Dvorak update

This post is more than 17 years old.

Posted at 21:09 on 05 August 2006

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.