December 22, 2005 5:55 AM PST

Taking on QWERTY's illogic

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John Parkinson thinks the world has been tied to an Industrial Age keyboard for long enough.

One of a long line of entrepreneurs and scientists who have been outraged by the seeming illogic of the standard QWERTY keyboard, the 62-year-old electrical engineer is showing off a new, rival keyboard design next month at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

He touted the idea at CES last year, too, but this time, he has actual keyboards that will be released to distributors in February. After years of hunt-and-peck typing, he's convinced that there is room for change and that if he can show the way, bigger companies might follow.

"For the longest time, I thought, like everyone else, there's nothing you can do about QWERTY," Parkinson said. "In the end, some ideas occurred to me, and I decided to do something about it myself."

Like many of those that have come before, Parkinson's New Standard Keyboards are arranged alphabetically but with a twist. Instead of lining up the letters all the way across, he splits the keyboard in two, like most ergonomic keyboards. He then assigns the first half of the alphabet to the left hand and the second half to the right.

New Standard Keyboards

Is this enough to finally unshackle the typing legions from the mixed-up mess of an ordinary keyboard? Probably not. The average typist has spent enough time learning the QWERTY keyboard to make relearning even a better system unlikely, most experts say.

The QWERTY keyboard itself--named after the position of the first six letters in the top left hand corner--is mostly an accident of mid-19th mechanical technology.

Modern typewriter inventor Christopher Sholes initially experimented with arranging the keys in alphabetical order but discovered that the bars holding the letters collided and jammed too often as they struck the paper. He rearranged the letters into their current form in order to keep commonly used letters on different sides of the machine, reducing those collisions.

A well-publicized typing contest between the first QWERTY touch typist and a rival using a different system helped settle the issue in the public mind. The QWERTY user, a court reporter named Frank McGurrin, won hands down and went on a celebrity tour around the United States to show off his lightning-fast fingers.

In 1936, University of Washington professor August Dvorak patented a new system. Research on the system, he claimed, showed that it was vastly more efficient than the QWERTY layout. While many still accept Dvorak's claim, the actual product failed to undermine QWERTY's dominance.

The computer age has seen much more experimentation, from one-handed keyboards to virtual keys in which finger motion is read by lasers. The only real changes to be adopted widely have been the ergonomic evolutions, in which the two sides of the keyboard are split and rotated slightly away from each other, to let the hands rest more naturally.

"There's pretty strong evidence that the split keyboard...has a health advantage and can help reduce hand and arm pain," said David Rempel, a professor of medicine and ergonomics at the University of San Francisco.

There's no substantial evidence, however, that simply rearranging the keys offers health benefits, Rempel said.

Parkinson, a former aerospace engineer, said he was inspired to action after taking a typing class in which he reached 25 words a minute but then went back to hunt-and-peck after finding the touch-typing technique too distracting.

He concedes that earlier alphabetical designs have been even worse than QWERTY. But by splitting the alphabet into two groups, the letters wind up being placed more efficiently, he said. It puts punctuation and other keys in the center, potentially making them easier to reach.

He's ultimately hoping to work with larger companies but so far has been unable to spark their interest, he said.

"I pursued that aspect a little bit but decided it would be better to put it on market myself and prove (that) people want it," he said. "Then, maybe, the big companies will be interested."


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The reason I use QWERTY still
For me, the reason I could probably not go to a DVOAK are all the same as why Typewriters had to use QWERTY.

I don't have huge hands, but they are big enough that if all the keys I used most were right in the middle of the keyboard I would be in my own way.

Place your own hand on the table in front of you in a method that is comfortable and you will notice your own fingers are spread out. It is more natural to have them spread out than right up against each other.

I like to spread out my fingers/hands out on the keyboard and that is basically the what QWERTY was designed to do.

So in my opinion the very design of QWERTY was to reduce collisions and I still use it for the same reason today.
Posted by Dachi (797 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Re: Fingers spread out.
My fingers are not spread out on a QWERTY keyboard.

My left four fingers are on ASDF, and my right four are on JKL; They only move from those keys when hitting a different key, otherwise they are usually right next to each other. That's why most keyboards have a bump on F and J ... so your index fingers stay on the correct keys.

Anyway, that's how I was taught to type back in high school.

I would be willing to learn a new keyboard if it was significantly better, and if there was ONE new standard. I don't want to learn ten different keyboards.
Posted by open-mind (1027 comments )
Link Flag
QWERTY design to spread out fingers??
QWERTY was designed to slow down typists so the keys would not jam up. It was designed to be inefficient. It was not designed to spread out fingers, though that may occur.
Posted by jimstormy (5 comments )
Link Flag
The fastest and hardest way
I've designed a system that is faster than everything, you don't have to move your fingers, but you have to think faster. I only get to 20 characters/minute with it, but I haven't really practised.

The design is as follows, you hold your fingers at asdfjklö (last letter is different on different keyboard, I'm using a swedisn one, I think it's ; on americans). Then hold the appropriate bit pattern for the right ascii char. For example B is 66 wich means you should hold down D and L, and then press space to input.
Download a driverlike thingy written in asm here: <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

This will never be a good system, becouse it's so hard to learn, but if you allready know binary and ascii it shouldn't be to hard to get really fast speed with this.
Posted by PROgrammerIDK (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Modern 10-key :)
I like that, it's like the modernization of the 10-key system. The design demonstrated in the picture also focuses on reducing the total number of keys on the keyboard.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
one stroke not as fast as three???
do you really have it that hitting three keys to create a single letter could ever be as efficient as using only one per letter?
Posted by Possibilliam-20000913113191555 (3 comments )
Link Flag
Change for Change Sake is not good
Trying to change something just for the sake of change sake is not good. If you can improve upon something then great, but trying to change the keyboard layout is rediculous. Is there any proof that moving keys to a different postion really improves typing. NO. Just think, you learned QWERTY by memorizing and practicing. If you move the keys to different do you learn it...Memorize and Practice. Just by moving the keys around do they think they will find a "magical" location that all of a sunden you will magically know where all keys are located and be able to type 60 words a minute having never sat at a

Senior Information Architect/HCI Specialist
Posted by grossph (172 comments )
Reply Link Flag
There is Good Reason for Change
&lt;quote&gt;You learned QWERTY by memorizing and practicing. If you move the keys to different do you learn it...Memorize and Practice.&lt;/quote&gt;

Of course. Learning any new keyboard layout requires memorization and practice. After all, we weren't designed to enter letters into a computer, so there is no intuitive, natural design that we would be able to use without training our brains.

&lt;quote&gt;Just by moving the keys around do they think they will find a "magical" location that all of a sunden you will magically know where all keys are located and be able to type 60 words a minute having never sat at a;/quote&gt;

There are better key arrangements. Moving your fingers from the home row and back again takes longer than not moving them. Putting the most common keys on the home row will improve typing speed. Your pinkies are weaker than your index and middle fingers. Thus, to avoid fatigue, you'd want to use the pinkies less. Thus, you'd want the pinkies to type the least common letters. Your pinkies are shorter than your other fingers, so you'd want them to reach shorter distances than the other fingers. Thus, you'd want the pinkies to type fewer letters. Of course the pinkies are smaller so they could handle the same number but smaller keys.

My point is simply that there are superior keyboard arrangements. That's not the problem with the switch. The real problem comes from having to use other computers. Even if you change your home computers and the one you usually use at work, you still have to work on other computers now an again. Perhaps you have laptops that have built in QWERTY keyboards. A driver could change them, but how do you relabel the keys (at least of an old one)?

Unless nearly every computer around everyone trying to use the new keyboard layout used the new layout, those using the new layout will be frustrated. I highly doubt the layout will change. We'll have to replace keyboards altogether to get improved input.

&lt;quote&gt;Senior Information Architect/HCI Specialist&lt;/quote&gt;

Really? How could you miss the points above, then?
Posted by c|net Reader (856 comments )
Link Flag
Why This Won't Go
let's think about this for a second: virtually all new computers, even the expensive gaming systems, come with a keyboard that sucks. there hasn't been a decent keyboard made for an oem pc since the nec 386-sx (and the original ibm-pc before that). so, if everyone is content to type with a sucky keyboard that slows down their typing speed, why in the world does anyone think they can sell a keyboard that requires learning how to type all over again? people are obviously not interested in improving their typing speed.

personally, i pray that my 386-sx keyboard, which i've atch'd to every computer i've made since i bought that machine in the 80s, holds out until voice recognition becomes a practical alternative. ;-)

mark d.
Posted by markdoiron (1138 comments )
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QWERTY Actually Pretty Efficient
Assuming you touch type, the QWERTY arrangement is pretty efficient. Why? The more fingers you have moving to type, the less burden there is on each finger. If I could type most common words with only two fingers, those fingers would quickly get some kind of RSI from overuse.
Posted by bluemist9999 (1020 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You make a good point
The Dovorak keyboard was designed to be efficient by placing the most used letters to be typed by the strongest fingers (my summary of what I have read about that keyboard). You make an excellent point of distributing keypresses across all fingers. I don't see this as efficient, but as you point you, should reduce RSI on those stronger fingers.
Posted by jimstormy (5 comments )
Link Flag
Professional writer loves QWERTY
I am a professional writer and have been for the last 10 years. Over that time I have tired every type of keyboard out there and I am sure I will try the new keyboard.

What I find, however, is that I keep going back to my old QWERTY keyboard. It is an old Dell keyboard where the buttons clack and a couple stick. But, I do not have to think when I write about the keyboard. I know it and love it. My belief is that a lot of people feel the same. My kids, 5, 7 and 9 all use QWERTY keyboards and would be lost on a new style.

I think QWERTY will be here for another generation.
Posted by (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Professional Writer
If you're a professional writer, why did you say you "tired every type of keyboard out there". Nice.
Posted by Ben Lockhart (4 comments )
Link Flag
If it ain't broke don't fix it.
The QWERTY system has been around for decades. Why change it now? My worst fear would be if a new system caught on and eventually QWERTY keyboards became obsolete! It took me long enough to learn how to type the first time around...and now I'm much older and far to set in my ways to learn it again.

This is just a bad idea. Hope it never flys.
Posted by SiouxsieQ (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Even if it changes, nobody's going to hold a gun to your head and make you buy a new keyboard!
Posted by Anonymous1234567890 (53 comments )
Link Flag
An absolutely unneedeed change....
.. and totally unnecessary too. Qwerty works very well, people are
used to it, it causes no problems that any other layout might
correct. Dviorak may have had a case when the world was filled
with 60+ wpm stenographers, but those days are long gone. Voice
writing is about to arrive on the scene. and until it does, the Qwerty
keyboard layout is more than adequate.

John Parkinson, ake your time, money, and effort, and go find a real
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Unneeded, yes. Not good, no.
While the change is not strictly necessary, there are some good reasons for a change:
1) While seasoned users have become used to the bizarre layout of Querty, new users (which are born every day) take time to learn it. And that time means less productivity. Think all the things that could be done with the time it takes to learn the Querty layout. Even if it was a net of a few days per person, multiply that by hundreds of millions and you have a good reason to change.
2) Productivity. It's been demonstrated that Querty is less efficient even for trained typists than other alternatives (such as Dvorak). I was skeptic, but I once made the experiment. I rearranged my keyboard keys as a Dvorak keyboard, and tried to use it for a week. By the end of the week I was faster on the Dvorak than I ever was on the QWERTY. I had to go back just because every other keyboard in my company was QWERTY, forcing me to switch back and forth. A difference in speed means more productivity once the transition is made. A big company could save millions by using a more efficient layout. Of course, companies switching today will not, since every gain would be offset by training time people in the new layout. But twenty years after a new layout becomes popular, that shouldn't be an issue, and the numbers would justify the new layout.
3) Coherency: Many devices today do have ABC layouts, mostly because QWERTY doesn't adapt well to regular grid layouts. Adopting a layout that works well on a grid should enable a universal system to be used.
4) Internationalization: QWERTY was basically designed for English, and it's not even uniform between languages. A layout designed considering other languages could become globally accepted.

While ABC is probably not the best layout, I would say a change for a better layout than QWERTY should be seeked.
The problem is how to do the transition. Just replacing keyboards at a single company or a single computer brand kills any efficiency gained, and replacing all keyboards overnight is not feasible. Probably the change will be possible when dynamic keyboards become widespread, which should allow new users to start with an efficient layout, while old users that don't want to be retrained continue to use the old layout.
Posted by Hernys (744 comments )
Link Flag
Have we forgotten WHY qwerty was invented?
Qwerty was invented for typewritters. Specificly two reasons: 1) if
the letters are placed differently it will jam up, and 2) if you type to
quickly it will jam up. So the point of qwerty is to layout the
keyboard in a way that is easy, comfortable, and efficient to type in
while keeping the typewritter still typing.
Posted by icfireball (12 comments )
Reply Link Flag
If you read the whole article, you'll see we haven't forgotten WHY qwerty was invented. It's not even that far down.
Posted by squished (67 comments )
Link Flag
QWERTY's great if you use an antique typewriter
Actually QWERTY was specificaly designed to slow down a typist's
ability to type fast. This was because of the inefficiencies of the
originally hammer-style typewriters. You could say that an
ineffecient typing system was specifically designed to make an
inefficient typewriter more effecient.
Posted by Herbal Ed (157 comments )
Link Flag
typewriter vs. computer
"Qwerty was invented for typewritters. Specificly two reasons: 1) if
the letters are placed differently it will jam up, and 2) if you type to
quickly it will jam up. So the point of qwerty is to layout the
keyboard in a way that is easy, comfortable, and efficient to type in
while keeping the typewritter still typing."

So, an computer keyboard (that does not jam up) eliminates the advantage behind those two reasons...
Posted by dbaryl (2 comments )
Link Flag
Another reason this won't fly...
First of all.. the space bar is WAY too small.. second of all.. the keys seem to be too far apart.. the arrows are in the middle..

I can ALMOST understand adjusting qwerty (though I prefer it) but, don't change the physical layout!
Posted by eulalie7 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Why the big changes...
It has to be drastic. You will see that there are no F keys or number keys, and no numeric keypad. With this design he has reduced the total number of keys needed. That does increase the number of keystrokes needed as several normal keys will now require an additiona function key press or two in order to press the key into the system.

I can promise you most serious PC gamers would not enjoy that keyboard because of some of it's radical design changes.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
Why this change?
I am happy with the current system, but only because I have trained myself on it. I could just as easily re-train myself on another system. Buy why would I prefer an alphabetic layout? The inconvenience of QWERTY letters not being in order is no longer an inconvenience once I have trained myself to know where they are. The whole point is to put your knowledge of each key's location into your subconscious so it just "happens." If I'm going to buy a new layout, it should offer something other than "easy to find alphabetical organization" because that resolves a problem I'm not having.

Is there a layout that would optimize my use of some keys more often than others? Is there a more ergonomic organization?
Posted by MarkBentley (33 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How about instead of changing the layout of the keys into something completely void of logic, they start making solid keyboards again?

Older keyboards are hard plastic and put together well. Today's keyboards are made of thin, weak, cheap plastic. Even the expensive and "nice" keyboards are made out of the same cheap plastic.

A majority of the computer users in the world have probably never had a chance to use a real, solid keyboard. So they don't know any better. But I think any veteran user would agree that a 10 year old keyboard beats the pants off anything they're producing today.
Posted by darkane (39 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Took me a while...
It took me a while to get used to the new "softer" click of the keys. I kept re-typing letters so "hello" might look like "hhelllo".

I am waiting for LCARS style typing, or an LCD keyboard where you type with a tap of the finger tip instead of having to depress a button all the way down.

Imagine how easy it would be to change the layout of keys if they were all on a flat graphical touch screen.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
...and while they're at it...
YES! Let's have a nice, solid keyboard with real keyswitches
under it.

And for a bonus, put the CONTROL key back where it belongs.
Why is it that on almost all new keyboards, the most useless key
on the keyboard (CAPS LOCK) is also the largest?

I gotta find an ADB-&gt;USB adapter so that I can use my old Apple
IIgs keyboard on my "modern" computers......
Posted by RideMan (81 comments )
Link Flag
"lighting-fast fingers"
I assume the author meant "lightning-fast fingers."

<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by mysqlrocks (12 comments )
Reply Link Flag
RE: "lighting-fast fingers"
Thanks, Bradley! You are correct. If only they would invent a keyboard that wholly eliminated typos. -john
Posted by klaxonator (13 comments )
Link Flag
Why the useless link????
Is someone supposed to care????
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Link Flag
tech slowdown
Why learn a new layout if we are accustomed to the qwerty one? if this catches on, everyone should expect a big slowdown in software development, while all the programmers learn a new keyboard system. thats just silly. they will make me switch from qwerty when they pry my keyboard from my cold dead fingers.
Posted by agent V (34 comments )
Reply Link Flag
i agree
i agree fully, it took me long enough to learn qwerty, and i will stick with it as long as i possibly can, and if they change the standard, i'll just carry my keyboard with me.
Posted by cyph34r (2 comments )
Link Flag
Hunt and Peck?
Is it just me, or is this keyboard more for hunt and peck typists rather than touch-typers.

As a user of the latter, I'd say QWERTY is better.
Of course, until I try out this new keyboard, I will not know for sure.
Posted by Tomcat Adam (272 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A through Z
Yeah, the second thing I noticed about the design was the A through Z organization of the letters. Very much a keyboard for someone unable/unwilling to learn how to type.

Way back in high school I was required to take a typing course to graduate. I had been using computers and even old typewriters for a long time and dropped the class within the first couple of weeks. I took the final exam, passed with over 400% (it was speed based) and found a less boring class.

I have yet to meet any 5th graders who don't know how to type on a qwerty keyboard. This kind of layout is designed for someone who has never learned how to use a qwerty keyboard, and that market is shrinking rapidly.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
If the intent is to speed up typing, what about the Dvorak keyboard which places the most used keys in the easiest to type locations (home keys and first two fingers). How is typing A and E, two of the most commonly used letters in English, with your left pinky going to make you more efficient? The Dvorak has been around for decades and has never caught on, although there are many Dvorak proponents (er, fanatics). I don't see how a less efficent design such as this will fly.
Posted by adamsmj (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Dvorak is better but QWERTY is here to stay
The Dvorak keyboard is significantly better for people who need to do a lot of typing as fast as possible.

For those people who think the QWERTY keyboard spaces things out just try typing "only in minimum pumpkin". QWERTY, as stated by others, had nothing to do with keystroke efficiency. It had to do with placing keys such that the operator did not get faster than the machine. As machines got better then typists could get faster too.

I knew a typist well over a decade ago who could type over 120 words per minute (using four character plus one space -- i.e., five key strokes -- as a "standard word", thus it did not matter what the exact text was, just divide by six characters per word). Yet when he (yes he) used a Dvorak keyboard (which he preferred) he could approach 160 words per minute.

Bye-the-bye the record is 212 wpm on an Apple ][c using the built-in ability to swich the keyboard layout from the standard QWERTY layout to the Dvorak layout which the typist used. Yes, the world record was set using a Dvorak layout.

That does not mean we will ever see anything other than QWERTY being shipped as a standard. I doubt QWERTY will ever be replaced -- at least not until the entire keyboard input technology is replaced.
Posted by shadowself (202 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Better Education Needed
As a touch typist of 12 years, I type 95+ WPM and can use all function keys and symbols without ever looking. I get frustrated even by keyboards that have the backslash (\) key next to Backspace rather than below it. To learn a new keyboard layout would cost me months if not years of frustration and lost productivity.

The QWERTY system works so well for those that learn it for the same reason that it worked so well for typewriters of its inventor's era - if I am required to hit keys with opposite hands more often, each hand has more time to spend positioning itself for the next 1 - 2 keystrokes.

Any new keyboard layout is doomed to fail on a large scale, imho, as corporations and individuals will not bear the productivity costs of living in a dual-standards world for those transition years.

Better to make typing courses mandatory in grade school so that future generations will not be challenged by the so-called cryptic QWERTY system.
Posted by brichard (314 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Education has been there.
I was required to take a typing class before I could graduate high school. I graduated in 1992 without taking that class because I got fed up with the tedium of the class itself. I took the final exam, passing with over 400% (speed/accuracy based test).

I'm sure if you went into any grade school today you would find it hard to locate students unfamiliar with the qwerty design.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
DataHand, Kinesis and others are alternatives
Want a really funky keyboard? Check out

Less ambitious and expensive ones are made by Kinesis!

Posted by kartbart (48 comments )
Reply Link Flag
hate to be a skeptic
I hate to be a skeptic, but with all the special keys at the bottom, I think one's wrists would constantly brush them.
Posted by (402 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A Novel Concept But....
I like the idea of making typing easier but QWERTY has been a standard for such a long time it would be extremely hard to unseat it in todays Internet dominated keyboard centric society. I think it may be easier and more valuable to explore and develop other input methods such as voice recognition and pen input. These technolgies have a much broader appeal and have more potential market acceptance than modifying an existing keyboard standard. Voice and Pen input also benefit those with handicaps and other disabilities at the sametime. I do wish him luck, but the market for such a device will be novel at best...
Posted by pilaa (253 comments )
Reply Link Flag
New design is much less efficient...
New design will never gain popularity. Reasons are:

1. Common keys like "A" and "I" are placed in hard to reach places.
2. Space key is way too small and NOBODY will hit it
3. Arrow keys are place in the middle and that will NEVER fly with gamers since they cant rest their hand anywhere near the arrow keys
4. The bottom set of keys will ALWAYS be hit by the wrist that is trying to take a rest

I think it's a crazy idea.
Posted by designforever (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Doesn't look like a keyboard for touch-typists
IMHO, the layout looks like it was designed for the typists whose hands move over the keyboard (rather than resting on the keyboard with only the fingers moving).

If one has not managed to learn how to type with a QWERTY or Dvorak layout, I seriously doubt that this particular layout (or the alphabetical layout in general) is going to make one a better typist than a QWERTY or Dvorak typist.

This layout looks like it was designed for ease of use (for those who has difficulty with QWERTY layout) rather than for speed. As an analogy, a three-wheeled bike is indeed easier to learn than but doesn't belong in the same race with a two-wheeled bike.
Posted by thanhvn (51 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Keyboard with...
It is definitely a keyboard with training wheels. :)

Notice that a lot of the function keys are located where you would have the space bar. Nobody resting their hands on the keyboard would want so many keys below home row.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
I'm betting against it
QWERTY might be inefficient. It might be stupidly ineficient. But it is so well established it may not be worth changing if we can.

I use a Dvorak keyboard, myself---an accident of history, really. Accident being the operative word.

I was involved in a nasty bike/car collision that left me without the use fo my left arm for many weeks. I leaned the Dvorak layout for right hand, only. When healed, I decided to learn the "more efficient" Dvorak 2-handed layout instead of going back to QWERTY.

The minor increase in speed wasn't really worth it, and there is likely a switch back to QWERTY in my future. Sitting down at any other keyboard is mentally painful. Many text editors and other programs make use of single key commands because of their position on the QWERTY keyboard, making them illogical on Dvorak or any other layout.

If we had it to do over again, something besides QWERTY would likely win. But now that we have it, we just need to suffer the learning curve until touch typing is second nature, then never worry about it again.

One might argue that the English language is an inefficient standard. But it isn't likely to be replaced by a more efficient standard any time soon. And I don't think QWERTY is, either.
Posted by semifor (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Go to do something more useful, and go wash your pants....
I learnt typing since 1983. Now ill change it just because some smart ass thought it would be better?

Hey *******! I challenge you for a typing duel! Me with 20 years of quick typing. And you with your stupid keyboard.

Why in the hell these computer ********, is always trying to re-create the wheel just to make money?
Posted by Mark_Smith (85 comments )
Reply Link Flag

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