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Why have these two types of Return keys persisted to this day? A quick look at different keyboards from different keyboard manufacturers from today shows the Shift-style Return seems to have more presence. What is the history behind these two different shaped Return keys?

    ┌────┐
    └─┐  │    ┌──────┐
      │  │    └──────┘
      └──┘
   
 Return #1    Shift-style Return #2
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    FWIW the VT100 had a mirror L shaped Return key: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:DEC_VT100_terminal.jpg but its predecessor the VT52 had a rectangular one: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Terminal-dec-vt52.jpg Feb 22 at 22:50
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    My Dell laptop looks like they had a VT100 layout in mind as a possibility. It's a conventional US layout, with chiclet keys, but the return and backslash keys share a single hole in the sheet metal,, which is "mirror L shaped". Feb 22 at 23:50
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    I only ever see version #1 these days
    – OmarL
    Feb 23 at 8:51
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    Don't forget the other 2 shapes: mirror L (IBM '84 AT), and a vertical bar (often with a smaller raised area on the keycap as on the IBM '81 model F). Some pictures (US layout). The former is a similar shape to the return icon (which I assume to represent a carriage return on a typewriter, though it looks like it should be LF/CR). I'm sure I've seen the mirror L style on something more recent as well (UK QWERTY), but it's not here in work. (A Cherry at home as a spare?)
    – Chris H
    Feb 23 at 12:01
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    This question on SuperUser has some answers listing most of these shapes, it comes down to history and keybnoard layout. The Mirror L is especially common in Russia and Asia, for example: superuser.com/q/837448/658200 Feb 23 at 12:19

3 Answers 3

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[I assume the question is specific about prevalent PC-Keyboards. For typewriters in general the history is of course way more diverse, not to mention even more computer keyboard layouts. Wiki got several dozend pages about them.]

Why have these two types of Return keys persisted to this day?

It's the 'international' 102 key layout (#1) vs the US 101 key layout (#2).

(104/105 key keyboards are variations thereof with added Menu and Win key(s), not changed otherwise)

Both are defined in ISO 9995, where #2 style (US) is registered as ISO/IEC 9995-2 while #1 is ISO/IEC 9995-3. Same for ANSI, as they adopted the ISO standard - after all, the age of national standards is a bygone one.

Shift-style Return seems to have more presence.

This depends much on the area you live in. The 'shift style' (101 key) is prevalent in the US, Netherlands, Czech, Slovak, Turkey and in part in Poland. All (?) other countries (in Europe) use the 102 key by default (*1).


Examples:

enter image description here

US 101 Key Keyboard Layout
(taken from Wikipedia)

enter image description here

UK 102 Key Keyboard Layout
(taken from Wikipedia)

The return key was 'reformatted' to allow the addition of one more letter in the middle (A...) row, as many non-English keyboards placed their letters to the right side of L.


While the difference between US and UK is rather marginal, other languages do need to fit many more characters, such as the German E1 Layout:

enter image description here

German Extended 102 Keyboard Layout
(taken from Wikipedia)

This is rather a to-the-max example as the DIN 2137 E1 layout is newer definition, intended to support most European languages.


Historically, typewriter keyboard layouts were way more diverse. (Most) UK keyboards already had, back in typewriter times, two additional keys over US keyboards, despite being designed for the same language. Even more differences were found in typewriters for other languages.

By now cheap PC clone keyboards represent a de-facto norm for these two layouts.

How strong the de-facto standards are was something DIN has had to learn within the last few years. To improve usage for more different (European) scripts DIN 2137 introduced a new layout in 2012. Only a single keyboard model was ever produced by Cherry to this standard - now already a collectable. Thus the actual E1/E2 revision went back to the 102 key layout.

Only some Asian (mainly Japanese) layouts still differ.


*1 - "By default" meaning as an 'official' (de-jure) standard for that country. Practical use may differ. Poland is a great example here, as their standards were based on the 102 (in fact on even more complex ones), but people used a modified 101 layout, simply because US keyboards were cheaply available from China. The result was the so called 'Programmers Keyboard' which by now has reached standard recognition - simply by being rather common. "Die normativen Kraft des Faktischen" as Georg Jellinek had put it in 1900 :))

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    The 'shift style' (101 key) is prevalent in the US, Netherlands, Czech, Slovak Turkey and in part in Poland. Also in English-speaking parts of Canada, where the US layout is used. (Source: I'm Canadian)
    – ssokolow
    Feb 23 at 1:32
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    I contend that the German E1 layout does not need many of those symbols, even to support most European languages (for example, the arrows and mathematical symbols are there for convenience, and many of the under-character combining forms are not actually used in European languages at all). Feb 23 at 12:32
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    Great answer, I read the question and wondered what #2 was and why I had never seen it - a geo-based standard makes sense.
    – deep64blue
    Feb 23 at 14:45
  • @ssokolow Oh, of course there are variations of practical usage, might it be due programmers using US (like) keyboards out of 'tradition' or because of cheap and fitting imports. The list was meant for whatever is the official standard. For example Norway/Sweden/Finland use the 102 by default, but you'll find a lot of people using 101. For Canada I though a Canadian/French 102 would be the official standard. Poland is a special case, as there is an official, but because of cheap imports US or German are more common than the standard, resulting in finally acknowledging this a few years ago :)
    – Raffzahn
    Feb 23 at 16:19
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    Ahh. Fair enough... though I'm still on the fence about not mentioning how over 95% of the Canadian aftermarket keyboard market appears to still be US-layout boards, even if our bundled/laptop keyboards are International-layout.
    – ssokolow
    Feb 25 at 0:46
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The difference is between different keyboard layout standards.

The small height Enter key is from ANSI US layout and large height Enter key is from ISO UK layout.

As the Enter keys have different shape, also other keys are found in different locations as per the respective standards.

Also note that each country may have a certain standard layout and it is not just about having those two standards. Some countries might base on US layout or on UK layout, due to historical, political or whatever reasons.

And since computer users in each country have been accustomed to a certain standard and muscle memory to where each button is, it would be quite difficult to suddenly change to a single standard. While the layout might be different, for example in countries that have more or different letters, the keycaps are also different, not just the shape of Enter key. So it would not make any sense to even try to make keyboards with only one layout. Nobody would buy a keyboard or a laptop if it has a wrong layout or keycaps for a given country.

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    They are both "ISO layouts", as both are defined in ISO 9995
    – Raffzahn
    Feb 22 at 23:34
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    I can't disagree with that. The US layout would still be an ANSI standard and the UK layout would not.
    – Justme
    Feb 22 at 23:38
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    Old habits die hard. After all, we still use 'Horse Powers' to define our cars engines or Watt numbers of classic light bulbs to mark the brightness of LED replacements.
    – Raffzahn
    Feb 22 at 23:57
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    @Raffzahn That would be "(Tungsten incandescent-equivalent) Watts" - as Watts is a unit of power, not luminous flux ("brightness"). Which is almost as bad as Americans who use "Pounds of Force" when pounds are a unit of mass, not force.... brb need to scream
    – Dai
    Feb 23 at 7:39
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    @Dai - well, pound is used as both a unit of mass and a unit of force, but in different systems. In the pound (force) system, the unit of mass is the slug. And you thought it couldn't get more confusing...
    – Jon Custer
    Feb 23 at 14:05
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There are other shapes too. I always liked this fat rectangular one on some of the IBM Selectric typewriters and I really believe I remember this shape on some early (~1980s) keyboards as well. Or maybe I'm just remembering some IBM terminals that had this sort of thing. Or maybe I'm just wishing for it ...

enter image description here

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  • looks like that keyboard could still fit the UK-style return key, there's the little gap there between "return" and the key to the right of "P". Given how there's other keys here that are oddly shaped, I kinda wonder they just didn't mold the "return" with that little protrusion too. That gap is actually really ugly.
    – ilkkachu
    Feb 23 at 14:19
  • Odd that they made the return key so large, yet deliberately made the top of the shift keys smaller than the base of the key.
    – DrSheldon
    Feb 23 at 20:12
  • Some of other interesting shapes are the PMD85 - two identical Enter keys side-by-side (marked EOL) and PP01 - two keys marked CR and LF (and a rather unusual keyboard layout). Feb 24 at 12:16

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