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Six weeks of Dvorak

I’ve now been typing in Dvorak for about six weeks, and it finally seems to have clicked. This is my fourth attempt, and this time it all slotted into place after about two weeks. Unlike my previous attempt, this time I have had no discomfort, probably because I am using my Kinesis keyboard almost exclusively now both at work and at home, and avoiding flat keyboards like the plague.

I wouldn’t claim to be the world’s fastest typist yet, but it has certainly improved my keyboard discipline. I am now at last able to touch type properly in a way that I was never able to do on qwerty, for starters, and this in turn means that I am finally getting the most out of my Kinesis contoured keyboard. It’s also fun to see people’s reactions when they try to use my keyboard and find that not only are they confused by the shape of the thing, it doesn’t give them the letters that they expect. Hehe…

One thing I have found however is that while Dvorak is a definite improvement for text, the difference is smaller when you are programming, particularly in a curly-brackety language like C# or JavaScript, since you are making much more use of numbers and symbols. Having said that, a lot of what you have to do as a programmer involves writing text — comments, specs and the like — so it is still an improvement anyway.

I decided in the end not to bother with any of the other alternative layouts. I briefly tried Colemak, and while my initial impressions were favourable, I came to the conclusion in the end that its advantages over Dvorak are too small to be worth bothering with. It seemed to work relatively well on a flat laptop keyboard but for some reason I found it no easier to get to grips with on my Kinesis than Dvorak.

There are actually several qwerty derivatives knocking about, and the main thing that makes Colemak different from, say, Asset or Arensito is its small but noisy fanboy community. Its Wikipedia article was deleted back in November on the grounds of non-notability and has since been protected to prevent re-creation, much to the disgust of the fanboys. Yeah, there was the CapsOff million dollar competition, but it seems that was an obscure affair where it turns out that the prize money was entirely funded by donations. Given that the CapsOff website says that they would list all donations on the website, and I couldn’t find any listed anywhere, it seems that Colemak won its designer a lot less than the touted million dollars by a very large margin. Sure, it may become more popular, but I’ve already put in enough effort switching to Dvorak, so I think I’ll give it a miss for now.


  • # Reply from Craig at 16:58 on 27 Aug 2007

    I found this only because I was experimenting with Google Reader. Glad you find Dvorak works for you after the fourth try. Most probably wouldn’t give it more than one try. I have to say I gave Dvorak one try and that’s about all I wanted with it. Colemak was a much, much better experience. If small advantages lower the barrier enough to allow someone who wants to switch actually switch to something more comfortable than QWERTY, then those advantages made a big difference. For those of us on the go using a notebook computer all the time and will not be carrying around an expensive oversized custom keyboard, perhaps the advantages of Colemak are a bit more important. I don’t see the need to label people that are enthusiastic about something that they use everyday with a derogatory label like “fanboy” or make other disparaging remarks just because you decided you had invested too much effort in Dvorak. What’s wrong with the fact that Colemak actually has a user base in the short time it’s been around as opposed to the other layouts which as far as I can tell don’t have anyone but the person who came up with them using them.

  • # Reply from James at 22:53 on 11 Sep 2007

    Actually it was the fanboyism of some (but not all) of the Colemak community that I found particularly off-putting. Don’t know why, but it just did. There is actually a difference between enthusiasm and fanboyism: fanboys get upset if you say you weren’t impressed with their layout, and I felt there was just a little bit too much of that from some people on the forums, whereas normal enthusiasts can accept that other people may not feel quite the same way as they do, and shrug that kind of thing off.

    Having said that, I still think Colemak is a pretty impressive piece of work — I’m just not using it, that’s all, mainly due to time constraints. There is quite a bit of effort involved in learning a new layout and while the effort to get up to speed on Colemak may be a good bit less than Dvorak, I came to the conclusion that I was much more “nearly there” with Dvorak thanks to my previous efforts, which is why I decided to go that way in the end, and sure enough there came a point fairly early on in my current attempt where it suddenly seemed to “click”. I have admittedly taken a bit of a meandering kind of route there though — everything was thrown completely up in the air when my laptop screen decided to start misbehaving back in the summer, which means that I’m using my Kinesis keyboard pretty much exclusively now. And don’t knock it either: I find it makes much more of a difference in terms of comfort than the layout does, especially when you end up touch typing properly with it. Conventional flat keyboards really are pretty awkward when you look at them, with the rows of keys skewed for reasons that are purely historical and no separation between the hands, forcing your wrists to be bent together into a rather uncomfortable angle.

    Incidentally, I see that Colemak is back on Wikipedia again now. It seems that being included in Ubuntu and X11 made a difference in the deletion review. It will be interesting to see how the article fares now, though as I’ve decided to stop contributing to Wikipedia I probably won’t be paying too much attention to it. My attitude to Colemak is really one of “wait and see” at the moment: if it becomes amazingly popular I may give it some more serious consideration, though at the moment I get the impression that it is still a little bit on the fringes somewhat.

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