Saturday, March 26, 2011

Less Painful Typing - the Dvorak Layout

If you're one of those people who spends 8 or more hours a day typing at a keyboard, you may want to try changing your keyboard layout to the Dvorak layout to make typing more comfortable. I switched to the Dvorak layout 6 months ago, and have since been reaping the benefits of more efficient typing. The Dvorak layout was invented by August Dvorak in 1936. Though not as popular as the QWERTY keyboard layout, it's designed so that the most common alphabets in English can be typed without moving your fingers from the "home row" of your keyboard. Here's what a dvorak keyboard looks like:

The standard QWERTY keys are also shown in red subscript for reference. If you learned touch typing, you probably know that different fingers type different keys. Fingers are positioned on the middle or home row as the "rest" postition and move to the top or bottom row depending on the key to be typed. The rest position for fingers of the left hand on a QWERTY keyboard, little finger to index finger, are placed on the A, S, D and F keys. The LH index finger also types the G key. In the Dvorak layout is designed so that the English vowels are at the home row position of the LH fingers in the order A, O, E, U and I. The RH fingers in the Dvorak layout are at the most common consonants, D, H, T, N and S.

If you haven't heard any of the above talk about touch typing before, and you've not learned touch typing, you're probably best placed to start learning and using the Dvorak keyboard. I used the QWERTY keyboard for some 10 years before exploring and switching to the Dvorak. If you're accustomed to the QWERTY layout, it may take you some time till you get accustomed to the Dvorak layout and type with your normal speed. It took me about 3 weeks to get comfortable with the layout during which time I practiced about an hour or two a day. It may take anything between a couple of weeks to a couple of months for different people, so plan your transit period so that you don't have to do much heavy typing during this period.

Learning Dvorak typing is much more fun than learning to type on a QWERTY keyboard, since even after the first few exercises, you can type many words on the home row itself. There are several great typing tutor software specialized for Dvorak users, e.g. dvorak7min and dvorakng. It is important that you use a good tutorial so that you can master the keys row by row. I thoroughly enjoyed my switch to the Dvorak layout every step of the way, even having some typing contests with a friend. Here are some statistics about the QWERTY and Dvorak layouts.

Key stroke distribution

To be realistic, my typing speed has seen much improvement, but typing feels much more effortless and as stress-free as I could have hoped for when I started out. As the above table shows, most of the characters you type on a Dvorak layout keyboard are on the home row. I'm sure there are a lot of people who can benefit from switching to the Dvorak layout. Could you be one of them?

There's much more information on Dvorak layout on the web. Here are some useful links:

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