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On Alternative Keyboard Layouts

evantypanski profile image Evan Typanski ・3 min read

I switched to Dvorak keyboard layout back in August 2015. When I switched, I was typing with QWERTY the same way I learned when I was five years old, never placing my fingers on the home row, never even trying to type properly. I just did what worked best. Despite that, I ended up getting up to 100 words per minute, give or take. However, every time I took a typing speed test, I would be fatigued from my rapid movements, since I primarily typed with two fingers on each hand. So, in order to break out of my nasty habbits from learning to type when I was very young, I decided to learn Dvorak.

Consider having your entire life ahead of you and knowing that some change now, while you have the time, may save you from hand injuries from typing and improve your efficiency. This is why I took the time to switch to Dvorak. I used the website https://learn.dvorak.nl/ in order to achieve this goal, spending many hours in my room getting more frustrated than ever. It feels like you're moving through syrup when typing at first. However, I persisted, even deciding to switch my phone keyboard to Dvorak in order to learn as quickly as possible. By about two months in I was typing at a solid 50 words per minute, about half as good as I was on QWERTY.

Fastforward to today, I now type about 90 words per minute. That isn't what's interesting though; what I find best is the comfort when typing. I no longer find myself in pain after running through a typing speed test. Long papers are easy to write. In fact, I find it quite enjoyable to have my hands exchange their letters with each keystroke, watching the efficiency at play. I have absolutely no regrets. It is sometimes difficult to use default keybindings, for example with Vim or i3wm. For Vim I currently use the standard keybindings, just with the Dvorak layout, which has drawbacks, but it's definitely more than usable. The only reason i3wm is hard is that the shortcuts lack any resemblance to the action (why would pressing mod + shift + ' exit a window?). But, overall it was a good choice.

So, why didn't I make my life easier and switch to Colemak or some other layout? Well, first of all I have an obsession with efficiency. I saw the obvious efficiency upsides of Dvorak just by looking at it, but for most other layouts I failed to see the improvement. Simply put, they didn't seem worth the time. Second of all, I wanted to learn a new layout in order to relearn how to type, so using one that I already somewhat knew wouldn't help, and Dvorak seemed to be the best of the other options. Third, by some tests I found online, Dvorak is at least in theory better than most other layouts, so I figured I'd use it. While I admit much of my evidence was anecdotal, I'm still seeing the benefits myself, and I truly don't have regrets. It's a small change during a part of my life that I had more time than I knew what to do with, so I consider it time well spent.

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Evan Typanski

@evantypanski

I like compilers, IOT, and operating systems

Discussion

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Congratulations on making the switch. Any optimized layout is going to be a huge improvement over Qwerty, so which one you pick is less important than the key decision of leaving Qwerty behind!

That said, I am surprised you say the efficiency of Colemak was not clear - most layout comparisons I've seen tend to rate Colemak similarly or slightly better than Dvorak. The usual criticisms of Dvorak are the L key on the pinky and the I and U keys being the wrong way round. Although, of course, all layouts have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Except of course Qwerty which only has disadvantages :P

 

I too switched to Dvorak, because that one is quite good supported. Having an IBM model, switching the keys was easy. So I just did a hard switch both at work and home. Took me 2 weeks to ramp up to my previous speed.
Plus: No one messes with my machine; even IT rufeses to touch it now :D

 

Thanks for your article! I personally use bépo ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keyboard_lay... ), which is a french version of Dvorak. I also don't regret it at all. Unlike you, I switched my vim layout and it's absolutely not a problem. You just set it for once (and usually many people have thought about it before you did, so they can advise you a general and common layout). You should give it a try!

Moreover, no one can then use your vim. And that's kind of cool and arrogant.

 

I first switched to Dvorak back in high school (which was 20-ish years ago for me), and I am extremely glad that I made the switch when I did. I can still mostly touch-type on Qwerty, but every time I do I start to feel strain in my wrists after 10-15 minutes. Conversely, typing on Dvorak has a sort of flow that just makes me want to keep typing.

That said, since you mentioned risk of RSI as a reason for your change, be sure you still take care of yourself and follow all the common-sense suggestions to avoid fatigue. Yes, typing on Dvorak will significantly reduce your risk of getting an RSI from typing, but incorrect posture, improper use of a mouse, etc. can still cause problems.

 

Before they were as easy to get and set up as they are now, I used to have curiosity about Dvorak keyboards, and in the last few years, have used them once or twice on non-work machines.

My work life involved sending emails, typing Unix commands and coding, and it's striking me that I spend much more time reading and understanding and planning than I do typing, so optimizing for blazing typing speed is a poor use of time.

I believe that wrist placement is a bigger issue with repetitive stress injuries than keyboard layout, and the way keyboards tend to tilt toward you, with pop-up legs aggravating the tilt, being the worst part, so I printed a few wedges to angle my keyboard and trackpad away from me to help me keep my wrists straight.

Plus, formalizing on Dvorak or another non-standard keyboard would keep me from being able to easily use laptops or maintain other people's desktops, which is a big part of my duties.

Not trying to put shade here, and if Dvorak works for you, that's fine. My desktop preferences are trackballs and trackpads over mice, at a standing desk, so I'm already out of the "use all standard stuff" camp. But I don't believe coders should not optimize for WPM.

 

I'm using Dvorak too. Typing feels much easier than when I used qwerty. Though learning it was PITA and you shouldn't do it unless you're on vacation because your first week of Dvorak will be: "damn I type so slow please help me". If you're going to learn Dvorak, you must not switch to qwerty when learning it. I did that and lost a day because the Dvorak experience was lost. I've printed the Dvorak layout on a list so I can look up when I'm stuck with typing a character. I've memorized the keys in one week and spent ~2-3 months getting experience with Dvorak. I find myself suffering a lot whenever I have to type on someone's computer though. I always add Dvorak first (and remove it after).