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83-Key PC/XT Keyboard Layout
The very first PC keyboard was the old 83-key keyboard used by IBM for the very first IBM PCs and PC/XTs in the early 1980s. This design was copied nearly verbatim by most of the early "clone" makers, and was the standard for PCs of this era. In looking at this keyboard one must bear in mind that we are going back almost 20 years, an eternity in the computer industry (which is arguably only about 50 years old period). There are many valid criticisms of the first keyboards, but in fact, IBM made several good decisions for which one must give them credit. For starters, they made a good decision in making the keyboard detachable from the PC at all; we take that for granted, but many small computers of that era, such as the Apple ][, had the keyboard integrated into the system box. A detachable keyboard was a distinct improvement.
Of course, with the first keyboards IBM also engineered the keyboard interface, cabling and signaling standards that are mostly still in use today. In terms of construction these keyboards were very much appreciated by many typists because they were rock solid, with high-quality keyswitches and heavy, metal cases. (Pick up an original IBM keyboard and you'll understand why people say they were "built like a tank".) They are also fairly small and compact dimensionally, taking up relatively little desk space.
From a layout standpoint, however, there are many serious problems with the original 83-key layout, which caused many typists a great deal of frustration. Many of these complaints were based on comparisons between the PC's keyboard and IBM's own electric typewriter layouts--typists converting to PC use were irritated that IBM had made the PC keyboard "worse" than their own typewriter keyboards, which certainly seems like a reasonable complaint to me!
Here are some of the main issues with this layout, when it is contrasted to more modern configurations (note that while you may not care all that much about this very old design--and I don't blame you--reading this list will help you understand the changes made in later designs):
As mentioned in the section on signaling, these older keyboards are electrically incompatible with modern PCs. They are almost never seen any more except on any early PCs that are still running (and they are indeed still out there...) For a while in the mid-1980s many keyboards were manufactured with a switch to enable emulation of an 83-key keyboard for the sake of older PCs.