Saturday, 28 November 2009

Dvorak keyboard

I have been wanting to try a Dvorak keyboard. I did not see them available at computer stores. I had an old keyboard at home so I flicked off all the keys and repositioned them. In Windows Control Panel under Regional and Language Options one can add the Dvorak layout: click Options in the Languages tab. I don't usually have the language bar open but it is now displayed to allow switching back to Qwerty. I have my other keyboard on the desk but need to plug it in as both keyboards have PS/2 connectors, not USB. Though I suspect one could have 2 keyboards attached concurrently.


Initially Windows would switch back to Qwerty intermittently, for no clear reason to me, so I switched the default to Dvorak.

Why do this? Well it is apparently more ergonomic. Qwerty is designed to minimise stuck typebars. Which was relevant with typewriters in the 19th century but irrelevant now. Dvorak places commonly used letters in the middle letter row. Letter frequency depends slightly on writing style but is generally
e t a o i n s r h l d c u m f p g w y b v k x j q z
So the 10 letters in the Dvorak main row come from the 13 most commonly typed letters.

There is dispute whether Dvorak is actually faster. The typing speed record was set on a Dvorak keyboard, but even if speed is similar for both layouts for most people, it is possible that typing strain injuries are less on a better designed keyboard.

How have I found it? Slower, especially initially. I was back to looking at the keyboard while I typed. Looking at the keyboard is not much of an issue as I type from thought, not written text. I am still using the old layout at work which may hinder uptake, though I am not certain it is, and either way it doesn't concern me. I see no reason why someone cannot be competent with both and comfortably switch between layouts.

However I think it has changed what I type because I have to slow my thoughts to the speed I type. While one can think faster than he types, I could type at a reasonable speed with Qwerty, a speed that matched well enough finding the words I needed to express my ideas. I cannot do this yet with Dvorak. Is my writing better or worse for the slower typing? I don't know. Though improvement in my writing style is more likely to come with practice and better proofreading rather than typing speed.

Mistakes on this keyboard are probably more frequent, though I used backspace too frequently on Qwerty. Spelling errors, incorrect doubled letters, missed word spaces. Dropped letters (and I am unaware of it at the time) are more frequent now whereas they were nearly non-existent previously. And of course occasionally confusing key placement for Qwerty location. The letter "A" is the only letter that is in the same position in both layouts.

Punctuation is different and seems a little more difficult and less logical.

I will probably persist for a while.

Others have suggest Dvorak is too different from Qwerty for the masses to adopt and have recommended an improved but Qwerty-like layout, the Colemak. Though I think the "B" position (Qwerty) is the most difficult to consistently use the correct fingering, and should have been traded for "X" or "Z."

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