Dvorak funnies explain why your QWERTY habit needs to go

The Dvorak Zine has a free comic that narrates the storied history of the miserable QWERTY layout and its superior cousin, Dvorak, which practically no one uses, despite that fact that QWERTY is slow, gives you RSI, and is the keyboard layout most frequently employed by baby-eating sociopaths.

Seriously, the comic makes a great case, after the fashion of all people who do stuff that is empirically better but that no one else does (eating healthy food, taking regular exercise, and yes, switching to free software, cough cough).

I type QWERTY really goddamned fast, and it's really baked in for me. I even have dreams in which I type in QWERTY. My old roommate was a Dvorak convert and he tried to bring me over to the side of sweet reason more than once, without success, I'm afraid. Maybe it's time to try again. Link (Thanks, Andrea!)

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  1. “How often do you type a semi-colon?”

    What kind of question is that? Obviously, Alec is not a programmer.

  2. That was utterly charming! And tempting…could I become a dual layout-typist? They seem to think so…

  3. I’ll go Dvorak as soon as laptops offer such a keyboard. It’s taken me twenty years to type at an acceptable speed yet I still need to look down at the keys occasionally. And I am not about to take the time to make a mess of my keys with my own labelling.

  4. How often have you found yourself in a situation where the only thing standing between you and some kind of accomplishment was 20 or 30 extra wpm of typing speed? How many more blog posts, novels, prefaces to the Esperanto edition of Scroogled would that have netted you? None, unless your writing practice is to sit down at a keyboard and type in unbroken strings for hours at a time.

    Don’t do it, man. At this point it would probably require rewiring so many neurons that you’d forget how to breathe.

  5. I recently switched, about 6 months ago… it takes a bit to type in qwerty now, I can’t do it quickly without 20 minutes of refresher… I’m now typing in Dvorak at about the same speed or a little less than when I typed in qwerty so it hasn’t paid off yet… anyway, that’s the result of a recent convert.

    As far as the rewriting neurons thing, its probably good for you… prevents Alzheimer’s disease…

  6. @Semiotix, er, I seem to recall that Cory is a novelist, and might have reason to sit down and type in unbroken strings for hours at a time.

  7. I actually switched to Dvorak about 6 months ago. I don’t know if my typing now is actually much faster, but I got to my previous Qwerty speed in about 3 days.

  8. From what I understand, the research shows that the speed gains from Dvorak are highly overstated. And anyway it’s not about schemes, or software, or grammar — it’s about where the users are. You’ve got to pick your battles, and this one is long over.

    Although it does remind me of the Happy Hacker Professional keyboard: http://www.engadget.com/2005/02/15/happy-hacking-keyboard-professional-look-ma-no-letters/

    No letters on the keys. Install a QWERTY/DVORAK/CUSTOM switch and you’re ready to go.

  9. I switched to the dvorak layout in my early twenties and it’s been well worth it. It’s not so much about speed, as it is about accuracy, and especially about comfort. As a full time software engineer, I certainly noticed the difference.

    I would recommend in switching that you do NOT move your keycaps around, or draw new letters on your keyboard, or any other mental crutch, but instead simply memorize the new layout mentally. It won’t take long, and that small step will hasten your transition.

    There were a few interesting side effects during the transition however, that highlight some of the more amusing ways that our brains work. For the first couple of days, I realized that I could no longer spell some words — my life is so terminal oriented that much of my rote spelling knowledge was based on muscle memory.

    I also remember that, in the first couple of days when I was feeling really inept at the keyboard, that feeling also carried over into regular voice conversations — I had to remind myself that I wasn’t speaking impaired, only typing impaired.

    That said, I easily surpassed my old qwerty performance within the first several days.

    During the transition, it was an added challenge to do everything, and that sort of reminded me of how the older generation of punch card programmers often described their work. Suddenly it became more efficient to think about the problem harder before trying solutions, increasing the chance of success, rather than just firing rapidly from initial thoughts until I had bludgeoned a solution.

    Finally, I will say that there are few things more entertaining than switching some new Windows admin ‘s keyboard to dvorak, watching him come into work and be bewildered for 30 minutes at why his keyboard is behaving strangely. Then, when he invariably mentions the problem, walk up, type a few sentences, and walk away. “Works fine for me. I don’t know what your problem is…”

  10. So how does this work for us sysadmins/programmers that type all those funky characters?

    Or use vi, and actually like using it. I spend more time writing perl or shell or something else. Although I do use a sun type 6 keyboard at work. (caps lock and control are switched, annoys the hell out of people that use it)

    Any heavy computer users care to chime in? I turned the mac keyboard viewer on to have a look. This looks like it either could be useful or a pita.

    Is there a programmer layout for os x or will i have to make one?

  11. I thought the point of QWERTY was to slow typists down, as the old typewriters would jam if they typed too fast.

    …and uh, Wikipedia is backing me up on that.

    Of course, this is not an effective argument for why we continue to use QWERTY, it’s just explains how we got here in the first place.

  12. I type Dvorak and program.

    Sure, the semicolon is no longer on the home row, but if you’re typing it that much, maybe something’s wrong with your programming. You’d be writing some pretty short statements. The placement of the dash and underscore is much more helpful (to the right of your right pinky). Dvorak also does a better job of spreading those characters between your two hands instead of putting them all on your right hand.

    Parenthesis, square brackets, and curly braces are usually done in pairs, so if your a serious programmer, you’d already have a macro to make the pair in less keystrokes and with a more convenient placement.

  13. I switched to Dvorak some years ago, because everyone at Forward Motion was doing it and I am somewhat a sheep. It works really well– I lost a bit of comfort with QWERTY but can switch back and forth pretty easily, except that QWERTY feels *weird*. It’s so stretchy-outy, and I’m always reaching for things. I spend a great deal of time typing, and even if I’m not any faster with Dvorak, it feels better. It’s kind of like switching to a Spanish keyboard for Spanish writing– the keyboard layout does what I need it to do *better*.
    There’s a silly game I played a lot to learn Dvorak. It didn’t take too long (it took me a semester in seventh grade to learn QWERTY, and less to learn Dvorak) and hey, fun game. It did slow my thoughts down a little while writing or chatting, but no more than learning to touch-type did the first time around.
    The only problems with Dvorak are that I have to switch my computer if anyone at work wants to use it– home’s even worse, since I have QWERTY, Dvorak, and Spanish on there, but I’m the only one who uses it– and that sometimes, if I’m typing a lab report, the ctrlshift= and ctrl= for superscripts and subscripts will slip and I’ll switch keyboards again.

  14. Okay, reading the comic now, and it points out there were no typists to slow down. So okay, my previous point? Not really so valid anymore.

  15. I’m a switch hitter. I have to go back and forth. I still type QWERTY (I guess you could call that the Sholes layout) faster than Dvorak. But I did a double whammy:
    I took an ergonomic keyboard and pasted the Dvorak letters over it so I could double my RSI / Carpal Tunnel relief.

    I work in software, so here’s the problem (aside from nobody can ever log into their web mail account because they can’t friggin look at the keyboard and figure it out):
    Acronyms and computer terms are NOT English words.

    Words like “through”, “though”, “mother”, “than” etc. are all very easy to type in Dvorak. Acronyms, company names like “Zyberteknica” are just as awkward to type on Dvorak as they are in QWERTY.

    So, I bet an English major would have a great time with Dvorak, but IM’ing, writing whitepapers, PowerPoint etc. are all screwy.

    Also: your typos are totally unrecognizable by QWERTY users. IM conversations become unintelligible because abbreviations like ZOMFG!!! Turn into :OMFG!!! which people think is a bizarre smiley.

    Keyboard shortcuts are useless in Dvorak. Go back to your OS/2 days and remember Ctrl-Ins, Shift-Ins, Ctrl-Del etc. Those are much faster for copy / paste etc.

    Overall, I like Dvorak, but keep up the QWERTY. What I’ve noticed is that a long day of typing is a long day of typing. Switching layouts, like changing shoes for tired feet, is helpful for wrist and forearm pain because you change up the muscle groups.

    The biggest annoyance about switching is that Vista, XP, etc. all switch based per-app (unless you permanently change to Dvorak). So, you need to get used to some hotkeys and just hit them all the time. You will run into problems with VNC and Terminal Services connections. Be very careful about password policies that lock you out after too many attempts… often your keyboard layout is the culprit.

    TTFN

  16. I learned dvorak a number of years ago and love it. I had maxed out at about 55wpm on qwerty and took my 2-week christmas break to intensively retrain myself when I didn’t need to type. At the end of the 2 weeks, I was only typing 25wpm and had messed up my qwerty ability, but I stuck with it. I didn’t allow myself to use qwerty for a couple months and my dvorak speed quickly rose to my previous qwerty speed.

    In the real world, there are times I have to use qwerty, and gradually I became able to switch back and forth easily. The weird thing is, to type qwerty, I have to look at the keyboard, not to see where the keys are, but as some sort of mental trigger. I made a rearranged dvorak keyboard, but I can’t look at it and type dvorak! The speed advantage isn’t huge: I type no more than 70wpm, but it feels like a lot less work; your fingers have to move around a lot less.

    As a writing teacher, it was also beneficial to understand the frustration students who don’t type well have to deal with. I really hope Apple enables a dvorak layout on the iPhone. They had it hard wired into the Apple IIc, afterall!

  17. “I recently switched, about 6 months ago… it takes a bit to type in qwerty now, I can’t do it quickly without 20 minutes of refresher… I’m now typing in Dvorak at about the same speed or a little less than when I typed in qwerty so it hasn’t paid off yet… anyway, that’s the result of a recent convert.”

    So the benefit for you so far is, that you can ALMOST type as fast as you used to be able to, and only need 20 minutes of refresher whenever you sit down at a keyboard thats not yours.

    i’ve thought about switching to dvorak, and i’m sure there are better arguments to switch than those… guess i’ll have to read the comic now.

  18. I make my money translating, so I type all day, every day, between 5000 and 10,000 words. (Sometimes I write fiction to take a break — I’m currently 26,000 words into a story I started on the 4th.) That’s an environment where a slight increse in efficiency can make a big difference, so I’ve occasionally flirted with the idea of switching to Dvorak.

    But I just don’t think I can afford to — if it screws up my QWERTY typing during retraining, it would kill my schedule.

    And yeah, I’d never be able to type a password again; they’re all stored in my motor cortex.

  19. A friend convinced me to try dvorak years back, and it was neither a frustrating or annoying experience. Since I can’t prove a negative I can’t say that it has prevented RSI, but the wrist pain I was beginning to experience when I started learning didn’t progress, and went away shortly after I began using dvorak heavily.

    An interesting note about switching layouts: I’m a sysadmin, and spent most of my day at my desktop remoting into other systems. Most terminal emulators and remote desktop apps rely on the local layout, so I type in dvorak for those sessions. There are a few, like the VMWare management tools and Dell remote KVM, that don’t. I don’t notice the difference anymore, and I naturally switch to whichever layout is appropriate for the window I’m currently typing in automatically. The only difference is that I type faster in the local desktop & windows using dvorak.

  20. Dvorak is hard to explain. I switch back and forth, but greatly prefer Dvorak– it just feels better. Even if I typed more slowly, I’d like it better; I’m willing to trade a few words per minute to make those words feel less spidery. Like I said above, it’s kind of like switching to a Spanish layout for Spanish writing. I’m willing to trade habitual knowledge of the ” for the ability to type accents and proper punctuation.

    Switching to QWERTY now–
    this is not nearly as fun. I’m able to touchtype still, with a few little quirks like Y and B being offset by only a key. But I’m reaching a lot more, and I keep realizing that my hands are nowhere near the home row because all the letters I need are above. My hands move more (I’m not going to quantify it) and it seems like half of my right hand could be missing entirely without any problem.

    And back to Dvorak. Three words’ switching trouble, mostly at the beginning of the words before my muscle memory kicked in. My hands are moving much less, I’m using both of them instead of mostly my left, and… it just feels better.

    I know that’s not a convincing argument, but it’s what I have. If you like QWERTY, keep QWERTY. If you like another layout, use that one. Do what works for you, but don’t dismiss options unnecessarily.

  21. I switched about 8 years ago, and haven’t looked back. My biggest problem with QWERTY was that I was too lazy to actually learn to touch type. I was plenty fast looking down, and couldn’t break the habit. So, I find out about Dvorak, and I figure, “If I switch, I can’t cheat and look down.” So, I switched, and picked it up pretty quickly. It’s not that hard since if you want to type a letter, you have to know where it is — you can’t look.

    I’m definitely faster at Dvorak than I was at QWERTY, and don’t ever look down. I have never had any hand or wrist troubles, and my hands are never tired, even after coding sessions (Perl). (Also, I like that nobody else can type on my keyboard.)

    YMMV, but mine’s great.

  22. AZERTY forever guys.
    I think you can type fast with any typewriters, it’s just a question of habit.
    When I went to the UK, I had lots of problem to type with QWERTY but that’s because I usually use AZERTY. But well, I’ll be glad to try Dvorak.

  23. I laughed about the semi-colon being on the home row; not least because I use the semi-colon a lot.

    This makes me wonder – what about when language and punctuation habits change? Is Dvorak the best layout 4 SMS ‘textese’? Is it best for Esperanto?

    And what happens when someone finally develops ideographs for common words? We’ve already got @ and &. Isn’t it time to develop letters that represent whole words?

    Where will Dvorak be then? @ is on the home row of a PC keyboard in the UK, but even in the UK Mac, in its ‘wisdom’ sticks it out of the way on ‘shift-2’ Where is it on Dvorak?

  24. I used Dvorak for about two years, in graduate school. I started because I was starting to develop RSI, and someone reported that Dvorak was easier on your hands.

    However, I found the benefits minor at best. After a few months of Dvorak with no noticeable relief, I started concentrating on my ergonomics–keyboard height, how to hold your hands, how to sit, things like that. A few months of *that*, and I was on my way to freedom from RSI. A few years later, I switched back to QWERTY, and the RSI has not returned.

    I do believe that some people may find RSI relief from a Dvorak layout, but I don’t think it’s a miracle cure. I wonder if people who re-learn to type Dvorak end up developing better ergonomics during the process, and that’s what ends up helping them.

    I also have my doubts about some of the touted benefits of Dvorak. To take the example above, sure, the semicolon’s on the home row, but it’s also under the pinky. Maybe the comma and period aren’t on the home row, but they *do* get the more prestigious swear finger/ring finger positions.

    (I do think there was at least one giant benefit to Dvorak: nobody will ever want to borrow your computer.)

  25. Not ever having learned how to properly type (I’ve been a QWERTY hunt-and-pecker for 23 years), I decided it was finally time to learn — with Dvorak. I rearranged the keys on my Powerbook, purchased typing tutor software (Ten Thumbs), and haven’t looked back since. One thing I soon noticed is that my fingers don’t travel nearly as much as those of QWERTY typists I’ve watched. I think that’s the true grace of Dvorak’s efficient layout — the comfort, not (just) the speed.

    And contrary to popular impression, you do not need to retreat to QWERTY when using another computer, as both Windows and Mac OS X allow you to switch to Dvorak with just a few clicks.

    Use what works for ya. I certainly found mine.

  26. If you do switch you have to go cold turkey. Otherwise your brain will be going two directions at once and you’ll never get good at Dvorak.

    Resign yourself to a month or two of being slow. It wasn’t until 6 weeks after switching that I was back up to my previous speed.

    I can still type QWERTY when need be, but I’m slower at it than before. Maybe half as fast. But when I do use it it feels silly, my fingers flailing all over the keyboard like a spider ummm … doing a tarantella.

  27. Cory:

    “…the miserable QWERTY layout and its superior cousin, Dvorak, which practically no one uses, despite that fact that QWERTY is slow, gives you RSI, and is the keyboard layout most frequently employed by baby-eating sociopaths.”

    The Comic:

    “Dr. Dvorak’s 1932 study found that QWERTY typers who switch to Dvorak improve their speed by 20% and their accuracy by 50%!”

    Economists Stan Liebowitz and Stephen E. Margolis have been challenging these claims for 20 years. (Especially the baby-eating sociopath one) They say the evidence does not support Dvorak or even hurt QWERTY compared to the available alternatives:

    “The QWERTY keyboard cannot be said to constitute evidence of any systematic tendency for markets to err. Very simply, no competing keyboard has offered enough advantage to warrant a change. The story of Dvorak’s superiority is a myth or, perhaps more properly, a hoax.”

  28. Switching was hell for about 2 weeks but then I quickly exceeded my qwerty speed by a lot. It was also a chance to learn to type without looking.

    I did it mainly because of RSI, which it helped a LOT. The extra speed was icing on the cake.

    If you learn how to switch the layout on Mac & Windows, you can use it in most places you go (big surprise: on Windows it sometimes requires installing a driver, which maybe you could carry with you on a thumb drive or CD?). Of course I live a charmed life where I rarely use anything but Macs, and sometimes Linux, so this is rarely an issue.

  29. It seems to me that learning a keyboard layout that very few people actually use would be a detriment to most people. I’m sure it is very helpful if you need to type faster from what people are saying, but the lost productivity in not only learning it but retaining the knowledge of QWERTY in order to use computers that aren’t yours would be a pain in the ass.

    When I used to have a PC, I ran XP with a Lightstep shell that worked very differently than the standard Microsoft GUI. Admittedly, I found it faster and more efficient because of the way I had customized it. Almost everything was in right click context menus, there was a tiny mac-like dock, etc.

    The problems were that- a) whenever I used someone’s normal windows computer I got confused for a few minutes and b) whenever anyone else wanted to use my computer (i.e. wife, friends, etc.), they were totally flummoxed.

    I think much like Linux, if you are really into computers and programming and stuff, it could be a great benefit to you. But Grandma knows QWERTY from her typewriter days and it ain’t gonna change any time soon.

    People eschew ‘better’ technology all the time. Betamax was smaller and higher quality than VHS but people preferred VHS tapes. SA-CD is higher quality than regular CDs, but hardly anyone buys them. Even now, Blu Ray and HD-DVD sales are pretty abyssmal because while the quality is inarguably superior to DVD, most people in this world were fine with the quality of VHS, let alone DVD.

  30. I use the semi-colon all the time. My style of writing is so ridiculously discursive I have to drag out every way there is to organize my thoughts in text: colons, semi-colons, em-dashes, parentheses.

    I just checked and there were nine of the little buggers in my last (4,300 word) published column. Yes, I am a giant orthography nerd, thank you for asking.

  31. I have tried DVORAK myself and still have fell back on QWERTY.

    I think it is because I grew up in a generation that was stuck in between the “power typists” of old and the onset of the computer revolution – so typing was quite literally drilled into us. I was started in typing lessons in school at the age of four. For two hours every day we would type as well as having sudden typing tests where we had to type through amazingly difficult exercises. This trend carried on through highschool and my first two quarters of college. All in all I have been glued to QWERTY for just shy of thirty years now.

    Then you take into consideration that most of my work is in photoshop and illustrator, whose hotkeys and commands are very focused on the QWERTY set-up and some functions just refuse to work in DVORAK, and I am pretty much blasted out of the water.

  32. I used the Dvorak layout for about 2 or so years. It was great but was more of a hassle when using school computers. I also had an issue with boot managers and not being able to change the format there. I have since switched back because, well, QWERTY is the standard.

  33. I learned to type on a HCESAR typewritter :P

    As I type on QWERTY pretty much by intuition now, learning a new format would take too much of my time.

  34. LB, you’re right about QWERTY originally being set up to keep the typewriter keys from jamming by being typed too quickly. However, as an additional trick to slow down the typing, it was also devised to be more difficult for right-handed typists (the norm). As a left-hander who doesn’t a typewriter anymore anyway, I find QWERTY to be much easier, because most of the common letters are typed by the left hand.

    As someone who learns kinesthetically, I think the learning curve to change the movement of my fingers would be painfully frustrating. I’d need to see convincing statistics that show it would be worth the effort to change. Better to change the angles and physical structure of the keyboard to deal with RSI.

  35. Author Holly Lisle wrote about her reasoning and experience switching to Dvorak here:
    http://www.hollylisle.com/fm/Articles/ed-yours3.html
    http://www.hollylisle.com/fm/Articles/ed-yours4.html

    Like Cory, QWERTY is pretty much hardwired into my fingertips by now. When I’m writing, I think a word and it appears on my screen. I can’t imagine going back to thinking about each letter on my keyboard and where it lives. MY productivity would come to a screeching halt. I can’t afford that.

  36. Keymaps aren’t everything – people should be using a bit lever, too (Typeit4me for Macs, Activewords for Windows) – to correct misspellings and expand common words. Your typing speed will go way up, and wrist load goes down.

    But the keymap is important. Dvorak cured my RSI, and I’ve seen it cure the RSI of several coworkers who converted from Qwerty to Dvorak.

    As for typing speed – you can find studies to support just about any position. But c’mon. Putting key vowels on the home keys certainly doesn’t slow anyone down.

    The benefits of Dvorak and bit levers are extolled in my book Bit Literacy, so I hope there are some readers out there who have switched over, too.

  37. “People eschew ‘better’ technology all the time. Betamax was smaller and higher quality than VHS but people preferred VHS tapes. SA-CD is higher quality than regular CDs, but hardly anyone buys them. Even now, Blu Ray and HD-DVD sales are pretty abyssmal because while the quality is inarguably superior to DVD, most people in this world were fine with the quality of VHS, let alone DVD.”

    This is the problem with these sort of analysis — it assumes that there is One Best Technology(TM). But technologies generally have to meet a number of different uses, which people discount.

    Betamax vs. VHS…yes, Betamax is smaller and higher quality under ideal viewing conditions, but the running time wasn’t long enough when these were introduced to hold an entire feature length film. Plus Betamax equipment and tapes tended to be more expensive and, frankly, the quality difference was not all that pronounced in the typical 1970s audiovisual setup.

    CD vs. SACD…yes SACD has much higher quality…but it is also DRMed up the Wazoo that tends to create extremely frustrating experiences even for audiophiles who swear by the system.

    One of the things I’ve always suspected about Dvorak is that it is overengineered. Dvorak seems to have wasted a good deal of time looking for the *perfect* keyboard arrangement, when QWERTY is good enough.

    @LB and @CHGOLIZ .. as the comic linked to here noted, the idea that the point of QWERTY was to slow down the typist is a myth. Glad to hear Wikipedia backs you up on that, but that’s more a commentary on the accuracy of Wikipedia than the intention of the designer of QWERTY.

  38. “How often do you type a semi-colon?”

    What kind of question is that? Obviously, Alec is not a programmer.
    Maybe he is not a C/C++/Java, Pascal or Lisp (;comment) programmer, but he may still be a Python programmer, for example. BTW, Bram Cohen, Bittorrent hero, uses Dvorak and Python.
    I have procrastinated enough. It is time for Dvorak!

  39. I switched to Dvorak about ten years ago. I was completely fluent after a couple of months, typing as quickly as I ever did in QWERTY. However, it made my RSI worse. I switched back after six months.

    Dvorak seriously overloads the right pinky finger with the heavily-used S and L keys. This is made worse by the fact that keyboards, unlike typewriters, assign other responsibilities to the right pinky, such as the Enter key. I tried a modified Dvorak, swapping the G and L keys, but that only moderately improved the problem while making it significantly more difficult to type on other people’s computers (which may have Dvorak as an option, but certainly don’t have my modified version.)

    Meanwhile, the deficiencies of QWERTY are significantly overstated. Like many QWERTY touch-typists, I don’t actually have my fingers over the home row while typing. My middle three fingers are floating somewhere between the top and middle rows, and these do in fact contain the most-frequently used keys in QWERTY. I’m not stretching to press E, my middle finger is already almost there.

    I’m sure Dvorak does have ergonomic advantages for some typists. I’m certain, however, that the vast majority of reported ergonomic gains through switching to Dvorak are simply a result of reexamining one’s typing habits and correcting flaws in technique. If they had put the same effort into becoming a more ergonomically sound typist on QWERTY, most Dvorak switchers would have achieved the same benefits.

  40. The part about the invention of keyboards is really interesting. It’s a shame that new key layouts aren’t made for devices we regularly type on with things other than our fingers. For example, phones are usually typed on with two thumbs at a time. Rather than 4 fingers (and two thumbs on one key), the user is just using his or her two thumbs. Everything there is a reach except for two keys, so I guess the smartest idea would be to put the keys in a pair of tight circles or squares around the two most-used letters (My money is on “A” and “E”, but I could be wrong.

    New layouts for game systems and touch screens would also be nice.

  41. i switched to dvorak about 3 years ago and i don’t regret it one bit. the reason why i did it was i was spending way too many hours on irc and i was getting really nasty rsi. since switching i never get any rsi ever. i am using a typematrix keybeord now, which is better in some ways but not perfect, but the compact size of it is helpful, i just think it’s a bit too easy to hit the enter key, which can be irritating.

    i haven’t bothered re-learning qwerty, because all computers i’ve had to work on so far i’ve had access to the keyboard layout settings, there’s no real reason why one should have to, since dvorak clearly reduces liability to a company to pay for physiotherapy or ergonomics if a person develops debilitating problems.

    i did get a little faster when i switched too. only like, 10wpm but still, that’s a benefit, typing a little faster as well as getting no pain.

    the staggered layout of standard keyboards is another example of anachronism, the reason for it was for the old swing arm typewriters which became all but obsolete in the 60s.

  42. sorry for a double comment but i forgot to say it only took me 5 days to get to about 30wpm on dvorak, and in two months i was typing the same speed as before, except with less pain, and i didn’t change any of my other ergonomics, which are generally bad, but even with the dvorak layout, there is still one finger i get pain with – the right thumb. the spacebar needs to be lower so i can stretch my thumb more, and it would be good to make my left thumb do something useful, i think it could definitely do shift… as it is, it does nothing, and using the pinky to operate shift is plain stupid when there is clearly a key going begging. i suppose the spacebar is huge like that because a substantial and balanced force is needed to make the carriage jump. as you can see, i am loath to use the shift key.

    i just don’t buy this nonsense about there being no benefit. if ergonomics had been the primary factor in designing the original keyboard layout, overall levels of stretching while typing english would have been the primary criteria, as would placing the hands in the least contorting position for the wrists and elbows.

    as long as everyone who knows there is a difference continues to defer from demanding that they be able to easily switch work computers to dvorak, there will be no change in corporate policies about it. stand up for your right to choose how you type!

    Cory: i really don’t think you would have that much trouble doing a switch if you gave yourself two weeks time away from boingboing and writing.

    i don’t care what these people say about there being limited ergonomic improvements and speed improvements. for me the speed improvement is more than 10% and accuracy easily more than 30%. not having to stretch for the most commonly typed letters does improve accuracy. that means less moving your right hand off the home row and using your weakest finger to backspace. which is of course another source of accuracy loss, when you miss the home row upon return.

  43. @Logicaldash:

    Do novelists type for hours without pausing for any reason, even to think about spelling or word choice? Does anyone? I still can’t get past the idea that “you can type faster this way” doesn’t really have a practical manifestation. I could drive my clunker of a car 2,400 miles in a day if it weren’t for speed limits, traffic, and having to stop for gas and bathroom breaks and sleep. But since I do have to deal with those things, a car that could go 200 mph wouldn’t get me where I’m going any faster.

    It may be that my brain-buffer is just unusually small, and that other people are seeing what they’re writing pages in advance and just waiting for their fingers to catch up. But I’m a little skeptical.

  44. “i don’t care what these people say about there being limited ergonomic improvements and speed improvements. for me the speed improvement is more than 10% and accuracy easily more than 30%. not having to stretch for the most commonly typed letters does improve accuracy. that means less moving your right hand off the home row and using your weakest finger to backspace. which is of course another source of accuracy loss, when you miss the home row upon return.”

    This sort of plays into what I was saying earlier. Dvorak is fine for people like yourself, but probably not for everyone.

    I sort of look at it the same way I look at high-end entertainment centers. I can understand how the image and sound quality is superior, how it gives you a more theatrical experience, etc. I would freely admit that it is overall a better way to watch TV. However, I’m perfectly fine with my old 27″ Magnavox standard def set with no surround sound and I am not planning on investing time or money in changing it unless I really don’t have much choice- and I think most people are on my side with that.

    So to me it is less about speed and efficiency and more about comfort- and by comfort, I don’t mean ergonomic comfort, I mean what you feel most mentally comfortable using. I know QWERTY. I understand it. It works for me. Dvorak may be much better, much faster, etc. but the advantage of QWERTY to me is I don’t need to learn anything new and I am comfortable with the layout since I’ve used it all my life.

  45. A year or two ago I decided to learn Dvorak to see what people were going on about.

    Normally, on a qwerty keyboard I type at around 75-80wpm. After a month of Dvorak I was typing at 60wpm in both layouts. The decrease in speed, compounded by the fact that no-one else’s computer had the Dvorak layout installed, were killer factors, and so I switched back.

    Quite a few posters have mentioned they got a speed increase after switching to Dvorak, I’d be interested in knowing your before/after speeds. My guess is that the % increase is significantly smaller for people who can already type at fast speeds (> 75wpm) using qwerty.

  46. “I still can’t get past the idea that “you can type faster this way” doesn’t really have a practical manifestation.”

    It is practical in situations where you have to take dictation or transcribe something. Instances where speed and accuracy really do matter.

    I don’t know the story behind the court stenographer’s little machine, but they are incredibly fast on them and their keyboards are unlike any other I know.

    Again, it’s all about what you use a keyboard for. If you’re a transcriber, you want to be as fast and accurate as possible. If you’re a writer, you want to be able to be as free as possible with your words. If you’re writing a letter to grandma, you just need the letters to appear when you press a key.

  47. Dvorak users are the audiophiles of the computer world, and I mean that in the most derogatory way possible.

    The only studies where dvorak did any good were done by Dvorak himself, and that kind of self-confirming idiocy really shouldn’t be lauded. It’s a clusterfuck of feel good exclusivity wanking.

    Seriously, spend the time learning to type qwerty better and your results will probably be more significant. The only real benefit is that almost any change will alleviate some wrist problems, but it’s probably less of a waste of time to buy a different keyboard or office chair.

    (Yeah, I’m a little anti-dvorak. I had a friend who would switch computers to it and forget to change them back. Clearly, for this all dvorak users should diaf. :) )

  48. Typing in Dvorak:

    In Mac OS, there’s a setting called “Dvorak-QWERTY” that does Dvorak for typing and QWERTY for shortcuts when you hold down the CMD key. It works fairly well for me so far, other than the fact that I’ve never used Dvorak before.

  49. As I’m the company’s tech support, it’d stink having to switch hit all the time. So, no thanks, I’ll pass.

  50. I tried to switch to dvorak way back in the early 90’s. What I discovered (the hard way) was that it’s easy to get a layout for your keyboard, but Quark XPress had hardwired the english version of the app to only use qwerty so that people from europe and so forth would have a hell of a time typing on it if they pirated it. Good old Quark–never missed an opportunity to fight piracy! Sadly, since about 80% of my time was spent in DTP programs in those days, I had to give it up eventually as the conflict of which keyboard layout to use got worse and worse.

    Also, it’s a major pain if you have any other computers (or use any other computers) that don’t support it because you have to fall back into qwerty mode there too.

  51. The whole “touch typing” establishment frustrates me. I don’t think “proper technique” matters anymore, and a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t take into account the fact that we’re all using differently proportioned keyboards and, to some extent, hands.

    I learned to type using the Apple II machines in my public library in 1985 by– well– wanting to type. By the time I got to the draconian “keyboarding” classes in junior high (still taught on manual typewriters), I was already typing about as fast as I do now.

    While I’m sure it’s a _whole_ lot more important to use “proper technique” on actual mechanical typewriters, I really don’t see them used much anymore, except maybe in stodgy old law offices to type on pre-printed “legal blanks”… *sigh*

    I get by fine at 100-130 gross wpm on computer keyboards with my own “high speed hunt and peck”, and I’ve never had a problem with any kind of keyboarding injury, RSI or otherwise. I get a real kick out of Customers and friends making comments about my typing speed. (I had a ball putting in a “keyboarding lab” for a school a couple years ago using unmarked black keyboards. The teachers had problems typing on them, but I didn’t! *smile*) I’ve actually had girlfriends call my typing “sexy”, if you believe that.

    I’m convinced that keyboard layout has little to do with typing speed and accuracy. Developing a typing technique that is comfortable and being motivated to type quickly seemed to be the driving factors in my experience. I was motivated by my desire to write code and bad fiction, as a kid, so I developed a technique that lets me type fast. My 17 y/o sister types as fast as I do and “learned” the same way I did. Today’s kids are motivated by chat, email, and updating their goddamned Facebook pages as quickly as possible. Whatever the motivation is, I think it’s key to typing fast– not some magic keyboard layout or one-size-fits-all technique.

  52. I tried it for about a month in college. But it was slower than qwerty and I had papers to write, both at home at at school, so switching was a nightmare.

    The only big complaint I have with qwerty is the placement of the parentheses. I’d like them where the brackets are, with the brackets available via shift, and the curly brackets where the parentheses are, since I don’t even know what they’re for.

  53. Too bad you nuked the site!

    Bandwidth Limit Exceeded
    The server is temporarily unable to service your request due to the site owner reaching his/her bandwidth limit. Please try again later.
    Apache/1.3.37 Server at http://www.dvzine.org Port 80

    BTW, is “Sorry, I got boingboinged” the new “Sorry, I got digged (dugg?)”?

  54. Never used QWERTY, except for configuring the BIOS. I have to remember to press the Y key for a Z, because I use QWERTZ (Swiss/French). I just find it the most logical one. The most terrible one is AZERTY. Why do you have to use Shift to type a number? Or to type a “.”, because without Shift, it’s a “:”. What moron designed that?

    Edit: This the second time, I enter this post. The first time I got a message telling me “The text entered was wrong”. What does that message mean?

  55. As far as RSS is concerned, a lot depends on an individual’s upper body. My sister, who does a lot of fast, sustained typing as a transcriptionist for TV talk shows (as do I), has such broad shoulders and big hands that typing on a regular keyboard badly cramps her arms (and would no matter what layout she was using). I don’t have broad shoulders or huge hands and have never had a problem with any kind of RSS.

    The point being that anecdotal experience really doesn’t mean much. There’s a very wide range of bone and joint configurations that have an effect on typing speed, accuracy, and comfort relative to the keyboard layout one is using.

  56. Eh, changing keyboard layouts would be a pain.

    Besides, technology doesn’t adapt to meet the needs of society.. Society adapts to meet the needs of technology. With that in mind, it’s time to toss English, dust off Esperanto and rework it such that it’s optimized for the QWERTY keyboard…

    Who’s down? Lets do this! It’ll be just like Welsh, but weirder!

  57. Surely dvoraks fatal flaw is the fact that nearly all keyboards in the world use the QWERTY format?

    If you went into an Internet cafe, university computer laboratory, library anywhere with public access to a computer, you’d have to re-adapt to the QWERTY system.

    A waste of time if you ask me, QWERTY is here to stay.

  58. #51 – The advantage of touch-typing can’t be overstated. I wear the letters off my keyboards — at work and at home — and don’t realize it until other people try to use my keyboard and point that out. I had a G15 keyboard where I was wearing the black off so all that remained were blotches of blue leaking through from inside. It was kind of cool.

    As an ADD writer, I recline in a comfortable chair in a dark environment and constantly scan my dual monitors, InDesign on my primary monitor, and a TV app and updating fantasy football stats on the secondary, along with my IM windows and so forth. Being a QWERTY touch-typist for thirty years will open that up to you. The last time I had a speed test, I was in the 130 – 140 wpm range, and I’ve gotten faster since then as keyboards improve and I continue to add to the proficiency of my muscle memory.

    I switched to a Microsoft wireless keyboard a couple of years ago, or tried to. They changed the orientation of the keys above the arrow keys from horizontal to vertical, and even that simple change totally messed up my productivity. I’d reach for Page Up and get something other than what I was looking for. It’s hard coded in, by now. I took it back.

    I would be far less productive if I had to look at add looking at the keyboard on top of the side-to-side horizontal eye movement that I already use now.

    Trying to learn Dvorak, as tempting as that is, would ruin my productivity, require more light, and take my eyes off the screens I’m looking at now.

    I’ve actually had girlfriends call my typing “sexy”, if you believe that.

    Yeah, sorry, I have to think there was more going on than just your prowess tickling the keys. I /have/ won the hand of a woman with my writing — and, later, all the rest of her — but that was 22 years ago, and that woman became my wife. She doesn’t pay attention to how I write as long as I do. She keeps hoping I’ll make something of myself as a creative writer, and doesn’t care how I do it, QWERTY /or/ Dvorak. ;)

  59. I was fast in QWERTY, but never touch typed. I was having some wrist pain, and decided that if I was going to learn to touch type I would go Dvorak.

    I love it. Fast and comfy and it’s a little security feature if I forget to lock my laptop – from my friends I mean, not some serious attack.

    It has a pain in the butt factor, but since I never learned to touch type QWERTY, it wasn’t a big deal for me. I did feel like a lobotomy patient while I was learning and agree with the earlier comment – hard stuff is good for your brain.

  60. I know that August Dvorak, the namesake of this keyboard layout, was American by at least a generation or two. But it seems ironic to me that there is no Czech version of the Dvorak keyboard (Dvorak, with a hacek on the “r” and a long “a”, being a Czech name). As someone who switches frequently between keyboard layouts for different languages (including Czech), I think that any efficiency gained by switching to Dvorak would be quickly negated by having to use QWERTY keyboards for other languages or having to use multi-key keyboard shortcuts to insert non-English characters.

  61. Before the sight got boing’d, I was playing around with the typing lessons for a little while.

    It was uncanny, I felt like I was in grade 9 again, learning touch typing for the first time. I went through the home row and upper row lessons and was starting to get a little more natural at it.

    Using the drills I didn’t have to look at my fingers or any key map, so at least that wasn’t a problem.

    The struggle to turn will into action through a novel thought-decode-motor process — and needing to consider each step, if only briefly — felt like a wonderful mental excursive. The most recent experience I had similar to this was the first time I played Guitar Hero.

    I am perversely glad the site is wanged right now. At least this way I can get my term paper written in the familiar and fast QWERTY without the temptation to learn Dvorak gnawing at my productivity.

    I think I will endeavour to learn it in the spring when I have a reliable chunk of time to spend typing below-speed. Even if the benefits are questionable, or I don’t end up adopting it as my ‘native tongue’, I think I might do it just to stretch my brain a little.

  62. You can, of course use free software and remap the specific keys that bother you in either layout.

    But, another issue is key placement. Check out the keyboards here – putting enter and space-bar in a middle index finger space (if your thumb is what’s hurting, like me: this = awesome)… and also check the un-staggered straight-line vertical key layout! Sublime, I am telling you. I bet the stagger layout is, another artifact of arranging the keys for the letter strikers that are no longer there.

    They have a couple models, and they have some free software links and tutorial. And they have a model that has both the Dvorak and the QWERTY on the keys- handy for swappers.

    http://www.typematrix.com

    Check it out. I am lobbying fellow cube drones for another buyer so I can get a discount.

  63. Yeah, I’m with chgoliz. Dvorak favors the right hand, QWERTY the left. Unless I sustain a rather serious head injury and I’m suddenly right handed, I’ll stick with QWERTY.

  64. The first comment to this pretty much summed it up. Alec is quite apparently not a programmer, and neither is Cory. The rest of us use it all the friggin’ time.

    The science behind the Dvorak layout is in any case sketchy at best, and the myth of QWERTY being purposefully designed to slow down typists is just that. It’s 2007, people. Dvorak lost. Get over it.

    PS. Preview doesn’t work when posting anonymously. It may not work when posting non-anonymously either, but I don’t know, as I would never consider getting an account here.

  65. A funny point of interest — I’m seeing a lot of dvorak bashing by various programmers and semi-colon lovers, who obviously haven’t considered the fact that the period key in QWERTY is also in a “lower-reach” position, the slowest part on the keyboard.

    I’m a “triple hitter”, as it were…. I learned to type of QWERTY, but switched to dvorak, and can also type QWERTZ which I learned when I moved to Germany. QWERTZ really makes QWERTY look efficient as hell, having the all-useful # key right before a tiny-ass enter key, and a half-sized left-shift key splits the bottom row with the equally useful <> key. I can actually type German text faster in dvorak faster than most Germans I know, despite the fact that I need to type alt+u/(a, o, u) to get ä, ö, or ü.

    I learned dvorak in college out of curiosity. It took me about a month or so to regain my speed, and since then, I’ve not looked back. Some people knock dvorak for “overstating” the speed benefits, and they may very well have a point there. Regardless, I can push 100WPM with dvorak and most other dvorak typers I know can type at similar speeds. However, dvorak isn’t just about speed… it’s about comfort and accuracy, which are a big deal to those of us who need to type for a living. I’m also a programmer, I should note, and most people (who never learned dvorak) get freaked out about the placement of special characters. As a previous poster noted, the placement of the dash, comma, and period in dvorak are much more useful than in QWERTY, and most other special characters are still accessed by shift + number key, so they remain in the same place.

    That being said, for most people who don’t consider RSI or high-speed typing important, stick with qwerty. Everyone else should highly consider the alternatives.

  66. Does it really matter how the keys are laid out if you almost sub-consciously know where they are? Perhaps arguments can be made towards wrist fatigue, but I cannot imagine being able to type any faster than I already do.

  67. If I wanted a boost in my typing speed, I’d stop typing on this laptop and get a second keyboard with a raked face, deep keystroke mechanisms, and audible feedback on keystrokes: basically, a Selectric keyboard. These little flat keys with no kinesthetic or auditory feedback are a pain in the wazoo.

    As for Dvorak — no. I learned touch-typing when Nixon was President. I no more think of individual letters when I type than I think of individual muscles when I catch a ball.

  68. Re: #26 – You suggested using single letters to represent commonly-used words. Both shorthand and Braille have done this for a long time, replacing many articles (a, an, the) and other short words (basically anything easy for a fluent English speaker to divine from the context) with single letters, pairs of letters, or even a single dot or two. The same could be applied to typed English, but it would probably only be useful in certain situations where speed or file size is a concern (think txt msging!) Since Braille cannot be reduced in size beyond a certain point, and the paper must be of above-average thickness to retain the impressions, the “shorthand” employed by Braille is necessary; relatively short books become weighty tomes in Braille (which is why most blind readers opt for Talking Book format for anything longer than a short children’s book or a news digest).

    I haven’t tried a Dvorak keyboard, but I’ve wanted to for a very long time. The stories about the QWERTY system being developed to slow typists down appear to be true — an experiment that failed as typists learned to adjust, and that became moot as typewriters became electrified. Another reason for the QWERTY system is that it allowed door-to-door typewriter salesmen to type the word “typewriter” quickly as a demonstration — all the letters are on the top row.

    Useless factoid, but of interest to the musically inclined and those of Czech ancestry: August Dvorak was related to the famous composer Antonin Dvorak. The lack of a Czech version of the keyboard stems from the fact that August was born in the USA and very likely didn’t actually learn Czech despite his famous ancestor, and because he probably figured that a keyboard tailored for the English language would get more widespread use. Like it or not, English was (and still is, although Spanish and Mandarin are closing in fast) a common second language in much of the world. Two people who do not know each other’s language usually both know English and can use that to talk to each other. August Dvorak happened to be very fluent in English and could crunch the numbers involved in determining letter-frequency in commonly-used words, so he designed his keyboard for English. Theoretically, the same data could be tailored for keyboards for other languages. It’s possible that such keyboards exist. But they wouldn’t see much use outside of the countries where those languages are used.

  69. Don’t give me the stupid excuses you people make up for yourselves for not switching to Dvorak. If you weren’t so busy trying to make it seem ok to be a moron and ruin your fingers you might actually do something useful you waste of spaces.

    Rearrange Neurons? It doesn’t rearrange neurons, that is like saying that because i am considering going from wheat to rye bread I’m going to forget how to eat entirely.

    I switched to dvorak because i have a brain and my only regret is that i ever used qwerty. Also, i can program in several different languages… I am aware that semi-colons are used… But what is more used… the 5-6 words with 2+ vowels each or the 1 semi-colon?? Ya, nice logic buddy.

    Dvorak is better… There isn’t any fighting that.

    Switch or don’t, but don’t say it is because of anything besides laziness.

    — fmwyso.

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