Alternate keyboard layouts – for geekiness and other reasons

[BiOzZ] wanted to try a different keyboard layout than the ubiquitous Qwerty, so he grabbed an old keyboard and converted it to the Dvorak setup. This was accomplished by first popping off all of the keys from the black keyboard seen above, and boy did he find a mess underneath. It was nothing that a trip through the dishwasher (for the case only) wouldn’t fix, and the next step was to replace the keys in a different order. He found that a couple of them wouldn’t just go back in a different place, but had to be rotated 90 degrees to fit. Not a huge problem, you can see that he overcame the visual speedbump of letters facing the wrong way by adding his own letter labels. From there he walks us through the process of getting Windows to switch to the Dvorak layout.

I went through a similar process at the end of last year. I was experiencing a lot of pain in my hands from my prolific feature writing here at Hackaday so I chose to try out the Colemak keyboard. The white keyboard above is the one I repurposed using that layout. I found it quite easy to switch between two keyboard layouts using Ubuntu. After you’ve set it up in the keyboards dialog a layout icon appears on the panel. It wasn’t hard to pick the new key locations up, but it did reduce my typing speed by a factor of 8. In the end I found that adjusting my chair height and keeping my hands warm did the trick and I’m back on the Qwerty where I belong.

Comments

  1. christian says:

    A friend of mine has been using this keyboard for about five years now.

    This is what happens when you buy 35 keyboards for £1 and cant think of anything else to do with them.

  2. Alan says:

    When I tried dvorak I ended up with all the keys at different heights due to them now being on different rows. Only used it for a week before I went completely nuts.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Woah, way beyond my skill set.

  4. biozz says:

    my secound HAD! X3

  5. bogdan says:

    I think that I am going to try this…

    A long time ago I took apart my keyboard to wash it.. and then i put the buttons in random order, as i don’t look at the keyboard while typing anyway…It frustrated everyone that had to use my computer.

  6. Jessica says:

    I highly highly recommend not changing the physical layout. It promotes hunting and pecking. Ideally you’d use a blank keyboard (go go Das). You’re hopefully going to be learning to touchtype. When I switched to Dvorak, I printed out the layout, complete with sectioning so I could see which finger is supposed to hit each key, and stuck it to my monitor.

    Sure, it’s a bit steeper of a learning curve, but I guarantee you’ll learn it faster and better.

  7. tyco says:

    I learned Dvorak without rearranging the physical keys on my keyboard. I’d recommend that for anyone learning Dvorak because it FORCES you to look at the screen while typing.

    Added bonus: Now when I look down at keyboards, my brain sort of half-switches back to qwerty, and the act of looking at the keyboard ended up becoming the cue.

    Been a happy Dvorak user for 6 years now; it only took me about 3 months to get back to my former qwerty speed.

  8. biozz says:

    @bogdan
    same here … i switch to QWERTY using the keyboard icon when i need to type long things in a short time (im only 24 hours in to using the Dvorak setup) than ill switch to Dvorak to learn it more than eventually ill do a complete conversion when i pass my QWERTY speed except for when im playing a game

  9. Jessica says:

    Also, forgot to mention, it moves the nubs so it’s more difficult to position your hands without looking.

  10. mungewell says:

    I did something similar a while ago; switching the keyboard map between QWERTY and Dvorak, but not moving keys – who looks at the keyboard anyhow? ;-)

    You can define console commands ‘ASDF’ and ‘AOEU’ to switch between layouts.
    Simon

  11. Thomas says:

    I’ve been using dvorak for the past 2 years.
    After getting used to dvorak, not only do you type faster with fewer mistakes, but your hands also feel better, because they aren’t as stressed as when using QWERTY.

    I see no reason why everybody shouldn’t be using dvorak.
    Everybody should give it a go. It does take some time to learn if you’re coming from QWERTY, but it is fairly easy to learn.It does take a bit of willpower to do so though. but you’ll thank yourself for switching later on :)

  12. Stevie says:

    Would Dvorak help against RSI? It started with wrist pain, then a bruise on my wrist and now there’s pain in the knuckle area around the little finger and the finger to the side of it. I guess cos that side of the hand is stretched most.

    :(

  13. Snu says:

    nice, ive been using dvorak layout for probably about 9-10 years now. i started out by rearranging the keys on a keyboard, but learning how to touch type was essential since i would occasionally use other keyboards.

    there were a few issues with switching tho –
    i had a job where i couldnt switch the layout, so i was stuck with qwerty. i still scored highest in typing speed in the training class tho, heh.

    second issue is older operating systems and games that have issues with switching, mostly not an issue now, but it was 9 years ago when win98 was still around.

    third is my biggest problem – keyboard shortcuts. using a program thats shortcut heavy like a tracker, blender, or video editors can be a real pain when the shortcuts arent where the programmer expected them to be.

    still tho, i wouldnt even dream of going back.

  14. Haku says:

    I’ve been using QWERTY for over 25 years, no intention of changing now.

  15. Autogyro says:

    “qwfpgj”

    I’ve spent a few years on colemak now, and its great. You will be slow at first, very much so if you are a proficient qwerty-typist, but you will get used to it (eventually). The best way to start is to get a typing-tutor programme and learn to type blind, and do not physically switch your keys, it will only hold you back.

    Switching should help against RSI (but it is by no means a cure), you’ll also want to look at what you are doing incorrectly now (e.g. bad posture, cold hands, etc.), you will still need to address the underlying problems, even if you switch.

  16. Rob says:

    I made the switch to Dvorak about 4 years ago due to RSI issues (it helped quite a bit).

    I didn’t move any keys but relabeled them with a p-touch. I also bought a set of labels for a second keyboard.

    At this point I don’t bother relabeling the keys anymore since I touch type.

  17. Jaysen says:

    I switched to dvorak a while back, I didn’t want to pay for a special keyboard, and didn’t want to learn it on a funky keyboard with all the keys at different heights. I bought 2 DiNovo Edge keyboards from Logitech. That keyboard uses laptop keys, so there’s no rotating or various height keys. The second keyboard I kept qwerty for guests.

    added benefit of those keyboards… Bluetooth, wireless, and rechargeable.

  18. adam outler says:

    I read that qwerty was designed to reduce jamming on typewriters because dvorak had all the keys commonly used in a row which caused problems in a typewriter. Dvorak was designed for fast typing. 70% of typing is done on the home row keys

  19. smerky says:

    Ahh dvorak is awesome. I’ve been using it for two years and I’d definitely not go back to qwerty.

    Also, you’re better off only switching the keys for an initial period and then swapping them back. This way you’re forced to touch type. I’m able to touch type in dvorak 100% now and I’m significantly faster than I was when I was typing in qwerty. I also find it more comfortable than qwerty.

    Though, I pretty much know the entire keyboard now since I got my label less Das Keyboard. :D

    Switching does take quite a bit of patience.

  20. anon says:

    I did this with an old IBM tactile keyboard. The key “hats” just pop off on that model. It was really easy to switch around. Family and friends did not appreciate it when they needed to use my computer though. Even with it set to QWERTY they still had trouble because they were constantly in the habit of looking at the keys.

  21. brad says:

    slowed down by a factor of 8? if you were previously typing at 80 wpm, you’d be at 10 wpm… not exactly speed demon territory. for that kind of difference, i’d go back to qwerty.

  22. Lachlan says:

    I’m in the process of moving to colemak, I love having a backspace on the home row (caps lock is removed). Their portable app has a very nice feature where it shows an image of the layout onscreen. also pressing both alts will switch you back to QWERTY.

  23. anon says:

    Same here – it took me a lot to learn Dvorak after many years on stupid qwerty – but it’s absolutely worth the time.
    Rearranging the keys is detrimental – the more you look at them the slower you progress.
    I then bought a typematrix 2020 for great typing pleasure :)

  24. KlaymenDK says:

    I’ve used qwerty for 20-some years before I switched to Dvorak, oh, about 6 years or so. I did it in the last week of December where I could “afford” to type slower than usual; come mid-January I was pretty close to my normal speed.

    I really like this layout, but I still hunt ant peck a little every now and then (to find, say, “^”) — I’m using the Norwegian layout, and I type a lot of Java, which is not exactly what Dvorak is “made for”. On my PDA I still (have to) use qwerty, and oddly enough I find that for one-or-two-finger typing, qwerty is still fastest.

    From and old discussion [1], let me quote this:
    “the purported benefit of dvorak is that it’s more ergonomic. This results in it being a little faster, but it’s not the point. …
    Here’s a fun comparison [2]: Enter some text (using any layout), and have stats shown for Dvorak and qwerty. I have a page about Dvorak [3], and the distribution of characters on that page come out thusly:
    * Home row — Dvorak: 66%, Qwerty: 32%
    * Top row — Dvorak: 24%, Qwernty: 49%
    * Finger movement (arguably less scientifically ‘hard’ piece of data) — Dvorak: 367m, Qwerty: 602m

    In other words, Dvorak gets you the same result with 39% less effort. And you DO feel the difference.

    As someone else added:
    “You left out:
    * Coworkers leaving your computer alone due to DVORAK layout — priceless”

    [1] http://ask.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=230855&cid=18739475
    [2] http://www.typocheck.co.uk/dvorak/
    [3] http://g-b.dk/bin/view/Jan/Computing#Dvorak_keyboard_layout

  25. Tim says:

    This gets me more and more interesting in Dvorak. maybe it’s time I finally try it out.

    As some people suggest, blank keyboards like “das keyboard” let you easily chose your own layout.

    On another note, I really like the glove you wear when typing :D I myself found the cheap logitsch ultra flat keyboard a perfect solution against pain in the wrists. it lets you type with your hands in a natural position and for 15$ you can’t complain. And even when I compare it to my brother’s 100$ gaming keyboard it’s quite good

  26. Dax says:

    I’m still waiting for actual studies that prove that different layouts like Dvorak are actually better.

    Then again, what applies for english doesn’t necessarily apply for other languages.

  27. killasmurf86 says:

    Well, qwerty isn’t optimized for my native language (Latvian) anyway, so I figure I’ll just switch to dvorak, since I do most of my typing in English.

    It can’t be worse :)

  28. Richard Crewe says:

    I learnt Dvorak by writing the letters onto an old beige keyboard with permanent marker then giving it a light blow-over with laquer. There was a four week period of looking forward to typing numbers, but after that it was easier.

    I’d recommend keeping the keys caps in the original Qwerty order as occasionally you need it with some OS, games, boot loaders and IT staff.

  29. spiderwebby says:

    i switched my G15 to Dvorak a while ago. some of the keycaps where keyed for some reason, nothing a pair of flush cutters couldn’t fix :P

    making XP understand UK Dvorak was a pain though. i ended up making a custom keymap using the MS keyboard layout creator.

  30. Tim says:

    I switched to Dvorak a year or two back and would never switch back.

    It’s hilarious when people try to type on my computer and end up with complete garbage.

    I started learning Left Handed Dvorak, but gave up because I’m lazy.

    I can imagine a modern day da Vinci typing with a one handed layout and sketching with the other hand.

  31. GTMoogle says:

    The only studies that showed any advantage to dvorak were done by Dvorak himself.

    Qwerty has the advantage of being evolved in the market, and is very good at most tasks.

    Use dvorak if you enjoy being counterculture or nothing else helps your RSI (For many, *any* change helps – I switched to a chair without arm rests and my own problems got better), but for anyone else, there’s just no verifiable advantage, and you have to deal with shortcuts and control layouts designed for qwerty.

  32. QwertyFtw says:

    Oh colemak is awesome. I tried it once and it really had a “roll” to it and was easy to pick up (hated dvorak).

    However the minimal gain in writing speed is in no way worth the pain of having to adjust when not using ones own computer. Especially since colemak is so esoteric that it isn’t available by default on anything but linux distros. It just doesn’t do to be in hunt and peck mode for minutes every time one is presented with a normal keyboard layout.

    While I didn’t stick with my native qwertz layout (horrible positioning of stuff like {}[] and so on) I chose a good compromise for programming and now use qwerty. Very close to what everyone over here uses and available, selectable and preinstalled on _any_ somewhat modern os out there.

    Though even though I definitely type a lot I never had problems with my hands so that factor didn’t play into my considerations.

    Conclusion: Custom layouts aren’t worth the pain. Go mainstream.

  33. cantido says:

    Doesn’t everyone do this? As soon as you realise you can re-arrange the keys you try to find something that will make your keyboard special.. Dvorak layout.

    I haven’t learned to type.. I just type enough that I know where the keys are. Moving them around totally messes me up. Going between UK layouts and Japanese layouts (mostly the same, just some symbols are moved around) is enough to piss me off. ;)

  34. Perch says:

    I switched to Dvorak about a year ago. I rearranged all the keys on my macbook and it has worked fantastically as they are all the same shape. The only thing missing are the little nubs where your index fingers go, but it’s not a big deal.

    I touch type but like the keys labelled for when I’m not really typing but need to use shortcuts. I use a lot of keyboard shortcuts.

    The first day was tough and I was useless.
    The second day I spent several hours using some typing training program.
    The third day I could touch-type very, very slowly.

    End of the week I was typing poorly but getting by.

    After a month I was at about 95% of where I was before.

    A year later I’m sure I’m typing at around 125% of the speed I was before but with WAY less finger movement.

    I had to take the GRE on a QWERTY and it felt like my fingers were in a tangled mess. It’s drastic.

    Go Dvorak!

  35. Urza9814 says:

    Hate to be that guy, but…Really? This is a “hack”?

    Also, get an IBM Model M. That’s how I learned Dvorak. Don’t need the key labels now of course, but it was a HUGE help when I was first learning it. Picked it up over a month or so — winter break from highschool. Thing about the Model M is that it uses real keycaps, so you can rearrange them however you want without any issues.

  36. rectifier says:

    Been using Dvorak for many years. Way faster in it than in QWERTY – but still maintain good typing speed in QWERTY (around 120WPM Dvorak and maybe 90 QWERTY) due to using it on other computers.

    I never re-arranged any keys. Don’t do it! Or you will never be truly fast. I learned to properly touch-type Dvorak that way… you CAN’T look at the keys, it is useless, so you have to learn.

    To be honest, I can’t hunt and peck Dvorak at all (with the QWERTY caps) and if I need to type with one hand (ha ha, I am holding bearings at work with the other hand, not anything else) I kick it back over to QWERTY. I do not know what letters the keys are to look at them, only how to move my fingers to get the letters I want.

    Programming or report writing I do in Dvorak due to higher sustained speeds and hand comfort (my hands really do cramp up after a long QWERTY session – it’s why I switched in the first place.)

    You’ll really notice the decrease in hand movement if you switch to Dvorak! I also find the shortcuts are easier to use in my favorite editor, vim (for starters, CTRL-C uses left pinky/right ring instead of a serious shift of the left hand)

  37. M4CGYV3R says:

    You don’t need to change anything on the keyboard to type with Dvorak. All the letters have long worn off the keys on my wireless anyway, so I just change the Windows setting and I can hotkey back and forth between QWERTY and Dvorak.

  38. TH says:

    I looked at the Colemak page and noticed a claim that the developers had the use of computers when designing the layout. This sounded interesting, though I couldn’t actually find any of the computer-generated results. (I expected to see things like frequent letter alternation patterns or frequency charts.) The only thing I didn’t like about it was that it attempted to be “easier” to learn for Scholes (QWERTY) users. The Scholes layout was made for a specific reason and was good for that. It was innovative for its time, but is clearly deficient for modern typing scenarios. I’d consider learning Colemak if I didn’t already know Dvorak, but even their own FAQ says that switching between the two won’t provide a lot of benefit. I agree with the FAQ’s list of Dvorak deficiencies, but I’ve worked around the ones most limiting for me (position of the CTRL key and limited ability on Windows layouts to type accented characters, making keyboard aliases so that awkward key sequences, like “ls -l” are simpler, e.g. “ll”).

    I’ve read the arguments by Stan Liebowitz (http://www.utdallas.edu/~liebowit/keys1.html), but find that his contentions against the Dvorak layout only cast doubts on August Dvorak’s research rather than diminish the value of the keyboard layout, as has been reasonably reasserted by other people unassociated with Dvorak (measuring finger movement, etc.). I didn’t find what he and his partner said about the market to be at all compelling or much of a defense for QWERTY in the world of touch typing.

    When I was teaching a keyboarding class, I purchased a slew of cheap USB keyboards and randomized the key caps (to thwart the desire to look at them when learning—very detrimental to learning), I noticed that the key caps for the different rows were beveled such that I couldn’t effectively mix keys from two different rows because of the different angle of the bevel. I haven’t studied lots of keyboards for this effect, but I think it’s pretty prevalent (in America, at least).

    I don’t know how long Mike tried to use Dvorak, but if he only got up to 12% of his former typing speed, he was doing something wrong. Don’t try to switch back and forth while you’re learning. Pick a time when you can exclusively use the new layout (Dvorak, Colmak, or whatever it is) so that you’re forced to learn it instinctively. Touch typing has more to do with physical memory (your brain knowing where to send your fingers) than being able to orate where the keys are on the keyboard, and that only comes with practice. Don’t bother messing with the physical keyboard (switching key caps or buying a new one with the layout you want) unless you find that you do not posses the minimal self-control needed to keep from looking at the keys. Depending on sight to type will certainly cripple typing speed. Also, expecting to fail is probably the most certain indicator that it will happen. I don’t think it’s reasonably to “try” a new keyboard layout without actually devoting yourself to it. It takes so much effort to learn to use one effectively, you can’t just do it for a couple of weeks and claim that you gave it a fair shake.

  39. mike says:

    I’ve been a Dvorak user for 7 years, and have converted 4 keyboards.

    My best advice – buy an apple keyboard and rearrange the keys. They are all the same size/shape, and are all coplanar.

  40. Dax says:

    “buy an apple keyboard and rearrange the keys. They are all the same size/shape, and are all coplanar.”

    Not at all surprising, considering Apple is always going for the simplest cheapest option to manufacture. Draw a box, round the corners – that’s a laptop.

    What irks me is that people then argue that this is superior engineering and design.

  41. justinsm says:

    The problem with Dvorak is that 99% of keyboards out there are qwerty by default.

    If you routinely use a lot of other people’s computers, or use machines that are shared access and locked down, then training yourself to prefer a different keyboard layout is unwise.

    I gave Dvorak a fair chance, but didn’t experience noticeable benefit from the claims of superior ergonomics. Despite not needing to look at the keycaps, I found that mentally switching between the two was simply frustrating.

  42. justinsm says:

    The other problem is that you aren’t just relearning how to input data quickly, you are also relearning how to interact with applications efficiently.

    For example, I’m really quick at editing code using vi, but that’s largely because of muscle memory. I learnt vi while using qwerty, so if I’m using Dvorak, then I’m naturally going to want to press qwerty’s ‘i’ key for insert mode. Not because of the letter itself, but because of it’s input meaning in that context. It’s extra work having to relearn that for each application.

  43. jricesterenator says:

    Been using Dvorak for 8 years now, and I love it. I’ll never go back.

    I’m not necessarily any faster than I used to be, but typing is so much more comfortable and fluid.

    I have QWERTY board in front of me, and I touch type Dvorak on it. At this point, I think it’d screw me up to type Dvorak on a Dvorak board because the few times I look down at the board, I wouldn’t expect to see the right keys in the right place.

    You get used to keyboard shortcuts being all over the place.

    It helps me a lot that I switched in high school, so all the UNIX, Vi, programming, etc shortcuts I learned were on Dvorak. So I’ve only had to re-learn words not a bunch of other crazy muscle memories.

    After a few years and having to use QWERTY on a lot of other people’s computers, I brushed up my QWERTY skills. Now I can 80% touch type QWERTY as well.

  44. JackD says:

    TH: “I expected to see things like frequent letter alternation patterns or frequency charts.”

    You might be able to find some of that on this site which provides analysis of a number of the formats: http://mkweb.bcgsc.ca/carpalx/

    I learned colemak over 4 years ago, and I can still switch in and out of it in my head. D;mkflmkd L’uu dfasf dorljt and realize I’m doing it in the wrong layout. I didn’t learn to touch-type until I learned colemak; I left the keys where they were and taped a picture of the layout to the monitor. It took almost a month (switching between layouts on the same computer, which is not recommended) before I got up to the same speed as qwerty and another couple weeks until I passed it. I’m pretty sure I can still type faster in colemak, but most of all, it just feels nicer…more seamless.

  45. signal7 says:

    Not sure if it was mentioned earlier, but you can rearrange the keys on an IBM Model M keyboard any way you like without having any of the height/orientation issues. I have several Model M’s for just this reason.

    At work, I use a second-gen Das Keyboard. Mentally when I look at the blank keyboard I can pretty much see both layouts, depending on what I’m doing.

    I’ve been a touch typist for about 20 years. Spent roughly 13 years on QWERTY and the last 7 on dvorak. My only complaint is that I can’t change the layout everywhere (BIOS and Dell Quickboot are two examples).

  46. TH says:

    @JackD

    That site (carpalx) is way cool.

  47. Gordo says:

    Why not just get a natural keyboard? Since using this my RSI is pretty non-existent

  48. tom says:

    I switched to Dvorak ages ago and wouldn’t switch back. the only problem is i find using qwerty keyboards difficult now. But it keeps people off my computer. They see the keyboard start trying to type and go “screw this”

  49. Lol says:

    Dvorak users are hipsters, lol!

  50. Learning Dvorak was the best thing for me. I had to start by physically remapping a memorex keyboard and switching layouts in windows. but over time i became a very good touch-typist.

    My problem was that i had become so set in my QWERTY ways typing with two fingers on one hand and three on the other that there was no saving me with respect to the original layout.

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