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because there are few things that are less logical than business logic

Dvorak update

I recently got a comment wishing me luck with my switch to Dvorak, so I thought I’d better post an update.

Unfortunately, it never got off the ground. The problem with the Dvorak layout is that it is so totally different to qwerty that it takes several weeks to get used to — time during which your productivity takes a pretty big hit. If you don’t want to annoy your boss, don’t do it.

Dvorak is not the only alternative: there are other layouts that are closer to qwerty, such as the Colemak layout. Colemak is based on qwerty — only about half the keys have been shuffled around — and claims to be more tightly optimised than even Dvorak in terms of things like the distance that your fingers move, alternation between your hands, and so on.

However, I don’t think you need to do all that much in terms of optimisation to notice a big difference. Remember the Pareto Principle — that 80% of the wealth is in the hands of 20% of the people? The same thing probably happens with tweaks to your keyboard layout. The figures may not be exact, but most of the improvement will come from a relatively small number of changes. These layouts may be able to outdo each other in terms of the exact figures, but there comes a point beyond which it gets a bit pedantic.

One simple tweak that I’ve experimented with a little has been to swap the E, R, T, U, I, O and P keys with the ones directly beneath them. I haven’t spent a great deal of time with this, but it seems apparent to me that it gives a fairly impressive improvement over qwerty while being very easy to get used to. It moves all the vowels and the most frequently used consonants onto the home keys, and since no keys change fingers, you can adapt quite quickly. Once you’re used to that, you could possibly go on to swap some of the other keys around a bit, and adopt an “evolutionary” rather than “revolutionary” approach.

If you can’t afford to shell out for a programmable keyboard such as the Kinesis, Microsoft has a nifty little program available as a free download that lets you create and edit your own keyboard layouts for Windows.


  • # Reply from Marv at 19:45 on 18 Dec 2006

    Hello! I know this is a bit late, but I used Dvorak not too long ago. Dvorak is great, but every keyboard layout has its flaws, though, and Dvorak’s flaws were a bit too much for me.

    Dvorak places L and S so that the right pinky has to reach for it, and that caused strain on my right pinky. Maybe you haven’t experienced this. Also, I and R aren’t on the home row; I is used much more than U is, likewise with R.

    I’m sure Colemak has its flaws, too. I have yet to find out what they are, though. I also like how Colemak stresses on combinations rather than hand alternation. With the Java comparison applet, Colemak achieves under 1.5% (from what I’ve tested) same finger ratio while Dvorak achieves a little bit over 2%, which you can view here: http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v206/Saiaku_Akuma/comparison.jpg. Also, it keeps the Ctrl-Z/X/C/V shortcuts in their QWERTY positions, which I love. Although I do program from time-to-time in C++, I’m not a heavy programmer. Dvorak places punctuations in places that were awkward for me (e.g. the curly braces).

    I’m not trying to bad mouth Dvorak ’cause I really enjoyed using it. Anything that’s better than QWERTY is good. It’s just unfortunate that not too many people are aware of the evils of QWERTY.

  • # Reply from James at 22:07 on 19 Dec 2006

    What put me off Dvorak in the end was the time it was taking to make the switch. It wasn’t a very busy time at work, but even so I found it was slowing me down so much that it was getting in the way. Now that things are much busier, there’s no chance of me even thinking about it unfortunately.

    I think this is the problem that most people have with switching to Dvorak or whatever. It’s such a big transition that it crucifies your productivity for several weeks while you’re making it. Also, when you have to switch between several different computers, it is a major nuisance, and that’s a problem that you find with any keyboard layout. That’s why QWERTY is, unfortunately, still so pervasive.

  • # Reply from Marv at 13:24 on 20 Dec 2006

    Yes, time to pretty crucial for trying to make a change. For some odd reason, I usually make switches at really awkward times. I switched to Colemak on Nov. 16th. The semester was pretty much almost over, and I still had many papers to type, so I went from 75wpm(with Dvorak) to 20wpm(with Colemak). Even though I was typing pretty slow, I think typing those papers helped me out. I can already type at and sustain 60wpm with Colemak, and I’ve only been using it for a little over a month now.

    Yes, I’m afraid the evil QWERTY layout will remain, but that doesn’t mean I have to use it! When I switched to Dvorak and did the comparison (with the Java applet) of the two layouts, I couldn’t believe I was still using QWERTY. It’s not so much about typing speed; it’s about typing efficiently, and I do not believe QWERTY allows that.

    It is a hassle to go to someone’s house and ask them if you could download a keyboard layout, but that’s the price I pay. I was aware that I would have to hunt-and-peck a lot. If ever I need to do some serious typing on QWERTY, I guess I could always use Shai’s converter.

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