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QWERTY keyboard, how do you plead? - Gluty!
August 11, 2010 8:40 AM   Subscribe

QWERTY keyboard, how do you plead? Gluty! (Stephen) Fry's English Delight tackles the sociotechnical history of the QWERTY keyboard.

This episode is currently available for a week. I know this is time sensitive, but the combination of QWERTY, technology and history, delivered by Stephen Fry, is irresistible.
posted by carter (42 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Good article if only for the revelation that there are non-qwerty keyboards like the dvorak. I did not know that such a keyboard layout existed. I'm tempted into finding one and learning. I won't though. Used to the layout of qwerty.
posted by Fizz at 8:56 AM on August 11, 2010


Good article if only for the revelation that there are non-qwerty keyboards like the dvorak. I did not know that such a keyboard layout existed.

I honestly can't tell if this is sarcastic. The rest of the comment sounds like no, but OTOH it is completely mindblowing to me that someone could not have heard about this.

Anyway: Flagged as resistable.
posted by DU at 9:02 AM on August 11, 2010


Someone who has the time to listen to a 30 minute podcast tell me: Does it perpetuate the myth that Dvorak is better than Qwerty?
posted by Plutor at 9:04 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


QWERTY is too short, QWERTY is dirty,
QWERTY-ERTY-OO-E-OP is more accurate than QWERTY!

written in 6th grade, because QWERTYUIOP sounded really fun
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 9:06 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've typed DVORAK since 1989. Biggest drawback then was lack of OS support (thanks Roedy Green, for your DOS TSR keyboard intercept). Biggest drawback now is ... not everyone else uses it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:07 AM on August 11, 2010


This just reminds me of how painfully in love with Stephen Fry I am. I love listening to this.
posted by strixus at 9:11 AM on August 11, 2010


After 3 semesters of touch typing in junior high, I don't think I could remap my brain to another keyboard layout if I wanted to. Far too hard-wired at this point. Happily, years on IRC (over a 2400 baud modem using an AT&T dumb terminal) boosted my typing speed up to something close to 90wpm when I'm really well warmed up, so I don't really feel the need for anything "more effecient".

I have thought one of those chording keyboards would be cool, of nothing else so I could type with one hand and have the other free for, er, um... whatever else.
posted by hippybear at 9:11 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why didn't they just put a sticker on the typewriter that said if you type too fast the keys will stick together?
posted by digsrus at 9:15 AM on August 11, 2010


In high school I switched to Dvorak. It really is much faster and was much easier to learn than I expected. The biggest problem is having to switch between Dvorak and QWERTY using public computers or other people's computers. That and getting drunk, tired, or otherwise impaired and typing pages of structured gibberish to your friends on IM, scaring those who are unaware of your keyboard layout eccentricity and annoying those who are.

Sometimes I long to return to the digital Dvorak utopia, but I don't program any more, nor do I play MUDs any more, so I just don't need to type that fast.
posted by cmoj at 9:19 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I remember having to take keyboarding in high school because all the other electives were already filled up or conflicted with other classes. I was a decent hunt and peck typist at that point and the thought of a whole semester of just typing was dreadful. But goddamn, even though the machines and software were all horrible, learning real touch typing turned out to be incredibly useful. (If nothing else, for trivia games on IRC.)

Actually, talking about Dvorak reminds me one time when for the state science fair, for some reason we had to use a friend's keyboard that had the keycaps arranged for Dvorak. The OS was still in QWERTY mode, thankfully, so I could still type at my normal speeds.
posted by kmz at 9:27 AM on August 11, 2010


I have thought one of those chording keyboards would be cool, of nothing else so I could type with one hand and have the other free for, er, um... whatever else.

The mouse?
posted by Jpfed at 9:32 AM on August 11, 2010


Ah, there we go. A couple of examples of one-handed chording keyboards.

The mouse?

Well, in my case trackball, but yeah, sure, why not?
posted by hippybear at 9:35 AM on August 11, 2010


I first was typing on Apple ][ series computers in the early eighties, by hunt-and-peck, but then took a typing class in high school (using standard typewriters). In 1989 or 1990 I learned dvorak (thanks to typing tutor software that supported it plus the ability to switch layouts even on the early Macs) and used it for a couple of years. Then, I had a tech support job for several years which required me to use many computers throughout the day which were not mine, so I switched back to qwerty. Finally, in the mid nineties that job was over and switched back to dvorak.

For me the benefit wasn't increased typing speed (my speed is probably about the same). I had far more tendon problems on heavy typing days when I was using qwerty.

Oh, and regarding the Liebowitz/Margolis paper linked above by Plutor, here's The Fable of the Fable: "Liebowitz and Margolis are economists opposed to an 'excessive inertia' theory, for which QWERTY is often cited as an example. Rather than try to prove their point with a generally valid argument, they simply attack Dvorak as a dubious replacement for QWERTY."
posted by D.C. at 9:42 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


DU,

I was aware of other keyboard layouts but I did not realize there was one that was actually used in some semi-regular way outside of the QWERTY. A keyboard that actually threatens the standardized QWERTY. You just don't see this layout in any stores or as an option. I'm sure there are a few different types of keyboards, but does anyone actually use them?
posted by Fizz at 9:42 AM on August 11, 2010


Ten thumbs typing tutor can teach dvorak, and it's a pretty good program. I liked it better than Mavis. I used it to learn dvorak years ago, but never got as fast as I am with qwerty. The non-alphabetic characters never stuck in my mind, and I didn't want to change all my keycaps, so it was a pain in the butt to type punctuation.
posted by ctmf at 9:43 AM on August 11, 2010


The mouse?

The joystick, surely.
posted by quin at 9:43 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Dvorak is not about speed but comfort. If you switch, you won't regret it, but it's so intangible that it's hard to convince people to try.
posted by kconner at 9:55 AM on August 11, 2010


Whether it's QWERTY or DVORAK or AZERTY or any of the others, I think ease of use depends on what keyboard you first learned on and continued with. In my case it was QWERTY, from typewriter to PC to laptop to BlackBerry. So, I was initially totally flummoxed when for five weeks I had to use the AZERTY keyboard while visiting friends in France. Nothing was intuitive for me but it certainly was for them. I caught on after a frustrating day or two but was relieved to get back to QWERTY on returning home - though I inevitably confused the two for a while. In that some sort of typing scheme is coherent and well learnt, don't all language-specific layouts and variations of same make sense in the end? "Practice makes perfect." (Sorry for being trite...)
posted by drogien at 9:57 AM on August 11, 2010


As a person who normally cruises at 120 wpm, and loves doing it, I find it's like playing the piano or meditating, very relaxing.

I've told about a bazillion people the story about how QWERTY was designed to slow things down and have always been surprised that this wasn't more widely known. The layout is so counter-intuitive! If you look at a well-used keyboard it's clear that the most-worn characters lie beneath the weakest fingers or in awkward places. For me at least the QWERTY layout is so deeply ingrained (I've used it for over 40 years) I'm quite certain that Dvorak would just cause my brain to implode.

An aside, I type with the keyboard resting on my knees and have met only a few others who do this.
posted by kinnakeet at 9:58 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fizz, you can switch to dvorak using the keyboard system settings in Windows, OS X, etc.; getting a keyboard with different printing on the key caps is not necessary. I've rearranged keys on keyboards which allow it without risk of breaking, but it's purely cosmetic and not needed if you learn to touch type. Plus, when someone else uses my computer it's trivial to change the software setting back to qwerty.
posted by D.C. at 10:00 AM on August 11, 2010


Is it actually faster/easier to use the DVORAK settings? I just wonder at how confusing that would be since I've trained my fingers to move a certain way.
posted by Fizz at 10:17 AM on August 11, 2010


Another article on the Dvorak/Qwerty issue here

There's also a pretty basic argument to debunk this: it's not necessarily easier to make all of the keys closer to each other. I don't know if you've ever tried typing words that only require the baseline keys -- words like sad, flag, glad etc. but they're not necessarily faster to type than words spread out on the keyboard.

Really, try typing sad 10 times fast, then hot ten times. Which one was faster? I personally can type hot way faster than I can type sad, and I can type post faster than flag.

The biggest problem in typing would have to be the b (and, to a lesser extent, the g, h, and y). It's so far from every other key and definitely takes an extra bit of time to get out there. Other than that I haven't found any compelling argument that moving around the keyboard is necessarily a bad thing.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:29 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


kinnakeet, QWERTY wasn't designed to slow things down. It was designed to reduce jamming, which has been mistranslated (a la the telephone game) as slowing things down.

The link that plutor posted explains:
http://www.utdallas.edu/~liebowit/keys1.html

As for how much better Dvorak is over QWERTY, thisresearch paper argues that it's only about 4-5% better.
http://pds.twi.tudelft.nl/~buzing/Articles/keyboards.pdf

posted by jasonhong at 10:31 AM on August 11, 2010


kinnakeet, QWERTY wasn't designed to slow things down. It was designed to reduce jamming, which has been mistranslated (a la the telephone game) as slowing things down.

Which would really mean it was designed to speed things up.
posted by grubi at 10:33 AM on August 11, 2010


Learning Dvorak after you have learned QWERTY is not as hard as you think. If you learned to drive a car with the driver side on the left, you can learn to drive on the right without much trouble. You will need space to practice, of course. :)
posted by kconner at 10:41 AM on August 11, 2010


The trouble with all of the alternative keyboard layouts is that they just don't improve things enough to overcome the cost in time and effort to learn them. Most days, the longest things I type are MeFi comments, to be honest. Otherwise, most of my emails are short, one or two sentence deals. Being 4-5% faster would save me less than a minute a day.

To get some serious speed gains, you have to start looking at minimizing the number of interfaces between your thoughts and your computer ("You think, it types!").
posted by tommasz at 10:47 AM on August 11, 2010


Here is all you need to know:

1. Dvorak is another option besides QWERTY. You may or may not like it better.
2. You don't need to buy anything. It's just a setting on your computer.
3. Don't rearrange or re-label your keys. Hang a printout of the layout on the wall and look at it. Then you won't get in the habit of looking down, and you'll go faster.
4. Like a foreign language, a keyboard layout takes time to get used to. Immerse yourself and don't give up.
5. Unlike a language, it's pretty easy to learn. Especially if you already learned QWERTY pretty well, a lot of your skill will transfer.

Seven or eight years ago I learned Dvorak with an online tutorial, and lots of IM conversations for practice. It took me a couple weeks to really know the keys, and a few months to pass my QWERTY speed. Despite initial frustration, it was completely worth it.

I for one like Dvorak a *lot* better. If QWERTY were gravel, Dvorak would be butter. There might be a slight speed advantage, but that just isn't the point. Dvorak takes less effort and feels a lot smoother.
posted by kconner at 10:57 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I did not know that such a keyboard layout existed. I'm tempted into finding one and learning.

You don't need a physical dvorak keyboard, you can get keymappings for lots of OSes, but then the letters on the board won't match what you actually type.
posted by delmoi at 11:24 AM on August 11, 2010


Anyway, if you want to go fast get a cording keyboard like those court reporters. Those people type like 200wpm. It also probably won't slow down your qwerty speed. Or get voice recognition software. If you speak clearly and for the software you can get far higher speeds.
posted by delmoi at 11:28 AM on August 11, 2010


I'm a programmer. Half the keys I type aren't letters at all, so Qwerty vs. Dvorak doesn't matter much to me. What does matter is that every keyboard I use has the same keyboard layout, and that the damn Caps Lock key is disabled and/or remapped to Ctrl.

The fight for Dvorak is a lost cause. Qwerty is eminently good enough. There are better ideas for an improved keyboard that are easier to implement and are backward compatible with Qwerty but will never be adopted because most computer users just don't care, and most computer hardware companies are not interested in innovation.
posted by i_have_a_computer at 11:50 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I played around with alternate keyboards a while back and eventually realized that no matter what, I'd have to be good at QWERTY. If you only ever use one or two computers, you can get away with changing layouts. But when you use many different ones, not all of which you own / control, you're always going to have to have QWERTY. And since switching back and forth can become painful, combined with the relatively modest gains, I've been back to QWERTY ever since.
posted by wildcrdj at 12:34 PM on August 11, 2010


I switched to Dvorak in 97 and found it an easy transition. I think it's significantly superior to QWERTY, more so from an effort standpoint instead of speed. I wish Dvorak had caught on widely and I'm loathe to switch back to QWERTY.

But even though all modern PC operating systems support Dvorak it's the mobile OS situation that has me considering switching back. I was able to install an app on my Android phone to get Dvorak but I'd kind of like an iPad, at least when it gets a camera for video calls. Unfortunately, it looks like iOS doesn't have Dvorak support (at least not for the touchscreen keyboard). I saw a Dvorak app for the iPad but it only provides the layout when using that application, which seems useless. And I don't want to have to jailbreak a device for my keyboard support.

It just has me wondering if Dvorak will be increasingly left behind in the future as we move to more of these mobile computing devices. Or maybe someone will release a kick-ass Android tablet soon and I won't have to worry about it.
posted by 6550 at 12:59 PM on August 11, 2010


Anyway, if you want to go fast get a cording keyboard like those court reporters.
posted by delmoi


Those do phonetic spelling, and homonyms need to be disambiguated in a separate cleanup pass.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:32 PM on August 11, 2010


6550, the iPad does support DVORAK when using a BT keyboard; this is how I've written far too many late night ask responses.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:50 PM on August 11, 2010


It just has me wondering if Dvorak will be increasingly left behind in the future as we move to more of these mobile computing devices.

The iPhone comes preinstalled with quite a few keyboard layouts; Dvorak is not currently among them, but that's certainly not difficult to change.
posted by Epenthesis at 3:23 PM on August 11, 2010


Can you add Dvorak (touchscreen) support without jailbreaking the phone?
posted by 6550 at 4:04 PM on August 11, 2010


Can you add Dvorak (touchscreen) support without jailbreaking the phone?

My quick search of the App Store shows two Dvorak keyboard programs available for the iPhone, and one for the iPad. So, yes, you can do it without jailbreaking.

Sadly, these seem mostly to be notepad style apps. I don't think they actually replace the keyboard across the OS.
posted by hippybear at 4:48 PM on August 11, 2010


I learned Dvorak when I was in my teens, but some years after mastering QWERTY. It took me maybe a month to get good and I echo most of the sentiments that it's not nearly so much about speed as it is comfort. I can still switch back to QWERTY without too much difficulty, but it feels like so much work in terms of finger movement.

One interesting thing I've found is that I tend to make more typos that are legitimate words because the left hand home row are all vowels and replacing one vowel with another is reasonably likely to still result in an actual word. This has caused me to do more proof-reading of the things I write, but I don't think that's bad.
posted by Cogito at 4:56 PM on August 11, 2010


Learning Dvorak after you have learned QWERTY is not as hard as you think. If you learned to drive a car with the driver side on the left, you can learn to drive on the right without much trouble. You will need space to practice, of course. :)

Eh, I tried for about four or five months once, and it never got any easier for me. I touch type pretty fast, though (years of USENET use meant that I was the best typist in my seventh grade typing class, and totally pwned Mario Teaches Typing) so it's not like it's much of a loss.

A few weeks ago, I switched to an ergonomic keyboard. It's finally corrected my last few bad typing habits (apparently I was hitting B and Y with the wrong hand), but switching back to a normal keyboard when I need to is weeeird.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:35 PM on August 11, 2010


Deathalicious:
Really, try typing sad 10 times fast, then hot ten times. Which one was faster? I personally can type hot way faster than I can type sad, and I can type post faster than flag.


Dvorak isn't only about putting common letters on the home row, but also about alternating hands.

You are probably right that it is easier to type "hot" (right-right-left) than "sad" (left-left-left) on QWERTY, but for me on DVORAK, both "hot" and "sad" are right-left-right, so I can type them both equally fast

and both faster than you.

me=hot
you=sad

posted by Mr. Anthropomorphism at 8:31 PM on August 11, 2010


Too late perhaps (RSS and holidays you know), but how would one use things like vi on a Dvorak layout? Is there a specific mapping or something?
posted by phax at 12:43 AM on August 17, 2010


This thread is giving me a dvorak hankerin'.
posted by cmoj at 9:37 AM on August 17, 2010


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