An efficient alternative to the QWERTY keyboard layout

coops

Esteemed Pedelecer
Jan 18, 2007
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Manchester U.K.
The DVORAK (U.S./English) keyboard layout seems quite logical, efficient & much easier to type on (i.e. less strain due to much less "finger travel" distance) than the ubiquitous "standard" QWERTY, I've found (a quick google for DVORAK keyboard layout should provide lots of information & details). This page for example contains some quite useful & comprehensive information.

Its likely not for everyone I'm sure, especially well-established QWERTY typists or those for whom work involves regular keyboard/PC changes, but knowing that many visitors of this forum are a progressive, forward thinking and even radical bunch :D I just thought I'd share my discovery for those who may benefit from it.

Strangely, although I knew that QWERTY is (its said) designed to slow down typing, and is an inefficient, illogical and very "unmemorable" layout, I'd not thought much about the possibility of alternatives till recently, when a quick websearch alerted me to the DVORAK layout.

I strongly recommend anyone who finds typing with QWERTY tiresome or difficult (e.g. if you suffer RSI) to look into trying out DVORAK: it really is much easier - some say up to 15-20 times less finger travel! - and I found straightaway that typing feels much smoother, easier and within 20-30 minutes I'd memorised most of the key layout while hardly trying, which I'd never done with QWERTY after many years of use! Significantly, because its more efficient, I also find it much easier to type for extensive periods.

I didn't type quickly or very extensively before, but I found learning the DVORAK layout to be a pleasant experience because of the immediate increased ease of typing and logical, efficient layout, and although my DVORAK typing speed was initially half my previous QWERTY speed, it quickly increased over not too many hours until it equalled it, and with more experience I expect to be able to type considerably faster and for much longer periods with less strain :).

Please post your comments if you do try it and find it beneficial, or if you have any questions. I'm also interested to hear the impressions of anyone who has already tried or still uses a DVORAK keyboard :).

Oh, and there's also DVORAK one-handed keyboard layouts, for either left or right handed typing, if required.

Stuart.
 
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redalpha3

Pedelecer
Oct 31, 2006
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Coops. I've been quite keen to try this for a while but have been too chicken. I believe you can buy stickers to convert a qwerty keyboard to Dvorak but I've always been put off by the fact that the conversion is for an American keyboard. ( I suppose this only matters for the pound sign) You can buy these from a company called the Hooleon Corporation. You can even get an IBM clicker keyboard converted to Dvorak for about 70 dollars.
Where did you get your keyboard? I would love to give this an extended try and now that I rarely use a keyboard other than my own it may well be a good time.
Have you had any computer related problems because of this? I use Linux and see that it is quite easy to switch layouts.
 

coops

Esteemed Pedelecer
Jan 18, 2007
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Manchester U.K.
Hi Pete

Thanks for the pointer on the stickers. I hear you can buy "Dvorak keyboards", but they are more expensive & rare.

I'm still in the experimental phase, and haven't settled on a permanent keyboard solution yet, but what I did was this: after I "tested out" the key arrangement on paper, so to speak (literally - I roughly drew the layout on paper and practiced "typing" on it!), and found it felt easier, I thought about geting stickers, but that can be messy & unsatisfactory, so I took a mini USB keyboard I already had (the size and key type are very similar to a laptop keyboard) and simply removed & rearranged the keys! Only 6 minor keys could not be interchanged, so I used small stickers on those to relabel them. I rarely use the £ $ etc. signs so haven't tackled that issue yet. I do't know if this is feasible on a full-sized desktop keyboard though, and most likely not for the "ergonomic" ones with curving & variously sized keys.

In terms of switching the key layout software on the PC, I use windows XP and its simply a matter of adding a new language (US) and keyboard (DVORAK) setting in the control panel, which can be switched to and from very easily via the "language bar" which can be displayed on the toolbar (right click on the toolbar, highlight "toolbars" and select "language bar"). I've never quite gotten round to trying Linux, so I don't know how it would work for that OS, but DVORAK has apparently been supported by Microsoft for a long time, even prior to XP, so I guess Linux should be even more likely to support it: it also depends on support by your word processor program of choice I guess?

No PC problems so far: only amusement when someone starts typing on a QWERTY layout while the DVORAK layout is active, only to see gibberish appear on the screen ;) :D the look on their faces is priceless :D.

I'll let you know if I settle on a more permanent setup, but the best way to change your keyboard looks to be either stickers, or physically moving keys like I did, unless you can either memorise the Dvorak layout (not impossible by any means) or afford a "custom" Dvorak keyboard.

Let me know how you get on :). When did you first hear about DVORAK or QWERTY alternatives by the way, Pete? Its not like they're new or anything, I know, (DVORAK is from the 1930's!) but I hadn't heard of it till very recently and was surprised to learn microsoft had supported them since Windows98 and maybe even earlier I think.

Stuart.
 

redalpha3

Pedelecer
Oct 31, 2006
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Hi Coops

I would love to see an experienced typist sit down at a Dvorak keyboard! I have known about these since I trained to be a teacher in 1973. Seemingly an educational psychologist in the states came up with a more efficient keyboard layout in the forties or so. In our college we had a huge mainframe computer and one of the lecturers was battling to have a Dvorak keyboard fitted. He was a tad evangelical when it came to keyboards and his enthusiasm rubbed off onto me. However, when i was working it was far too difficult to consider changing. A keyboard layout at home and different ones at work would have been far too much for this male brain to cope with! Now I'm confined to barracks it has become an option.

Linux makes it easy to convert to Dvorak too. I don't think that is an issue. One way I've found is to download a Dvorak keyboard template , print it out on label paper, cover in clear plastic, cut out and stick the labels to the keys and Bob is your uncle! I'm actually in the process of buying a keyboard from here
Dvorak Keyboard (IBM Clicker ): Keyboards By Hooleon

I like the old clicker keyboards. I think that is down to being old fashioned. Not sure how much they are likely to charge for shipping.

If you google "dvorak keyboard layout" there are some interesting sites.

If you are interested in trying Linux you can download free CD's which are Live CD's and run in your CD Rom and so you don't need to touch your OS. I would be more than happy to send you one if you don't have a broadband connection.
 

coops

Esteemed Pedelecer
Jan 18, 2007
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Manchester U.K.
Thanks for the offer Pete, very kind of you - I'd love to deny Microsoft another "user", but I'm not sure it would be practical for me right now: maybe not just yet... :)

Your account of the DVORAK enthusiast lecturer was very interesting :). Having laboured with QWERTY's illogical and inefficient layout for so long and now trying DVORAK out, I can see why people might become fanatical about it - in fact, it appears that if it wasn't for determined lobbying by a few such people, microsoft may never have included support for the layout in windows!

By the way, allegedly the world typing speed record was achieved on a DVORAK keyboard!

It ought to be quite straightforward to either obtain or make a set of "letter" stickers, though DVORAK & QWERTY stickers for multi-use may be useful or necessary in some cases, or ready-made keyboards can be got like the one in your link (that one doesn't have both key layouts I notice? Also its a PS2 refurbished keyboard, so if you don't have a PS2 socket you'll need a PS2 to USB converter such as at the foot of that page ).

One reason I converted my mini USB keyboard was so that I could easily carry it for use on whatever computer I might be using, that way I'm not limited to others' setups.

Many of the sites dedicated to DVORAK describe why it is a more efficient layout and, having looked at a few other attempts at keyboard "reform", I think DVORAK makes a good stab at it.

I guess sooner or later I'll have to find some good quality stickers for keys (I wouldn't want to physically rearrange keys on a laptop keyboard for instance!) though preferably I'll not have to import them!

Stuart.
 

flecc

Member
Oct 25, 2006
45,334
21,897
And that's why I've never bothered Stuart, I use a laptop as well, and also two other people's computers at other locations. I'd probably need to adapt this latest version of my operating system for it to be accepted anyway

I've been aware of the Dvorak layout since Win98 days, but my keyboard involvement at the time was with alterations to suit other language uses for a variation operating system I'd put out which was taken up in a variety of countries.
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redalpha3

Pedelecer
Oct 31, 2006
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One reason I converted my mini USB keyboard was so that I could easily carry it for use on whatever computer I might be using, that way I'm not limited to others' setups.


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Excellent idea. :eek:

I've had a go using the keyboard (with stickers) this afternoon. It is the first time I've ever been bothered by an "unlearning curve". The tendency of your fingers to move to the qwerty letter positions is really formidable. Forty years of typing takes some forgetting. Still, early days, and the difficulty in seeing the letter shapes certainly didn't help!
 

coops

Esteemed Pedelecer
Jan 18, 2007
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Manchester U.K.
Sounds interesting flecc :). It doesn't seem 5 minutes since support for some languages was lacking, in windows98 for example. XP seems much better in that respect, and I suppose broader language support is more critical (and probably more challenging, I'd guess!) than an efficient English/U.S. key layout: it is nice to be able to type relatively comfortably (and more accurately too, apparently!), although it does have impracticalities when QWERTY is so universally used.

I tried voice recognition in the past as a means to transcribe long portions of text and, while it was probably faster and easier on the whole, the time involved in training the program, teaching new words and correcting errors (was only around 95-97% accurate at best, so still one misrecognition in 20-30 or so words - quite a high error rate!) was tedious, and the headset mic restrictive.

Right now if I were to do word processing for long periods I'd much rather just type more comfortably :).

Stuart.
 

flecc

Member
Oct 25, 2006
45,334
21,897
I also tried voice recognition for a while Stuart, but like you, and it seems virtually everyone else, the learning and correction time more than cancelled any benefit.

I think it's just for those who's finger problems prevent typing.
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coops

Esteemed Pedelecer
Jan 18, 2007
1,225
1
Manchester U.K.
Pete, I don't know if it helps but I tried to accustom myself with the DVORAK layout before I started typing on it: that way you can both begin to learn the new and unlearn the old before you begin :).

The main advantage of DVORAK seems to be that the letters on the middle or "home" row of keys (supposed to be the easiest to type on) are used around 70% of the time (compared to 30% with QWERTY), and all the vowels are on the left-hand side: "AOEUI", with consonants "DHTNS" on the right: if you begin to gently memorise the middle row, thats 70% of your typing sorted out :). Then, the top row is, on the left side, common punctuation, then Y close to the vowels feels natural; right hand top row is less common consonants. The whole bottom row is the least common consonants - the big scorers in scrabble! - QJKX etc. with a BMW thrown in :D.

Visualising the layout to some extent before you begin seems to help both learn the new and unlearn the old :).

Stuart.
 

coops

Esteemed Pedelecer
Jan 18, 2007
1,225
1
Manchester U.K.
Yes I agree flecc. Trouble is, if I'm doing something mundane like data entry i.e. transcribing, I just want to do it as quickly as possible!

However, if I can type faster, for longer, and more accurately with DVORAK, thats great!

Its a bit like riding a more efficient bike I guess: its can transform the typing experience from hard work and repetitive strain (cf squishy, energy-sapping suspension!) to an enjoyable exercise :).

Stuart.
 

redalpha3

Pedelecer
Oct 31, 2006
91
0
coops: Understanding the logic behind the system certainly does help. I am going to do a lot of practising on a paper template. It has always seemed more sensible to me that aeiou would be the order of the vowels in the middle row, but I'm sure there will be a reason for not doing that. I'm sure it will be worth persevering with.

As an aside, I have yet to come across the speech recognition software that can cope with my accent! Come to think of it that applies to most of the people south of the Trent too!:D
 

coops

Esteemed Pedelecer
Jan 18, 2007
1,225
1
Manchester U.K.
Yes, I've found that undestanding & visualising/being mindful of the layout helped a lot, especially at first, to unlearn QWERTY memory & learn the DVORAK layout. Practising on paper is a good idea, and also a quick & easy way to try out the ease of typing on a DVORAK layout - one should notice the smoother & easier typing motion straightaway :).

I know what you mean about the vowels' key order: some of the other positions seem a little odd too, like S on the extreme right when its more common than D or H for instance, but like you say there's probably a reason: its said some common key combinations are also supposedly optimized e.g. TH, SH, NT, NG, _D, _H, _T etc. are all layed out such that they are typed in an "inward" direction towards the centre of the keyboard, so that the fingers type in an order from the "outer" e.g. fourth, little fingers, towards the inner e.g. index finger, which is supposed to be more ergonomic :). At least all the vowels are grouped together, anyway!

P.S. just added this link to my initial post, as a useful source of more information on DVORAK.

Stuart.
 
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