Dvorak Keyboard Layout, My Experience

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

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

QWERTY vs Dvorak Layout Comparison

qwerty vs dvorak keyboard layout heat map
QWERTY vs Dvorak keyboard layout heat map. image source
Key stroke distribution
RowQWERTYDvorak
Top52%22%
Home32%70%
Bottom16%8%

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.

By the way, there's a lot internet myth about how dvorak is not proven, or how qwerty wasn't designed to slow typist down. See: the Myth of Myth of QWERTY vs Dvorak Layout

Typewriter Hermes-s
A Hermes typewriter, showing key jam. Probably dated in around 1910. 3264×2448

How to Switch to Dvorak Layout

See: How to Switch to Dvorak Keyboard Layout for {Microsoft Windows, Mac, Linux}

Dvorak Typing Tutorials

See: Typing Tutorial, Typing Test, Typing Games

My Experiences with Dvorak

rustom wrote:

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

Neither, but for nerdy obsession with design & efficiency.

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.

It looked something like this.

Brother GX-6750 daisy wheel electronic typewriter 88377
Brother GX-6750 daisy wheel electronic typewriter. amazon

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 words-per-minute) 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.

References

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. Especially if you do a lot keybinding research.

You can buy “Dvorak Keyboard Stickers” amazon

Should i buy a keyboard with blank keycaps?

Many programer geeks like blank keycaps.

I actually do not recommend blank keycaps. Get one with Dvorak keycaps. If not available, just get one with QWERTY keycaps.

If blank keycaps helps you learn touch-type, then, ok, get blank keycaps. (but really, just don't look at the keyboard.)

But if you already know how to touch-type, i recommend keys with some label on it, even if incorrect ones. Because, if you do any design of layout, or design keybinding layout, or change keybinding often (in in emacs), keyboard with distinguishing marks on each key helps a lot. I don't care what's printed on them, but something, that can help identify the key.

Where to Buy Keyboard with Hardware Dvorak Layout?

For ergonomic ones:

For traditional PC-shaped keyboard:

Why Do You Want a Hardware Dvorak Keyboard

Most of the time, it doesn't matter.

However, in some situations, hardware based Dvorak keyboard is necessary.

For example, if you input Chinese (or Japanese, etc), the input method's keys are still QWERTY.

In general, there is no special Dvorak version for Chinese input methods. So, a hardware Dvorak keyboard is necessary. (it is non-trivial to modify the input method to use Dvorak layout.)

The same thing applies to any special purpose input method.

Myth of QWERTY?

It's been said, that QWERTY isn't about preventing key jams, and Dvorak isn't proven.

See: the Myth of Myth of QWERTY vs Dvorak Layout

What about Colemak?

See: What's the Most Efficient Keyboard Layout? Dvorak vs Colemak?