Originally published at: http://www.howtogeek.com/189270/alternative-keyboard-layouts-explained-dvorak-colemak-and-whether-you-should-care/
QWERTY — so-called because the letters at the top-left corner of the keyboard begin with QWERTY — is the most common keyboard layout. But some people think alternative keyboard layouts like Dvorak and Colemak are faster and more efficient.
Whoa!! Ain't gonna happen for me. It took me 50 years to learn QWERTY.
Looks like the peck time is about the same, but my hunt time would go up.
I use dvorak, I switch a few years ago. It took me about a month to get back to my qwerty speed, and I feel much more comfortable while typing now! I can use both qwerty and dvorak keyboards very well! I did not find switching back and forth an issue for very long, you adapt! It was definitely really hard to get used to however.
I also swithed some years ago to dvorak. Before I was unable to get much speed on qwerty and decided to switch, also encouraged to write fast in english (for sysadmin, code purposes). Now my mind can adapt to dual layouts, I'm able to write dvorak without labels on qwerty keyboard, and also still type in qwerty. My speed hasn't been increased, sometimes I still fail to stroke the right letter, but I'm feeling more confortable writing in dvorak.
I'm also using dvorak on android phone, and with ipad using an external bluetooth keyboard (yes, dvorak support is enabled only external keyboards on ipad).
I'm in the process of switching to colemak; I found that I "float" my hands over the qwerty keyboard, but the home row on colemak is so much more useful, so I use "correct" finger positioning. The two different operating modes allow me to switch between the two without much muscle-memory degradation.
I did find that I had an issue with the standard colemak layout; swapping the 'R' and 'S' keys, and the 'N' and 'E' keys increased my typing accuracy dramatically.
There's a couple points in this post I'd like to comment on:
First, the statement that Qw or Dv works one hand or the other harder. I think they are actually both closed to balanced over an hour of typing, but when you consider how we type, there's a big difference. Qw makes one hand work a while, then the other, and so on. Dv alternates hands with almost every keystroke. Type this on Qw: only exaggerated stewardesses jump on reverberated pumpkins. Nasty. I think the longest one-handed word on Dvorak is "puppy"
Qw also makes you type by moving your hands; with Dv, you mostly type by just moving your fingers. Qw puts 70% of keystrokes on the TOP row and 12% on the Bottom. You only type on your "home row" 18% of the time. Dv puts 70% in the middle, 22 on top, and only 8% on the hard to reach bottom row which contains the least used letters. Qw also has you jumping top to bottom a lot (try "minimum"). These are called "hurdles" and they NEVER occur in Dv unless you are Scottish. (McGyver - Mc in Dv is where Mi is in Qw)
Concerning Qw's "home" row: why only ONE vowel?? J and K are less used than T and H, for example. F doesn't make the top 10 either. And Semi-colon!!??? Really!
Dv's home row: AOEUI DHTNS keeps your hands alternating and at home. Also, the consonants on the right are arranged for lots of "rolling-in". Examples: TH SH SN ST aND. Try rolling your fingers out - it's harder, isn't it? KJD on Qw is THE in Dv; (3 reaches vs. 0 reaches) which can you type faster?
Here's a good page: http://www.theworldofstuff.com/dvorak/
The other big trouble with almost all keyboards is that they are TWISTED to the left. Why? So the keybars won't jam. But computers don't have keybars. My solution to this twisting of the left wrist and over-stretching of the right hand has been using a Typematrix (typematrix.com) keyboard. Once you've experienced the pleasure of matrix layouts and the easier to reach center-Enter and backspace, you won't want to go back. Another benefit is that the TypeMatrix can plug into a laptop's USB and the board sits exactly above the built-in board.
The other point I dispute is the time required for relearning. Studies have shown that ex-Qw typists can regain their former speed in just 52 hours of training - that's about 26 days (more than 2 hours per day is counter productive). That relates closely to my own experience. After 30 years of Qw, I switched to Dv in 1993. I printed out the layout for training. At the end of the first day, I was up to 20 wpm. In a month, I hit my former speed around 60 and today I can cruise at 75 to 80. If I still had my younger fingers, I could hit 100 easily.
So, is it worth switching? You will almost certainly regain your former speed and will likely exceed it. This is because Dv is so much more comfortable and less tiring. Even at a little less speed, you will be more productive. You are also less likely to have hand or wrist problems as you age. I currently have none.
You have to type on many computers? (sys admin types) You could actually carry a Typematrix around and plug it in. It will work with the original board still plugged in. I've tried it. There are no drivers to load. It just works. It's also hardwired to type in DV or QW or even Colemack so there's messing around in the control panel.
Thank you for the article. It's amazing that something so integral to how we use the computer for our entire lives could be unchanged from nearly 100 years before the computer was even invented!
My interest in layouts has been mostly from curiosity rather than any pressing need for typing speed improvement or respite from a physical condition. I simply enjoy understanding how I interact with the machine, the art of solving the intractable problem of "optimal" layout as well as seeing plastic the nervous system is to relearning how to type.
If you're at all interested in an alternative layout, both Dvorak and Colemak are fine alternatives in my opinion. Will you be that much better off than QWERTY? In my experience with alternative layouts over a couple years, I ended up giving up on them because I couldn't type like I used to on other people's computers, and I can't carry a keyboard everywhere I go. Some people can learn to switch between layouts, or so they say, but I found I couldn't.
I'd still say it's worth a try if you can fit it in your spare time. You don't know whether you'll like it or not. It was a matter of practicality which made me stop, not of dislike.
I finally found a compromise which I've been using for the last year or so, which is a major improvement over QWERTY without sacrificing the ability to still type QWERTY. I call it Minimak and I designed it as a minimalist approach. If you look at a tool like the keyboard layout analyzer, you'll find that the majority of improvement which Colemak and Dvorak offer can be provided in dramatically fewer key-switches than they do it in. In just 4 keys' difference from QWERTY you can explain 60% of Dvorak's improvement, and Dvorak changes 25 keys. If you're looking for bang for your learning investment, you can do a lot better than both Colemak and Dvorak without investing months of effort.
If there's one thing I've found though, it's that layouts have an extremely subjective feel to them. One person's favorite is not necessarily another's. Try designing or changing a layout to suit your own taste. There's no reason not to (except time), since once you step away from QWERTY, there's no other "standard" you need to adhere to. It's all custom at that point, even if you go with a known layout. Experiment and enjoy yourself.
A great big +1 on the TypeMatrix, satisfied user here. Get the blank one for extra style!
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