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Like Dorvak, only better
January 8, 2007 11:45 AM   Subscribe

The Colemak keyboard layout. Colemak is a new alternative to the QWERTY and Dvorak layouts. Designed for efficient and ergonomic touch typing in English, Colemak places the 10 most frequent letters of English (A,R,S,T,D,H,N,E,I,O) on the home row. Z,X,C are preserved in their QWERTY positions for easy copy and paste operations. It gets rid of the Caps Lock and replaces it with Backspace so you no longer need to move your hand off the home position to correct errors. Available for Windows/Mac/Linux/Unix it works with all standard keyboards, including laptops. [via: Projects], [Previously]
posted by Mitheral (91 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm sticking with QWERTY. It's the all-time fastest because I know it.
posted by ardgedee at 11:53 AM on January 8, 2007


I predict that in 800 years time when all humans live as .hum files running on virtual computers in postbiological cyberspace, our virtual keyboards will still use the QWERTY layout.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 11:55 AM on January 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm going to try it. I'm already a TyperShark addict; might as well learn something while I do it.
posted by Kwine at 11:57 AM on January 8, 2007


Oh ferchrissake. It's 2007 -- why are we typing at ALL?
posted by mazola at 11:58 AM on January 8, 2007


Huh. I disabled caps lock on my laptop because in my silly two-fingered typing mode* I kept hitting it by mistake - don't think a backspace key in the same place would be a good idea for me.

* Heck, after college + grad school I can almost touch-type with two fingers. Not as fast as some but not that slow either.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:59 AM on January 8, 2007


You don't have to buy a new keyboard, just change the key mappings...
...and never ever look at your fingers while you're typing unless you want to experience the purely cognitive equivalent of an ice-cream headache.

In the abstract, I'm delighted to see people making and using quirky - and intelligent - keyboard layouts, the same way I'm delighted by people learning, say, Klingon. But both activities will have approximately the same effect on me.
posted by Wolfdog at 12:00 PM on January 8, 2007 [2 favorites]


Esperanto! Esperanto!
posted by twsf at 12:03 PM on January 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm too old to learn new tricks. But you youngsters should try out this Colmak contraption, there might be money in it.
posted by mert at 12:06 PM on January 8, 2007


hoverboards: so, so true.
posted by empath at 12:06 PM on January 8, 2007


You mention "like Dvorak" as if there is any evidence that Dvorak is more efficient than Qwerty. There isn't. In fact, I think every (real) test has shown that all keyboard layouts are equally efficient once you know them.

Reason magazine debunked the whole "Qwerty is designed to slow you down" bit years ago.
posted by yesno at 12:07 PM on January 8, 2007


Oh ferchrissake. It's 2007 -- why are we typing at ALL?

Scotty: Computer....

Scientist: You, uh, have to use the mouse.

Scotty: Oh...(picks up mouse and holds it up to his mouth)...Computer...
posted by briank at 12:08 PM on January 8, 2007 [3 favorites]


It sounds like a great idea but I think in practice everthing I typed for like a year after switching would .ll, l,jmd rgus tl99pl.
posted by The Straightener at 12:10 PM on January 8, 2007


I have been using Dvorak for almost 20 years. It significantly reduces wrist strain, in my experience.
posted by No Robots at 12:11 PM on January 8, 2007


Alternative keyboard layouts are like driving 8 kms to save a $0.01/litre on gasoline. Or driving to an out of the way grocery store to save a nickle on apples.

It looks like you're saving, or being more efficient, but in the end it doesn't amount to enough difference to make it worthwhile.

1/100,000 computer users might switch to an alt layout. 1/100,000 of those switchers are using it because it is indeed better for them. The rest of the switchers are doing it for vanity.

"Lookit me. I'm quirky!"

/get off of my lawn!
posted by C.Batt at 12:13 PM on January 8, 2007


The Caps Lock key may not be the most archaic on the PC keyboard (SysRq? I haven't swapped between DOS and CP/M for over 25 years!), but in my opinion it's the most annoying. Computer's don't need CAPS LOCK keys -- they give us formatting options beyond just upper & lower case. And they use case-sensitive passwords! It's just too easy to hit CAPS LOCK accidentally.
posted by Chinese Jet Pilot at 12:14 PM on January 8, 2007


(SysRq? I haven't swapped between DOS and CP/M for over 25 years!)

But that doesn't stop people from hitting the magic SysRq key now!

Caps Lock, on the other hand, is confused, and really wants to grow up to be a Control key.
posted by mendel at 12:16 PM on January 8, 2007


At least they had the wisdom not to name it the QWFPGJ keyboard.
posted by veggieboy at 12:19 PM on January 8, 2007


Unfortunately it fails the "is typing my own name awkward as hell" test. Next...

-ykdkmo
posted by chundo at 12:23 PM on January 8, 2007


...the same way I'm delighted by people learning, say, Klingon.

Nice analogy! I dig it!

Yep, alternate keyboards always struck me as being something that, for most, were different for the sake of being different, and the "performance gain" being, in practice, largely theoretical. Sorta like getting a standard transmission for the gas savings (in practice, unless you are really good at shifting, are you saving that much?).

Though they say that you can swap back and forth between an alternate layout ant QWERTY*, is it really that easy in practice? Plus, what if others share your computer?


*I used by caps lock for that, BTW.
posted by MrGuilt at 12:24 PM on January 8, 2007


I touch-type 100+wpm with QWERTY, as I've been using it since I was eleven years old. I tried switching to DVORAK, and while I was certainly able to get up to 30-35wpm within a few days, progress beyond that point stalled -- and I couldn't justify using it at work because of the resulting loss in my productivity.

I would imagine this will be of interest to people who can't yet touch-type with QWERTY, but otherwise (and as long as kids are taught QWERTY when they're young) this will be of no use.

I'd even teach my kids DVORAK, but then they'd be at a severe disadvantage for all the legacy QWERTY usages out there (workstations at most jobs, public terminals, borrowed computers, and so on.)

Remember: it's not always the best tool that wins; often, it's the most pervasive.
posted by davejay at 12:30 PM on January 8, 2007


I can't believe you guys want to take CAPS LOCK away from CAPS LOCK GUY. He just got on the innernets, he's feeling his way around, figgerin' stuff out, give the man a chanch to get his bearings and shit before making him get all case sensitive.
posted by The Straightener at 12:32 PM on January 8, 2007


Reason magazine debunked the whole "Qwerty is designed to slow you down" bit years ago.

No they didn't. A couple of people that had a religious belief that the "market" always makes the right choice set out to prove to themselves that Qwerty was, indeed, the right choice.

They got the answer they wanted.
posted by teece at 12:35 PM on January 8, 2007 [3 favorites]


Sorta like getting a standard transmission for the gas savings (in practice, unless you are really good at shifting, are you saving that much?).

Depends on how you define "that much". Unless your automatic transmission is in (not just has) overdrive via lockup torque converterr*, the connection between the power and the road goes through a fluid-based connection, and there are resulting power losses. You're also going to spend a lot of time "chasing" the road speed and gear you're trying to attain, by virtue of flooring the gas to get a kickdown for passing or constantly compensating for the lag in responsiveness caused by the torque converter.

With a stickshift, your connection between power and road is direct (no slippage, other than when starting from rest) and you can adjust the speed of the car more directly with small throttle movements (no lag). You can also shift into a lower gear to scoot along without having to push the gas pedal to the floor.

Having said all that, you only gain 1-2 mpg on average. If your car gets 20mpg, that might mean something; it means less if your car gets 35mpg.

Driving a stick gives you other advantages, though: for many people (me included) it's fun, it's always nice to know the gear you're in and the gear you're going to get (no sudden and unexpected gear kickdowns, and no surprising lack of downshift when you pull out to pass), it's cheaper when buying new (by $600-$2000, depending on model) and generally more reliable (clutches are normal low-cost wear items that fail gradually, like brakes, whereas automatics tend to go suddenly and expensively.) On some models you also get acceleration gains over an automatic.

*if you have an automatic driven by electronic clutch -- rare these days, but starting to become more commonplace -- a lot of these differences are no longer relevant, but many of the "other advantages" ones are.
posted by davejay at 12:37 PM on January 8, 2007


Oh, yes - any layout that messes with hjkl at all is right out the window, but having j higher than k is just scandalous.
posted by Wolfdog at 12:37 PM on January 8, 2007


Alternate keyboard formats are great until you have to sit down and use an ordinary keyboard again. Or someone else has to sit down at your computer. If you're going to use a second keyboard format, I'd recommend a chording keyboard or something similarly (radically) different. Otherwise, you're just inviting headaches.
a good portion of my workday used to involve handling "hey, can you take a look at this?"-style requests, and I always quailed when the dvorak guy had a question
posted by phooky at 12:37 PM on January 8, 2007


davejay is completely and obviously correct. It doesn't matter if Dvorak or some other alternative layout offers a slight potential increase in speed or accuravy; people are going to keep using what they're used to using. If I could suddenly type 1000 wpm with Dvorak, great, I'll do it, but to go from 60 to 62, after several years of practice? I don't think so.
posted by Mister_A at 12:39 PM on January 8, 2007


I can't believe you guys want to take CAPS LOCK away from CAPS LOCK GUY.

For real - how is my dad supposed to send me emails where he's YELLING THE WHOLE TIME without his caps lock key?
Well, I guess he'll always have bold.
posted by god hates math at 12:41 PM on January 8, 2007


Remember: it's not always the best tool that wins; often, it's the most pervasive.

Exactly. Dvorak is an undeniably better keyboard lay out for modern computer users typing in English, and no rational human being would claim otherwise.

Unfortunately, the cost of switching to Dvorak is VERY high, so much so that the clearly inferior Qwerty continues on, and probably will for as long as we use keyboards.

Dvorak is more efficient. Period. It's trivial to prove. The fastest touch typists use Dvorak. Dvorak is very helpful for RSI.

But it is also a major issue to learn Dvorak in a Qwerty world (I know from first hand experience).

The market made a random, stupid choice, and we're stuck with it. But believe me, Dvorak is better. If you take the week or two to learn it, you'd realize this right away (and I mean actually learn it; you can't just give up like davejay did. Yes, lost productivity is a killer, and I completely understand [the two weeks when I switched from Qwerty to Dvorak was very painful], but that has nothing to do with Dvorak, and everything to do with remapping your brain).

But you'll also learn how painful it is to actually "think different" in practice.
posted by teece at 12:41 PM on January 8, 2007


I won't be using this. And I speak as someone who ran OS/2 Warp.
posted by athenian at 12:42 PM on January 8, 2007


Well ghm, bold is useful, but it just comes off as emphatic, rather than EXTREMELY FUCKING HOSTILE AND READY TO INTER-BLOW KTHXBYE!
posted by Mister_A at 12:42 PM on January 8, 2007


Apparently the Colemak keyboard doesn't save you so much time that you can create an original web page design instead of ripping off wikipedia.
posted by Muddler at 12:46 PM on January 8, 2007


Your favorite keyboard sucks.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:48 PM on January 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


Richard Powers: "Except for brief moments of duress, I haven’t touched a keyboard for years. No fingers were tortured in producing these words — or the last half a million words of my published fiction. By rough count, I’ve sent 10,000 e-mail messages without typing. My primary digital prosthetic doesn’t even have keys. I write these words from bed, under the covers with my knees up, my head propped and my three-pound tablet PC — just a shade heavier than a hardcover — resting in my lap, almost forgettable. I speak untethered, without a headset, into the slate’s microphone array. The words appear as fast as I can speak, or they wait out my long pauses."
posted by mattbucher at 12:50 PM on January 8, 2007


What's the point of typing incredibly fast? I can type in the low 100wpm if I have something to copy, but in the real world that never exists. If I need to convert a lot of documents I OCR. If I need to write a paper or an e-mail, the bottleneck for me at least, is thinking and actually composing the message. I am sure there are some professions which require incredibly fast typing, but those are far from the norm.

Now texting on a mobile phone on the other hand ...
posted by geoff. at 12:55 PM on January 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


You mention "like Dvorak" as if there is any evidence that Dvorak is more efficient than Qwerty. There isn't. In fact, I think every (real) test has shown that all keyboard layouts are equally efficient once you know them.

Um, yeah, just because something was "debunked" by a "magazine" dosn't mean it's not true. Almost everyone who switchest to Dvorak gets an improvement, and has less wrist strain.
posted by delmoi at 12:56 PM on January 8, 2007


Apparently the Colemak keyboard doesn't save you so much time that you can create an original web page design instead of ripping off wikipedia.

Ripping off? The wikipedia engine is open source and all wikis that use the engine look like that by default. In fact, I'm not even sure wikipedia actually created that design.
posted by delmoi at 12:59 PM on January 8, 2007


delmoi: Almost everyone who switchest to Dvorak gets an improvement

Of course, in rare cases, it causes archaic typos.

Damn thee, Dvorak!
posted by kid ichorous at 1:05 PM on January 8, 2007


No they didn't. A couple of people that had a religious belief that the "market" always makes the right choice set out to prove to themselves that Qwerty was, indeed, the right choice.

They got the answer they wanted.

You are so tiresome. Here's the article in question, if anyone wants to make up his own mind.
posted by Kwantsar at 1:08 PM on January 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


mattbucher -- voice recognition is cool, I'm trying desperately to figure out how I would code in it.
posted by maxwelton at 1:10 PM on January 8, 2007


The key advantage for me, besides the obvious removal of caps lock, is that z,x,c remains at the querty location. This was the key stumbling block that has prevented me from moving to Dorvak.

Wolfdog writes "and never ever look at your fingers while you're typing unless you want to experience the purely cognitive equivalent of an ice-cream headache."

This isn't a problem with a model M however yes, alternative layouts aren't worth the effort if you aren't going to touch type.

Wolfdog writes "any layout that messes with hjkl at all is right out the window, but having j higher than k is just scandalous."

Smeg, I missed this was going to screw up nethack, lucky for me it's easy to change between layouts.

phooky writes "Alternate keyboard formats are great until [...] someone else has to sit down at your computer."

That's not a bug, it's a security feature.
posted by Mitheral at 1:10 PM on January 8, 2007


Also, is the headline on this FPP bugging just me?
posted by maxwelton at 1:11 PM on January 8, 2007


The JLE article cited in the Reason piece.
posted by Kwantsar at 1:12 PM on January 8, 2007


1/100,000 computer users might switch to an alt layout. 1/100,000 of those switchers are using it because it is indeed better for them. The rest of the switchers are doing it for vanity.

I know a guy who switched because of carpal tunnle syndrome, so by your logic there are more then 10,000,000,000 computer users in the world.
posted by delmoi at 1:15 PM on January 8, 2007


How would you switch to Dvorak or this Colemark stuff on a laptop?

I use a laptop 100% of the time, and theres no way to replace the physical keys. I could remap them to wahtever I wanted in theroy, but to actually learn to type Dvorak when the keys are permenatly Qwerty? Impossible.
posted by T.D. Strange at 1:24 PM on January 8, 2007


to actually learn to type Dvorak when the keys are permenatly Qwerty? Impossible.

Just print out an image of the desired layout and refer to it when needed. It doesn't take long to memorize the key positions, especially if you already type by touch.
posted by No Robots at 1:28 PM on January 8, 2007


Some of the "logic" from the JNL piece that the Reason article cites:

The survival of Qwerty is surprising to economists only in the presence of a demonstrably superior rival.

This is astoundingly stupid and ignorant of reality. Like I said, a religious belief in a mythical free market and a magical competition is what this debunking amounts to, and nothing more. This kind of thinking only exists in the stilted, non-reality world of Econ. 101 toy mathematical models, where demand curves are smooth and where supply only intersects that curve at one point. We do not live in that world. All of the thinking that launches off from those nonsensical ideas of economics is analyzing a fantasy land, and pretending it applies to things like why we use Qwerty, and not Dvorak or some other (which was designed with English typing in mind, not by accident).

The real nugget of this debunking: some more study would be warranted; and: Dvorak had a financial interest, so automatically discount anything he did or said. Boy, that's some debunking.

When you see some one talking about free markets in the context of which keyboard layout is "better", you are reading the words of a fool.

I am glad I am tiring to the folks that view the world this way.
posted by teece at 1:34 PM on January 8, 2007


Its funny how anecdotal evidence is always presented as justification for DVORAK when the claims derived from the 'evidence' isn't even logically sound.

For a second lets suppose that in a controled test (and not just 10 blog posts) showed 80% of people who switched to DVORAK reported less strain on their wrists. This does not 'prove' dvorak is a better keyboard layout.

For starters, It is ilogical to say that one can claim to feel less wrist strain on dvorak if they never felt strain on qwerty. By switching to dvorak once one experiences wrist pain, one is going to learn the new layout with that in mind. They are training themselves to type without wrist strain not training themselves to use a new layout. You cannot 'prove' therefore that its the layout that's causing less strain or its the new techniques that they have learnt.

In fact, none of the techniques listed here, http://www.ergonomictimes.com/mousing_typing_techniques.php have anything that the dvorak would help with.

Finally, dvorak wasn't even designed for wrist strain, it was designed for typing speed.
posted by jboy55 at 1:38 PM on January 8, 2007


The market is good for one thing: it allows me to choose Dvorak and disregard those who say it is worthless.
posted by No Robots at 1:41 PM on January 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


Pretty easy to use both, in windows alt-shift switch back and forth. Going to give it.
posted by IronWolve at 1:47 PM on January 8, 2007


Finally, dvorak wasn't even designed for wrist strain, it was designed for typing speed.

That shows that you're fairly damn ignorant of what actually causes wrist strain, and what Dvorak was designed for. Good job.
posted by teece at 1:49 PM on January 8, 2007


the 10 most frequent letters of English (A,R,S,T,D,H,N,E,I,O)

I always find these lists interesting. The one that's hammered into my head, of coures, is RSTLNE -- the free letters you get in the bonus round in Wheel of Fortune. L didn't make it to the Colemak home row, I see. Sajak, you son of a bitch!
posted by danb at 1:49 PM on January 8, 2007


There's an interesting point about learning time lurking in the hjkl comment besides just messing up, say, nethack. The point is, with computers we use keys not just to symbolize letters of the alphabet - pretty much the sole conceptual scope of a key on a typewriter - but also to stand for commands to programs and other conceptual globs.

I don't know what extent this has been studied, but I expect that, for people who are fluent with a given program (I was thinking of how I feel about vi), our brains really associate motions directly with actions and skip over the intermediate alphabetic association. Like if I'm happily vi'ing and want to delete a character, I think that I think - and activate - "delete a character - left hand ring finger" without ever thinking "delete - that's x - and x needs left hand ring finger."

So - again, I'm guessing, but it's not implausible - I think that the cost of a new layout would be more than you think if you're solely measuring the cost by something like "time required to regain the same wpm in standard typing trials." It seems very likely that even if I learned the alphabet on a new layout and could blast sharks and piranha out of the water all day, I'd still make all kinds of weird errors in interacting with keyboard-based programs that aren't merely about typewriter-level activities. And each program would have its own little relearning phase.

Maybe some people who've gone through a layout change have more informed comments about that.
posted by Wolfdog at 1:54 PM on January 8, 2007


So, try playing a game with WASD keys as the default mapping. :)
posted by IronWolve at 2:00 PM on January 8, 2007


I suppose I should state the rest: Dvorak designed his keyboard layout to be better, not faster.

His goals: make a keyboard that made sense with Roman text (primarily English). Make a keyboard that understood the human physiology of the hand. Make a keyboard that was easier to train typsits on.

His claim was that his keyboard resulted in shorter training times, and faster, more accurate typists. (And his studies showed this, and no, no one has ever debunked his studies, Reason sophistry not withstanding).

He did not design his layout to be faster, and to claim so shows complete ignorance of what the idea behind Dvorak's layout.

Second, the Dvorak keyboard reduces finger travel. Absolutely no one will dispute this. No medical studies have been done to prove that reduced finger travel reduces RSI, but pretty much all serious thinkers on the issue think it will. Dvorak also helps improve a couple of the "Don't" on the ergonomics web page you linked to, jboy55, especially the "don't move your hands" bit, as it greatly reduces any need to move your hands.

Again, you really don't know what you are talking about.

Dvorak's claims and his accompanying study are now pushing 80 years old, so it would be frickin' great to re-examine them and see how they hold up today. That does not come close to resembling a defense of Qwerty or an explanation for why the market did not "fail," as some seem to think.

And for the record: I'm not trying to get you or anyone else to switch away from Qwerty, but rather stop all the blatant nonsense. Indeed, I'd actual counsel you to not learn Dvorak, even though I think it's better. The "market" made the wrong choice, and that has real consequences that make Dvorak a pain in the ass.
posted by teece at 2:01 PM on January 8, 2007


So - again, I'm guessing, but it's not implausible - I think that the cost of a new layout would be more than you think

Switching to Dvorak really fucked up my VI usage, IronWolve.

I eventually re-learned the keyboard shortcuts for their Dvorak equivalents, but it was painful, and VI never felt the same after that. I don't use it any more, and that's one of the reasons.

Keyboard shortcuts are a major issue: A significant chunk of the time I don't type keyboard shortcuts, at least not the way I type text. I look at the board when I use them a lot. And they really seem to be programmed into my head in a different way than touch typing, so it's a whole 'nother area of re-learning to deal with (and for me, it puts a major damper on simply re-mapping a keyboard in software. I really want the keys to say what they do).
posted by teece at 2:05 PM on January 8, 2007


The market made a random, stupid choice, and we're stuck with it. But believe me, Dvorak is better.

It may be better if your goal is to type faster, or whatever. But most people don't make choices based on a single factor, and what counts as "better" is different for every person; when making a purchase we take the specifications of the item in question and run them through our personal priority filters. That's why people seem to prefer the Wii to the PS3, even though the PS3 is undeniably faster. It turns out people care about some things more than speed, and that's the case for Dvorak vs QWERTY too.

It seems that the existing userbase of QWERTY is much more valuable to most people than Dvorak's increased efficiency. Yes, perhaps the world would be objectively better if we'd all used Dvorak from the start, but you don't get to alter history like that outside of if-I-were-king fantasies, which the desire for economic planning seems to arise from.

When you take all factors into account, QWERTY is hands-down the best keyboard layout for a typist today.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 2:07 PM on January 8, 2007


Correction: that last line should read "... the best keyboard layout for me". I was using "a typist" as shorthand for all the people who've made the same decision. There are undoubtedly a few whose personal circumstances and tastes make Dvorak the best layout.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 2:15 PM on January 8, 2007


...not to mention ETAOIN SHRDLU (vertically) on the Linotype. But that was set up that way not for fingers, but because matrices had to be physically moved into place.

I often wondered about QWERTY layouts on things where your hands aren't in the usual position -- like pop-up keyboards on computers (I've found them on the Apple Neton, the Seiko Dayfiler, and on the Brother P-Touch where you can almost actually type!). Doesn't this just make it HARDER for someone who already knows that layout, but has it stored in muscle memory?
posted by SteelyDuran at 2:20 PM on January 8, 2007


danb writes "I always find these lists interesting. The one that's hammered into my head, of coures, is RSTLNE -- the free letters you get in the bonus round in Wheel of Fortune. L didn't make it to the Colemak home row, I see. "

I always thought those were the most commonly picked letters not necessarily the best letter to choose. Plus the letter frequency of short phrases including proper nouns is probably different than written multi paragraph text.

teece writes "A significant chunk of the time I don't type keyboard shortcuts, at least not the way I type text. I look at the board when I use them a lot. And they really seem to be programmed into my head in a different way than touch typing, so it's a whole 'nother area of re-learning to deal with"

Like people who no longer know what their PINs are or a phone number they dial all the time. They need to mimick entering the number on the entry pad. I've always called this finger memory and I get it for passwords once I've entered them a few hundred times. Sometimes I can't even type an older password if I think about the letters. I have to let my fingers type them.
posted by Mitheral at 2:24 PM on January 8, 2007


I'm not trying to get you or anyone else to switch away from Qwerty, but rather stop all the blatant nonsense.

You'd have better luck trying to get us to switch away from Qwerty.
posted by jefbla at 2:39 PM on January 8, 2007 [2 favorites]


Really what keyboards need are cut, copy, paste, undo and redo keys. I would use those a hell of a lot more often then the 'menu' key or the 'windows' key.
posted by delmoi at 2:43 PM on January 8, 2007


For starters, It is ilogical to say that one can claim to feel less wrist strain on dvorak if they never felt strain on qwerty. By switching to dvorak once one experiences wrist pain, one is going to learn the new layout with that in mind. They are training themselves to type without wrist strain not training themselves to use a new layout. You cannot 'prove'

Go back to highschool, spock Ayn Rand.
posted by delmoi at 2:50 PM on January 8, 2007


mattbucher -- voice recognition is cool, I'm trying desperately to figure out how I would code in it.

Erm, learn cobol?
posted by delmoi at 2:51 PM on January 8, 2007


mattbucher -- voice recognition is cool, I'm trying desperately to figure out how I would code in it.

Erm, learn cobol?


Get into management. :)
posted by kid ichorous at 2:55 PM on January 8, 2007


I have been a Dvorak user for close to a decade now. I learned it one summer in college after a bout of joint pain, and though I can't tell if I'm typing any faster, I have been typing pain-free ever since. In my mind, that makes it a good investment. I can still touch-type in qwerty just as fast as I could before, and switch between the two at will, but typing in qwerty for more than half an hour makes my hands hurt again. To me, typing fast in Qwerty is like scrambling your hands furiously over the keys, while in Dvorak it's more like twiddling your fingers.

Of course, this only anecdotal from my own experience - and a truly unbiased, double-blind scientific study is probably impossible at this point, since so many people have qwerty ingrained into their system and it would take too much effort for them to change it.

For the record:
1. You don't have to rearrange the actual keys on your keyboard - just learn the new locations of the keys by looking at a reference sheet. It works best if you have about 6 weeks to devote to practicing, and don't go back to qwerty during that time.
2. These days, Dvorak comes pre-installed on every Windows or Mac PC - you just have to go into the "Language Options" control panel to enable it.
3. On either system, you can switch between key layouts at any time, just by pressing a key combination (unfortunately, some dolt at MS chose Shift+Alt as the key combination, and you can't change it).
4. As mentioned above, the biggest nuisance is dealing with Ctrl+Z,X,C,V... but I use Emacs most of the time so that's not so much of a concern anymore :).
posted by purple_frogs at 3:09 PM on January 8, 2007


Oh, and one important difference between Colemak and Dvorak is that Dvorak has all of the vowels on the home row under the left hand. That means that your hands tend to alternate key-presses, which in theory would let you type faster (since you can prepare one hand while typing with the other hand). Also, common letter combinations, like ch and th, can be typed as one gesture with two adjacent fingers. It would be interesting to see how these aspects square off against Colemak's feature of having all of the most frequently used letters on the home row.
posted by purple_frogs at 3:16 PM on January 8, 2007


Why don't these guys spend their time solving problems people actually have?
posted by tommasz at 3:19 PM on January 8, 2007


Why don't these guys spend their time solving problems people actually have?

Same reason you don't spend your time carping about something worthwhile, I would guess.
posted by No Robots at 3:26 PM on January 8, 2007


I switched to Dvorak about 8 years ago, because of joint pain. For the first few weeks, it reduced the pain, but I think that was because I was forced by my slower typing speed to type more economically. Then I got up to Dvorak speeds, and the problem came back, worse. The real solution to that problem was to use xwrits to lock me out of the computer for one minute out of every ten. I've been doing that for years, and it works great.

That the rest of the world is stuck on QWERTY doesn't hurt me much. When I need to type on a QWERTY keyboard, I can still do so at quite an adequate speed. Unless I'm coding, I type way faster than I think using either layout.
posted by Coventry at 3:36 PM on January 8, 2007


As ever, much depends on how one frames the debate. I don't think there's anyone left claiming that Dvorak is noticeably faster than QWERTY -- it may be about 2% faster. I don't think there's anyone left claiming that a company would see a noticeable productivity gain from a workforce of Dvorak touch-typists, and certainly not a sufficient one as to make the retraining economically attractive.

What I would say is that with Dvorak, you can type just as quickly, and with noticeably less strain.

I was a very fast QWERTY touch typist. I developed a crippling RSI. Among many other changes to my life, I went through the laborious process of learning to touch type again with a Dvorak layout.

I am very glad to have done so, and consider it to be a contributor (albeit one of many) to my being able to work full time again (though a dozen doctors told me I never would.) Please note that I'm not making some exaggerated claim that QWERTY caused my RSI or that Dvorak was either necessary or sufficient for my recovery -- but I do think it's helped a lot.

Why, yes, that was anecdotal evidence. I certainly support the demand for conclusive evidence for claims that should be demonstrable.

So... anyone have a citation for a formal study concluding that it's not possible for the greater finger travel that QWERTY requires over Dvorak to result in sufficiently greater strain as to contribute to pain or injury?

'cause if you don't, I really can't take seriously your unsupported claim that QWERTY isn't worse than Dvorak. (Likewise, I encourage you to remain skeptical of my unsupported claim that it is, until such time as a study might provide the answer.)

Shorter: I agree with everything teece has said.

I regret that this discussion has scarcely mentioned Colemak, which looks like an interesting layout. I blogged about it a while ago.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 3:48 PM on January 8, 2007


purple_frogs writes "It would be interesting to see how these aspects square off against Colemak's feature of having all of the most frequently used letters on the home row."

The FAQ acknowledges this as a win for Dvorak that they traded away in exchange for evening out key strokes between left and right hands. Dvorak is right hand heavy which is a draw back especially considering mouse location for the majority of people.
posted by Mitheral at 4:45 PM on January 8, 2007


I'd even teach my kids DVORAK, but then they'd be at a severe disadvantage for all the legacy QWERTY usages out there

As someone who learned Dvorak as a kid, and never learned OWERTY, let me reassure you that the disadvantage has been insignificant. I almost never need to type any significant amount of text on someone else's computer, and when I do, I simply go to the control panel and switch the keyboard layout.

I have no idea whether Dvorak has given me better typing speed. I suspect that it doesn't really matter; I spend far more time thinking about what to type next than I do actually typing it.
posted by Mars Saxman at 4:53 PM on January 8, 2007


For, like, forever, ctrl and capslock have been swapped on Sun keyboards, putting ctrl in its rightful position to the left of A, to the delight of left pinky fingers everwhere.
posted by heydanno at 7:08 PM on January 8, 2007


Ripping off? The wikipedia engine is open source and all wikis that use the engine look like that by default. In fact, I'm not even sure wikipedia actually created that design.

Soooo....open source is now an excuse for a total lack of originality? The wiki concept does not require a particular look and feel, and certainly doesn't require a designated color scheme (all copied from wikipedia here). For example, Wikiwikiweb, considered the first wiki, doesn't have this look and feel.

In fact, whether some other wiki or web page did, at one time, come up with the general look and feel now copied by these keyboard folks is not the point. The point is that this is totally unoriginal, and, in fact, uses a design now almost entirely associated with wikipedia.

It just seems cheap.
posted by Muddler at 7:17 PM on January 8, 2007


Oh good grief. The Colemak site rips off Wikipedia sort of like a million bloggers rip off Movable Type and Blogspot by using default templates.

Here are other English language sites using MediaWiki. Look around. Some of them have modified the default templates extensively. Some of them haven't and look just like Wikipedia.

There's an unsubtle difference between trademarked designs and MediaWiki's. MediaWiki's authors explicitly grant permission for anyone to use it including its default templates.

Open source is an excuse to not have to re-invent wheels.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 7:55 PM on January 8, 2007


Keyboard layouts are an example of a natural monopoly. Mindshare, inertia, ... all argue that there should be only one (per language). That said, I'm a Dvorak user.

While I admire the spirit that Colemack embodies, the world needs a third, sometimes better than Dvorak (sometimes not), keyboard layout like there needs to be a third HD DVD format.

Dvorak did not fail to drive QWERTY into oblivion because it wasn't efficient enough. It was all those other factors that put us where we are today. Now there's something to divide the "efficiency matters" crowd, thereby further clinching QWERTY's ultimate immortality.
posted by dylanjames at 8:07 PM on January 8, 2007


Since I spend the majority of my working day doing some variation on computer programming, my most used keys are probably h, j, k, l, i, a, r, crtl-F, and ctrl-B. Followed by option-x, option-c, and option-v.

I used Dvorak for six months, then switched back for the above reason. Damn, it's convenient to copy and paste with the same hand.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:44 PM on January 8, 2007


I don't see much of a natural monopoly in keyboard layouts. Unlike cable or telephone service where there is value in not duplicating effort switching keyboard layouts doesn't cost you anything but a few minutes time setting up the new layout. It shouldn't be any harder than learning to drive a stick or a new dive. Most people use only a couple computers even over the course of a year so they aren't even switching back and forth all the time.
posted by Mitheral at 8:53 PM on January 8, 2007


Hoooray!

Thanks for the post!

Now I have decided to map my dasKeyboard to Colemak!



..Even the other Über geekz at my work shall be confused!

them: Oh haha, You have it set on dvorak!!

me: pshaw (looks away)

them: Agh! my fingers!, they are in knots!!!
posted by kou5oku at 9:21 PM on January 8, 2007


Open source is an excuse to not have to re-invent wheels.

This is not code monkey stuff, this is design I'm talking about. If you think it is a good thing that people are SO lazy they don't even change the colors much less the layout of web pages, fine. I like variety and creativity in web design, and if this keyboard makes you so efficient, it should give you time to think about things like creative web elements.

I don't know why this group even bothered using the MediaWiki software - they just posted some information and don't seem to allow much less encourage user editing. Not really in the wiki spirit, now is it.

It kills me that the same people that run about getting all excited about "open source" (a term over used) in the world of technology also go about their lives raving that Walmarts, chain fast food, etc. are causing the downfall of man by expelling creativity and variety...
posted by Muddler at 9:30 PM on January 8, 2007


"Dorvak"? (repeated elsewhere in thread) - oh, c'mon, qewrty ain't THAT bad... ;)
posted by mwhybark at 9:41 PM on January 8, 2007


Just go back to wherever you just came from Muddler.

People use default templates in common CMS software because they're focused on writing fucking content, not twiddling around with PHPish templates. There are millions of these sites out there with default templates, running Drupal, Wordpress, Blogger, MovableType, MediaWiki, Trac, etc.

Some bloggish things (for instance, Vox) force you to pick one of their few premade templates, or (in the case of Facebook, et. al.) force you to use the same one as everyone else! This is a feature, not a bug.
posted by blasdelf at 9:57 PM on January 8, 2007


It is surprising how easy it is to switch between keyboards, when the changes are fairly minor. I had to learn to use a German layout, then British, then I insisted on getting an American Qwerty again. This is minor compared to the switch away from Qwerty itself, but a change none-the-less.

I'd probably enjoy taking a wack at a totally new layout, except I don't type that much to worry anymore. I have suffered from RSI in the past, from a combination of things (musical keyboard, typing, and delivering papers on a motor route). Funny enough, never was the carpal tunnel, but a different tendon that gave me fits (the thumb).

I tried to do the switch in XP to Dvorak, but it didn't work. Pity, it may have been amusing. I get off on the intensity of holding a layout in my mind while also the thoughts to type.
posted by Goofyy at 12:20 AM on January 9, 2007


Really what keyboards need are cut, copy, paste, undo and redo keys. I would use those a hell of a lot more often then the 'menu' key or the 'windows' key.

I use the menu key and the windows key a LOT. All those windows key shortcuts in windows make it very useful, and the menu key saves me having to right click the mouse, 90% of the time.
posted by antifuse at 2:48 AM on January 9, 2007


There's no way people already out there typing would switch en masse to any new keyboard layout. It's like suddenly changing the meanings of many english words.... if you're a child just learning to speak, it will have no effect on you, but if you're an adult and have been using the same words for years and years, it will be frustrating, difficult, and useless.
posted by tehloki at 5:47 AM on January 9, 2007


Basically: yes, it may be better, but learning how to ride a super-efficient space bicycle and forgetting how to ride the normal kind isn't most people's cup of tea.
posted by tehloki at 5:48 AM on January 9, 2007


I used voice recognition a few years ago to write, instead of typing (and I am a fast, fast touch typist). It was an interesting experience and it really did have an impact on my writing style. I found it very useful for doing a first draft and completely useless for editing. It really taught me to just fucking get something down on paper rather than endlessly tinkering with the first sentence.

The most boring part was training the damn thing.

I would certainly consider going back to voice recognition over learning a new keyboard layout, though there's nothing particularly great about QWERTY (I hate and despise the locations of the shift keys, and, for some reason, semicolon).
posted by unSane at 5:52 AM on January 9, 2007


Just go back to wherever you just came from Muddler.

There it is - the one constant of small minds - being rude. Just like the "love your country or leave it" folks, when confronted with a different point of view all you can think of is to tell someone to be quiet. Shame on you.

People use default templates in common CMS software because they're focused on writing fucking content, not twiddling around with PHPish templates. There are millions of these sites out there with default templates, running Drupal, Wordpress, Blogger, MovableType, MediaWiki, Trac, etc.

Content is more than data. What you're really saying is that people are taking standard, quick route to populating the web with data, not an overall new or unique experience. Frankly the web is far too full of just data - often misleading, uninformative, and reguarly biased data as well.

Sometimes conformity to a standard is helpful - all posts to something like wikipedia end up looking about the same because a standard format is helpful to the purpose of the website. However, when the wikipedia-style website is just copied onto a non-wikipedia website that isn't even a wiki, there is nothing more to the reason than nobody wanted to spend any time on creativity. They just wanted to post data. That's ok, but if everyone does it the web is just one McDonalds after another on the information superhighway. Rather like everyone having the same powerpoint presentation to present their arguments, no?

I'd like to see a web that is a little less Borg like and a lot more creative in its presentation.

Millions, if not billions, of dollars go into web design by professionals all around the world because unique, informative, easy to use, and eye-catching format is important. So, I think I'm on solid ground saying that design as well as data presented is important. Those that focus on only one and not both are second rate.

Some bloggish things (for instance, Vox) force you to pick one of their few premade templates, or (in the case of Facebook, et. al.) force you to use the same one as everyone else! This is a feature, not a bug.

Your terms don't make sense - they are too cookie cutter. "Bug"? "Feature?" Those are CS concepts for code monkeys, not real world comments on variety, spice of life, creativity, or the lack of all the above. Allowing someone to be limited in the number of templates is a limitation - set for any number of reasons including efficiency and a desire to maintain control.

I think it is sad that with all the many, many ways to present data, people just don't care enough about the web to be different. Data is fine - but the web is a graphical user interface, with the ability to show text, images, video, and audio (plus a few others if you have the right interfaces).

Would you applaud all novels following the same formulaic standard? How about music? Other forms of Art? No. The fact that there is uniformity in some of these things from time to time is a fact, but it isn't to be applauded. Don't treat the web differently - like it is a data dump - just because it involves computers and computer users.

I surely hope the "future" is not about using the same template over and over for all web pages, and I don't think it is. Truly interesting web pages will not be cookie cutter. Even MiFi, with it's trim looks is all about the variety of posts and the links - websites of variety, both in data and look and feel.

So, If I'm to go back where I came from, well, it is a better, more interesting, place than the new Web you want to send me into.
posted by Muddler at 8:54 AM on January 9, 2007


It may be better if your goal is to type faster, or whatever. But most people don't make choices based on a single factor, and what counts as "better" is different for every person;

hoverboards don't work on water: I understand what you are saying here, and it's in line with my thinking. This is why I would counsel against learning Dvorak for most folks, even though I think it is a "better" layout.

But here is the thing: economic sophists like the folks at Reason really do believe that there is an objective measure for "better" for each and every product purchase decision a person makes. Further, they believe people rationally and exclusively make a choice towards the "better" in each economic decision they make. Even further, they believe that a person can choose what better means when there are 200 different best products to buy with their income, such they can rationally maximize their happiness with the ideal mix of "better" products [that combinatoric matrix of purchases is what you supposedly to do spend your income on the myriad of things you buy].

Yes, a lot of free market sophists will balk at that language, but it is inescapable: all of the math that underpins the economic modeling (which they worship) fundamentally relies upon this kind of vast and stupid simplification. Without these simplifications, the model completely collapses (and I do mean completely. Supply and demand have no mathematical description at all without these and other simplifications, and without those two math models, there is no neoclassical economics. Without neoclassical economics, there is not even the patina of rationality for the "every man acting selfishly for himself benefits the greatest good" idea that is the kernel of Ayn Randian and Reason's world view).

In that light, by a very reasonable and learned metric, Dvorak is "better" than Qwerty. That fact is a major affront to the Ayn Randian world-view. Hence, the Reason non-debunking.

Of course, all of this talk of economics in a keyboard layout is silly: examining keyboard layout should involve, well, you know, typing. Neither Reason, nor their source, have done one whit of work in that realm. The limited (and very old) study that was done in that realm showed results 100% in contradiction with the conclusions of the sophists at Reason.

Which is why I'm blathering so much about economics: the Reason "debunking" had nothing to do with typing, and everything to do with saving religious dogma.

If, by magic, I could get the world to switch to Dvorak, we'd all save X calories a day on wasted finger travel. It wouldn't be much, but it'd be real: those calories could be spent doing something useful.

In reality, Qwerty has a de fact monopoly on keyboard layout, and will have forever, probably. We can't switch everybody to Dvorak by magic, and switching in reality has big costs.

It is not the most efficient method of typing english text: it was the "wrong" choice, but we're stuck with it. The costs of switching to the right choice are big, which explains the inertia of Qwerty. But the magical mystical mythical and all-knowing "market" chose poorly to begin with, and we're stuck with it.
posted by teece at 8:58 AM on January 9, 2007


Scotty: Oh... (picks up mouse and holds it up to his mouth)... Hello, Computer...

Scotty: KEYBOARD?! How quaint.

Having been typing on a QWERTY keyboard since 7th grade, there's no way I'm going to learn a new layout either. I'm ready to start speaking into my mouse now, though.
posted by chuq at 11:02 AM on January 9, 2007


Muddler:

You should volunteer and offer to make them a beauty of a site.
posted by dozo at 1:28 PM on January 10, 2007


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