil switches.
Force-sensitive resistor
Technologies
A force-sensitive resistor (or force-sensing resistor, FSR) is a device used in force measurement whose resistance changes as a form of stress is applied. Unicomp's pointing sticks makes use of FSR technology to flag the direction and speed for the host computer's cursor as the user applies pressure to move the stick.
Membrane
Technologies
A membrane is a form of circuitry known for its use in several keyboard switch designs. It takes the form of several plastic sheets filled with traces that have contact points designed to be pushed together to complete a circuit. On their own, membranes are incapable of providing any meaningful auditory and/or tactile feedback. Thus, a common and economical pairing for membranes is rubber domes to provide a tactile response. However, more complex mechanisms can also be used with membranes such as the Model M's buckling springs.
Strain gauge
Technologies
A strain gauge is a type of device used in force measurement that works by measuring the force applied (the strain) on the sensor as its surface material deforms. The TrackPoint II/III/IV pointing stick used by IBM and currently Lenovo makes use of a strain gauge to flag the direction and speed for the host computer's cursor as the user applies pressure to the stick.