Join 3,430 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)

Goodbye QWERTY, Hello ',.PY !!!
February 6, 2002 12:51 PM   Subscribe

Goodbye QWERTY, Hello ',.PY !!! [Or, One Writer's Love Affair with the Other Keyboard Layout.] From
posted by adrober (31 comments total)

The "superiority" of the Dvorak keyboard is an urban legend. Check out Liebowitz and Margolis's great debunking of technological and economic dogma.

Of course, everyone is entitled to use the keyboard of their choice.
posted by phatboy at 1:28 PM on February 6, 2002

phatboy: Did you read the linked article?
posted by droob at 1:44 PM on February 6, 2002

phatboy: The "superiority" of the Dvorak keyboard is an urban legend.

The article mentions that ‘debunking,’ but it explains that it was a debunking of the original research, not a prooj that QWERTY and Dvorak are functionally equivalent.
posted by Firefly at 1:46 PM on February 6, 2002

Wait, wait. All Liebowitz and Margolis intended to prove was that August Dvorak's study was not conclusive based on the practices he used; that the conclusions he drew were not necessarily true. They did not prove, nor did they intend to prove, that the Dvorak keyboard is not "superior."

It may very well be. Indeed, testimonies from dvorak users, for what they are worth, seem to indicate that it is. To me, considering how easy it would be to switch back to Qwerty, it's certainly worth giving Dvorak a shot for a couple of weeks.
posted by Hildago at 1:49 PM on February 6, 2002

From the article: With Dvorak, the transition period is legitimately frustrating, and typing faster or more comfortably doesn't light most people's engines. Even boosters haven't wanted to give it a go—not Krugman, nor Ralph Nader (who has blasted Qwerty), nor even Jared Diamond, who wrote in 1997 that Dvoraks are "infinitely superior."

Probably superior to conventional Qwerty keyboards, probably more comfortable and quicker, but also probably never going to catch on. Heck, if it was up to the inventor of the mouse, we'd be using chordal keyboards.
posted by UnReality at 2:01 PM on February 6, 2002

droob: Yes, admittedly yesterday, so it wasn't completely fresh. I am just trotting out the real study. Despite mentioning it, the slate piece fails to address many of the points of the L&M piece, and also reiterates many facts debunked therein.

FireFly: True, but there is further evidence against other tests. See below.

My point here is the superiority of Dvorak is unsupported dogma with tech geeks. There is very little other than anecdotal evidence that it is any better.

Hildago: The point of the L&M piece was that most of the studies of Dvorak measure typing improvement after training for the Dvorak keyboard. If the same amount of teaching time is spent teaching QWERTY, the same performance is achieved. In other words the Dvorak tests are generally measuring the improvement due the typing training rather than keyboard switching.

From L&M
"In the first phase of Strong's experiment ten government typists were retrained on the Dvorak keyboard. It took well over twenty-five days of four-hour-a-day training for these typists to catch up to their old Qwerty speed. (Compare this to the claim David makes about the Navy study's results that the full retraining costs were recovered in ten days.) When the typists had finally caught up to their old speed Strong began the second phase of the experiment. The newly trained Dvorak typists continued training and a group of ten Qwerty typists began a parallel program to improve their skills. In this second phase the Dvorak typists progressed less quickly with further Dvorak training than did Qwerty typists training on Qwerty keyboards. Thus Strong concluded that Dvorak training would never be able to amortize its costs"
posted by phatboy at 2:06 PM on February 6, 2002

"Today, not a trace of the Oregon experiment remains, and Dvorak International's former Web page now summons a porn site."

Isn't that how it always works? Someday will be a porn site.
posted by fnirt at 2:06 PM on February 6, 2002

fnirt----have you been to yahoo e-groups? it IS a porn site! and a darn good one at that
posted by adrober at 2:20 PM on February 6, 2002

"someday every site will be a porn site, and on that day ron jeremy will rise from the dead and lead a parade into las vegas." --revelations 14:9

As far as the Dvorak goes...the fastest-typist-in-the-world person using it gives it a point or two in my book. What i want is a custom Adobe keyboard, with a hardware toolbar. Or a gaming keyboard. That would be progress. The one-handed keyboards the article links to are interesting as well. Finally, no delay while in a sex chatroom. ...yeah, i left her after i found out every orgasm had been a macro...
posted by th3ph17 at 2:26 PM on February 6, 2002

I was once told that the arguement between the board in use and the one suggested was really a parable about PCs and Macs.
posted by Postroad at 2:34 PM on February 6, 2002

Interesting article, but it includes one of the most moronic analogies I've read in awhile:

For musicians, think about trying to play "Blowing in the Wind" starting with a B-flat ninth. That's a Qwerty board. Now think about starting on a G chord. That's a Dvorak board.
posted by milnak at 2:50 PM on February 6, 2002

Yeah, but read the story of the aforementioned world-record holder in typing -- she's like the Michael Jordan of keyboarding!

I'm thinking of making the switch, just so fewer people will use my desk at work while I'm not in. Maybe I'll just put the keys in Dvorak order, but keep a QWERTY (hey, that's easy to type on a QWERTY board!) keymap.
posted by Eamon at 3:00 PM on February 6, 2002

The the the the.

that's my favorite moronic bit of prose. i happen to love my dvorak layout. i've been touch typing ala dvorak for over four years now: long enough that i now have to look at qwerty keyboards while i type. this gives me some problems at client sites, but it's usually easy to switch layouts. i switch the mouse buttons, too, to suit my left handedness. as long as i don't forget to switch everything back when i'm done, there's no harm done. and computers are built for us, not the other way around, right?

one of the little things i've noticed is that i can spot other dvorak users by the misspellings they make. character transpositions and hitting the key next to the intended are some of the most common misspellings. the results are, obviously, different between dvorak and qwerty. while they might look like random mistakes to qwerty users, to me they are obviously products of dvorak users. that realization was a fun eye opener.
posted by particle at 3:11 PM on February 6, 2002

Dvorak users: I'm considering making the switch. Would you recommend it? Why?

Specifically, how hard will it be to revert to QWERTY when I need to use somebody else's computer?
posted by gd779 at 3:17 PM on February 6, 2002

I think I'll wait and switch after I finish my dissertation. Too much cognitive overload. I've tried a chording keyboard, and it's cool, but not that fast.
posted by mecran01 at 3:22 PM on February 6, 2002

gd779: From what I understand, rather difficult.
posted by delmoi at 3:34 PM on February 6, 2002

If you continue to use QWERTY about the same amount as Dvorak, you can retain proficiency in both. If you use only one or another, you will lose proficiency in the one you're not using.

My personal experience with Dvorak is that it did not increase my speed very much, but my hands hurt less after long typing sessions, and I make fewer typographical errors.

Marcus Brooks has a pretty good debunking of the debunking, by the way.

And here's a rant I wrote recently about Dvorak support in Mac OS X.
posted by kindall at 4:29 PM on February 6, 2002

QWERTY isn't optimal, to be sure. But it's certainly "good enough"... I type 70wpm and up on the typing tests, but when I time my speed when actually creating new text (like I am now), my speed is 40wpm and lower --- in other words, I spend nearly as much time thinking as I do typing!

No keyboard is going to help make me think faster. :-)
posted by five fresh fish at 6:22 PM on February 6, 2002

The single-handed keyboard caught my eye. I wondered if it might be beneficial for a student of mine. Anyone tried it?
posted by redhead at 7:00 PM on February 6, 2002

Yes, but not in a way that I'd like to discuss.
posted by dong_resin at 8:26 PM on February 6, 2002

testimonies from dvorak users, for what they are worth, seem to indicate that it is [superior]

But this is the case with all fringe lifestyle choices. Examples: Recumbent bicycles, alternative medicines, a diet of only uncooked foods, Linux-based home computers, LaTeX to type your shopping lists, etc. etc. Once you try it you'll never want to go back! They may or may not be (net) superior choices in any objective or stastically valid sense, but they will always produce the euphoria of smug superiority. So, IMO, testimonies from users are the weakest possible evidence in this case. Someone who's learned a whole new keyboard has a lot invested in being happy with how much better life is now. Many of these people, if we lived in a Dvorak world, would be missionaries for QWERTY.
posted by Zurishaddai at 10:26 PM on February 6, 2002

Dvorak is demonstrably and objectively superior to QWERTY in many ways: number of words that can be made on the home row, amount of finger travel, equality of hand use, and ease of learning. If everyone used Dvorak, nobody would use QWERTY because it sucks so heinously. It's just silly to imagine it's a "fringe lifestyle issue."

Any honest Dvorak typist who learned QWERTY first will tell you that once you try Dvorak you will actually want to go back to QWERTY almost immediately. I tried switching three times before it finally "took," and it was three months before I achieved my QWERTY speed with Dvorak. Unlearning old habits is not easy.
posted by kindall at 10:36 PM on February 6, 2002

I can't believe it is really so hard to learn Dvorak -- I relearned in about a day, and within a week I had full proficiency and had improved over my original Sholes/Qwerty typing speed.

gd779: I also found to my surprise that I did not have much problem switching between the two, for the purposes of occasionally using a standard layout. It was as if they were stored in different sections of the brain, yet mapped back to the core functionality, rather like knowing a foreign language. I did find that I could not use Dvorak at home and continue in my help desk-network support-admin career, because computers that other people use must remain standardized, and I found the mental switching to be simply too much of a hassle. Every time I sat down at a computer, essentially, I had to mentally remind myself to use Qwerty. That took typing into a realm of conscious control that bothered me. So I stick to Qwerty, alas.

But then, perhaps I have one of those geek minds that adapts easily to new paradigms. I know full well from my lusers that any minor change in their computing environment could be incredibly stressful, and that they variously resent or envy me for my ease of handling those same changes.

Zuri: I don't believe it's simply the zealotry of the convert. I found the new layout to be more comfortable with less repetitive-stress annoyance (whether or not one believes it is a serious medical condition). That alone could recommend it.
posted by dhartung at 10:45 PM on February 6, 2002

I used the Dvorak layout for a few months a couple years ago. I really liked it! I found it really easy to learn (meaning it was easy to remember where the keys were)....but, I eventually went back to QWERTY for two reasons:
1. I got a laptop with keys that were very difficult to move around.
2. I use ctrl-x, ctrl-c & ctrl-v to cut, copy & paste ALL the time. With the Dvorak layout, the x, c & v keys are all over the place, rather than right next to the ctrl key.
posted by bradlauster at 10:58 PM on February 6, 2002

Dhartung wrote:
"But then, perhaps I have one of those geek minds that adapts easily to new paradigms. I know full well from my lusers that any minor change in their computing environment could be incredibly stressful, and that they variously resent or envy me for my ease of handling those same changes"

Oh is this ever true. I provide tech support for college professors who get twitchy if an icon on their desktop moves. Most rigid people imaginable.
posted by mecran01 at 6:20 AM on February 7, 2002

Interesting. I've been thinking about alternative keyboards lately, as a matter of fact. My idea: to make a keyboard with html tags as single keys, to cut down on time and typing-related stress involved with hand-coding html. Probably not a basis for a whole new keyboard layout, but it could be a nice usb accessory, like an extra keypad with all the keys remapped. Any venture capital out there?

(© Tom Hirashima 2002)
posted by Hackworth at 8:07 AM on February 7, 2002

If you're already a competent Qwerty typist, learning the Dvorak layout is a serious pain in the brain. It was honestly one of the most challenging tasks I ever set before myself, short of quitting smoking.

For those of us who spend a good deal of time in front of our keyboards, losing our proficiency at something as fundamental as typing for two weeks is white-hot agony. Answering email suddenly takes forever, and you can forget about cranking out your usual voluminous code.

However, the speed and ease of typing that I gained once my finger muscles learned the new key locations was sheer bliss. Those who deride user testimonies of Dvorak's superiority have obviously never bothered to try.
posted by johnnyace at 8:28 AM on February 7, 2002

as i understand it, the design of the qwerty keyboard was decided by mechanical constraints. the inventor placed the most used keys as far apart as possible, in order to cut down on hammer clashes (when two proximate keys are pressed and the hammers jam together).
thus kindall's statement:
Dvorak is demonstrably and objectively superior to QWERTY in many ways: number of words that can be made on the home row, amount of finger travel, equality of hand use, and ease of learning.

could quite easily be true, as the original design was not lead by ergonomics.

my father had a 5 finger keyboard, the name of which escapes me, on his first 'palm-top' device. once learned, it was a whole lot faster than anything other than a full-scale keyboard.
posted by asok at 9:01 AM on February 7, 2002

LaTeX to type your shopping lists

that, my friend, is funny. and i've done some pretty 'inappropriate' tasks in latex before (i'm talking about the markup language not the rubber, so get your minds out of the gutter).
posted by mlang at 9:03 AM on February 7, 2002

the way i learned dvorak was touch-typing, all the way. i printed a picture of the keys, and taped it to my monitor for reference.

i kept the qwerty layout on the keyboard for two reasons: 1) i was never a proficient touch typist and needed the help; 2) i wanted to learn to touch type in dvorak, not just learn to type.

during downtime at work, i would switch my keyboard to dvorak, summon an html tutorial (sorry no link) and practice. within two weeks, an hour a day, i could type proficiently without the reference picture. better, in fact, than i could on qwerty.

it's relieved my hands of much unneccessary stress. now, the limiting factor for sitting behind a keyboard and typing is when my eyes get tired, not my hands. i highly recommend dvorak... and glasses. i need glasses. but my hands are happy.

i've converted three others to dvorak, and if they were MeFi members, they'd say the same thing. it works.
posted by particle at 9:43 AM on February 7, 2002

I learned to touch-type on a Dvorak keyboard when I was about ten. I worked to improve my speed and at one point could hit 90 wpm. I've used Dvorak ever since and to this day cannot type on a qwerty keyboard without looking at my fingers. I can't imagine ever switching, but I'm hesitant to recommend that people try Dvorak. Five_fresh_fish has a good point: you spend most of your time thinking about what to write next, and the time spent actually typing it out - at least for me - is rarely significant.

Without any experience typing Qwerty, though, it's hard for me to compare the two. I suspect the ergonomic qualities may be the dvorak layout's principal merit: I've always been a little puzzled when people talk about feeling pain after doing a lot of typing, as I've never experienced anything of the sort.

I did meet a guy once who could type 120wpm; he swore by the Dvorak layout. I believe his complaint was that he couldn't go faster than 80wpm on a Qwerty keyboard.

posted by Mars Saxman at 9:51 AM on February 7, 2002

« Older With a grand prize of $10,000, the First Annual Go...  |  Funeral Home Murders Drug-Indu... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments