Dvorak Keyboard Layout and My Experiences

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This page shows you what Dvorak keyboard layout is, its advantages, how to switch in {Windows, Mac, Linux}, and my personal experience in using it since 1994.

The Dvorak Layout

In 1936, Dr August Dvorak and Dr William Dealey studied and invented the Dvorak layout, designed for efficient typing.

Dvorak keyboard layout
The Dvorak keyboard layout.

Here's some major features why it is much better:

The QWERTY Layout

QWERTY keyboard layout
The QWERTY layout.

The keyboard layout on our keyboard is called QWERTY, because that's the letters showing on the top row. This layout was designed together with the invention of typewriter, by Christopher Latham Sholes, in 1874.

You might wonder why the letters are arrange that way, why not alphabetical? Originally, it was alphabetical. However, it was discovered that the keys would jam when people type too fast. So, the typewriter inventor re-arranged the letters, effectively slow down typing, so that typewriter wouldn't jam.

Typewriter Hermes-s
A Hermes typewriter. Probably dated in around 1910. 3264×2448

QWERTY vs Dvorak Layout Comparison

qwerty vs dvorak keyboard layout heat map
QWERTY vs Dvorak keyboard layout heat map. img src
Key stroke distribution

How to Switch to Dvorak Layout


Here's how to switch your layout on Windows Vista. It should be similar for Windows 7 or Windows XP.

  1. Press the Start key to open the Start Menu.
  2. Click on Control Panel.
  3. Click on “Clock, Language, and Region”.
  4. Click on “Regional and Language Options”. A dialog window will pop up.
  5. Click on the “Keyboards and Languages” tab.
  6. Click the “Change keyboards…” button.
  7. Click “Add…” button, then select 〖English ▸ Keyboard ▸ United States-Dvorak〗.
Regional and Language Options window Add Input Language window
Regional and Language Options window; Add Input Language window

Mac OS X

On Mac OS X, just go to the menu 〖Apple ▸ System Preferences…〗, then click the “International”, then the Input Menu tab. Check box the “Dvorak” there.

Dvorak Mac OS X dialog
The “International” dialog.


In linux, you can switch in the control panel, keyboard app. (exact step varies, depending on whether you are using Gnome, KDE, Xfce, etc.) 〔➤ Linux: Keyboard Layout, Keymapping, Keybinding, Tools ⌨

Learn Touch-Type on Dvorak

There are several websites that teach touch-typing on Dvorak. Here's a few i recommend:

My Experiences with Dvorak

rustom wrote:

Just curious Xah — Do you use Dvorak primarily for speed or for RSI related problems?

I learned touch-typing on a typewriter in about 1987. For some reason, i am fascinated by typewriter. (at the time, personal computers are still rare.) The first typewriter i had is a electric one from the brand name Brother.

I started to use a computer in 1990, using the QWERTY keyboard. In ≈1992, i worked for over a year at Graebel Van Lines, as a secretary with typing duties, including taking dictation from sales people or managers. (by this time it's all done on computer, the Macintosh Classic)

My typing speed was about 400 keystrokes per minute (80 WPM) with about 99% accuracy, as certified in temp employement agencies back then.

In 1993 (or maybe 1994) i switched to Dvorak. More or less due to my nerdiness towards better design. I don't have speed problem or RSI in anyway.

It took me about a month to re-learn touch typing, and 2 months to become somewhat fluent. It was a very frustrating experience, but i persisted.

My profession changed from secretary to programer, so i have not had any heavy typing needs as before. Due to lack of intensive typing needs, i recall that my typing speed have not reached my previous speed for many years. Though, one thing i noticed is that Dvorak is much more comfortable, with less typing errors. I recall this vividly, because occasionally i tried to type on QWERTY on other's keyboards or at library, the first thing that jumped to me was that my fingers have to do acrobatics.

(note: it's common to hear many Dvorak users report typing comfort, but not necessarily speed improvement.)

My first use of emacs is 1997, and in a few months i become daily user (living in emacs, as they say). (so, my emacs experience is all Dvorak) First 6 years of emacs using is exclusively text terminal based. In fact, as sys admin, i resisted installing X11 when a colleague wants it to run emacs. Didn't start to use GUI emacs till 2005.

When working as a unix system administrator starting in 1998, occasionally i have to type on other people's keyboards. So, i kinda picked up a bit of my totally forgotten QWERTY touch-typing skill. My speed on QWERTY is about 30 wpm, due to lack of practice.


Some references and other interesting sites about typing:

Dvorak Key Stickers!

Been touch typing Dvorak since 1994. Sure, i remember the keys, can even hunt-n-peck on a Dvorak labeled with QWERTY. But it's still very nice to have labels on the keys.

You can buy “Dvorak Keyboard Stickers” amazon

I heard that Dvorak is Not Better Than QWERTY?

See: the Myth of Myth of QWERTY vs Dvorak Layout

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