So here's something that comes up every time someone tries to use my computer: I use the Dvorak keyboard layout. I thought I'd write a short (edit: I mean a really long) post about how I came to use it, and about the practicalities of using a completely different keyboard layout.

I started using Dvorak because a year or so into my first tech job I started getting RSI from typing, it was at the point where I'd often spend long stretches of time just browsing around code formulating my next steps (which would involve minimal typing) instead of actually doing anything, since the doing would mean pain in my hands.

I'd been touch-typing in the sense that I never needed to look at the keyboard for years, but with the QWERTY layout my touch-typing would be really ad-hoc, my hands would hover over the keyboard jumping from place to place while I was typing.

So long story short I found out about the Dvorak layout, how it was supposedly more ergonomic and decided to give it a shot, could turkey. My method of doing this was to print out a copy of the Dvorak layout from Wikipedia (attached) and glue it to my monitor. Then I'd type really slowly with the keyboard in my lap under the table (my usual working posture at the time).

It took me around 3 hours or so to be able to do any sort of basic typing with Dvorak, 3 days not to type painfully slowly, 3 weeks to type at some approximation of reasonable speed, and 3 months to get back to the speed I typed when I was using QWERTY. May main method of gaining speed was making a point of getting into arguments on IRC.

One thing I noticed within a couple of hours of starting to use Dvorak was that it felt like much less effort, with QWERTY my hands would jump all over the keyboard, whereas with Dvorak you feel more like your hands keep gliding from place to place and don't jump around as much.

The reason for this is that with Dvorak you end up typing more on the home row (around 70% of strokes with English text instead of around 30% with QWERTY), that Dvorak is arranged so you're more likely to alternate between your hands, and that the keys are explicitly arranged so the hand movements are more natural. There's some more coverage of this in the Wikipedia article about the layout.

To sum this all up from what I remember about using QWERTY Dvorak is much better, and I haven't had any RSI ever since switching to it. But this could all be incidental, is filled with confirmation bias, and I'm a sample size of one.

I can no longer touch-type on QWERTY after using Dvorak for so long, when I have to I have to hunt and peck. I'm sure I could switch to it again if I made the effort, but I don't have any incentive to to so.

Setting up Dvorak on Windows / Mac / Linux takes about a minute, all of them have it in their standard keyboard preferences. The variant I use is "Icelandic Dvorak" which I made and has been included in XOrg for years now. It's just like the standard English Dvorak except when I type alt+n I get æ, alt+z is þ, and ð is alt+d. I'm aware of one other person than myself using that layout for any amonut of time, although I don't know if she still uses it.

One advantage (and disadvantage) of using it is the utter confusion people encounter when trying to use one of my computers. I don't re-arrange any of the keys on the keyboards I use so the just look like normal QWERTY keyboards, but when you try to type on them nothing will be where you expect it to be.

I used to work in a place where it was considered good sport to plaster NSFW desktop backgrounds on unlocked computers. I never locked my computer but I did use the Ratpoison window manager and Dvorak, nobody ever got past being frustrated with my keyboard.

Whoah, this was way longer than I thought it would be. Any questions?

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/25/KB_United_States_Dvorak.svg/800px-KB_United_States_Dvorak.svg.png
14
7
Holger Joest's profile photoEthan Smith's profile photoAlex Duncan's profile photoSean McGuire's profile photo
21 comments
 
used Dvorak too. The problem that came up soon: hotkeys. some of them are actually layout-bound (like hjkl in vim, or asdw in josm), and don't look nice in dvorak. The other problem is cyrillic - standard cyrillic layout uses dvorak-like idea, but hotkeys in most apps are cyr/lat bound - so for instance latin с should be on the same button with cyrillic с for ctrl-c to work properly in Mozilla, for example.
 
+Darafei Praliaskouski That was one thing I meant to cover, some of the hardest things to train myself off were hotkeys and passwords. There's some things like WASD on Google Maps's Street View that are hard to use, but I'm used to most other hotkeys under Dvorak.

Actually I find some of them better, I don't use vi regularly (I use Emacs) but Vi's hjkl always felt a bit unnatural because you had to do all movement operations with one hand. The Dvorak versions are spread around the keyboard (but still relatively comfortable to type) so you can use both hands.

Mac OS X (which I don't use anymore) also has this mode where you can type using Dvorak, but any hotkey combination will be done with a QWERTY layout. I'm not aware of an option to do that under Linux, but that seems like a really good compromise between the two.
 
Good post. Interesting. Hotkeys in emacs are harder with dvorak since they were defined for qwerty. Otherwise I think Dvorak is great. I have been using it for 6 months or so. It is really strange that the qwerty layout still is the norm. I mean, Dvorak has been available for decades and everybody who uses it agrees that it is a better layout than qwerty.
 
Sounds exactly like how I switched to Dvorak. I had some early RSI symptoms and had tried learning Dvorak before, but due to the fear of RSI I had the motivation to switch. No RSI and now I touch type perfectly which I never could with qwerty :).
 
+Claudio Ramirez I almost always type English, and only occasionally Icelandic. There are language-specific dvorak layouts that try to move some of the letters more common in those languages to the main keyboard, just like the adapted QWERTY layouts for various languages.

For any language that has a similar distribution of vowels and consonants as English Dvorak should have more activity on the home row though, I whipped up a quick script to test this out: https://gist.github.com/2064945 (patches welcome).

For accents I just use the standard XOrg composite keys, e.g. to type á I type alt+'+a = á.
 
I use Dvorak, but I set my computers to default to QWERTY, so when other people need to use them for some reason, they don't freak out. In fact they don't notice anything at all since it defaults to QWERTY every time you open a window (this is on Windows). When I use the machine I hit Ctrl-Shift to switch it to Dvorak. I've had various family members use my machines over the last year, and nobody has ever noticed Dvorak was installed.
 
Has anyone got any personal experiences with the Colemak layout: how it feels and how it compares to QWERTY and Dvorak?
It is said that the Colemak layout is better than those previously mentioned and I really want to change from QWERTY to something else but I just can't make my decision :)
 
I'd type really slowly with the keyboard in my lap under the table (my usual working posture at the time).
Shouldn't there be support under your arms to prevent RSI? I'm not very familiar with this, but I heard it was better, and when I have to type with 10 fingers without support on at least my wrists, I type much messier and I feel it in my shoulders after a few minutes. (I touch-type too, learned without noticing mostly trough MSN.)
 
I might still try it, since I have some RSI type stuff too. What I did first, which helped immensely, was becoming mouse-ambidextrous so I can switch hands often for mouse-heavy stuff. And then using non-standard mouses, of course. And voice recognition can be a great way to avoid the keyboard altogether -- but it only works for some tasks, and it takes practice as well. And then there are the weirder things like eye trackers, mind-control interfaces, and my personal favorite, the Dance Dance Revolution USB mat with AutoHotkey. Or just AutoHotkey alone is pretty darn awesome. Every Windows user should have it, I think.
 
I've been using Dvorak since '98. Back then it was difficult to configure, but now ships standard with most modern OSes. Even iOS has a proper Dvorak keyboard, but only for jailbroken phones (inexplicably Apple supports both Dvorak and Colemak for hardware keyboards, but not the virtual keyboard).

Navigation in Vim is a bit more difficult with Dvorak than QWERTY. I was halfway tempted to remap hjkl to their corresponding QWERTY keys, but decided to leave it.

Colemak looks interesting, and is supposedly better for coding and shortcuts keys. I'd be curious to hear from any Dvorak or QWERTY switchers what the experience is like.
 
I actually use a $5 keyboard from Micro Center. I've tried the "ergonomic" keyboards, but they feel less comfortable to me. I also find cheap shoes more comfortable. Coincidence?
 
I've used Dvorak for a while now. The only real issues I've had were with the GRE tests forcing me to use Qwerty. With Dvorak I'm pretty fast, with Qwerty, I'm practically hunting and pecking.
 
+Wayne Radinsky You betcha. :) The dance mat makes a fairly slow mouse, but it also works well for when you are repeatedly pressing a small number of keys. Plus, exercise!
 
Interesting. I got a treadmill desk, but the treadmill broke.
 
Also interested in hearing Colemak users post their experience (esp. in comparison to Dvorak)
 
This feels like a BETA/VHS, Mac/Windows argument. Dvorak seems like a far superior product, that is well designed, thought out well, etc. But simply put, the mass of people don't use it and it creates incompatibility issues. The thoughtlessness/seamlessness of being able to type on any keyboard seems to be a better benefit than the ease/flow of a well thought-out system; my brain has already mapped to this. I know it could do it again... retraining isn't all that hard, but having to flip back and forth on shared equipment seems like a frustrating effort.

I fortunately don't have any wrist issues; I like a split keyboard and the only time I really use a regular keyboard is on my laptop. Fortunately, I'm not a coder, so I guess my typing has been minimised; I tend to do a lot more mouse work than typing for my analysis job. Other than your hand stuff, are there any other major benefits you see to Dvorak for those of us less hard core about typing or coding?
 
Well, russian-cyrillic layout is already Dvorak-like, and I'm using latin layout really rarely, although it's QWERTY for me for now. Can I say that I'm using Dvorak too? ;3
Add a comment...