Alternative Keyboard Layouts Fight!

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

There are a lot of keyboard layouts today. There's your standard QWERTY, and there's the more efficient Dvorak. That's good enough, right? No. Apparently, a lot people are making a lot layouts. Some are specialized on a particular language (➢ for example: German, Spanish), some aim for easier transition from QWERTY, some are designed for programers. This page is a list of them.


The good old QWERTY, familiar to everyone.

QWERTY keyboard layout 07998
The QWERTY layout.


The Dvorak layout, designed for efficiency.

Dvorak keyboard layout
the Dvorak layout.

Note that vowels are on the left hand home row, and most frequently used consonants are on the right hand home row.

Microsoft Windows bundled Dvorak out of the box, in 1995. Mac did in Mac OS 8, in 1998.

For more about Dvorak, see: Dvorak Keyboard Layout, My Experience.

Programmer Dvorak

programmers Dvorak keyboard layout
“Programer's Dvorak” keyboard layout

Programmer Dvorak (by Roland Kaufmann at is Dvorak with the following changes:

  1. The row for number keys “12345…” and symbols “!@#$%…” are reversed. To type numbers, you have to hold ⇧ Shift.
  2. The number keys are re-arranged to follow the more ergonomic, original Dvorak layout: 75319 02468. It's that way because the digits 0 1 2 are used more frequently than the rest of digits combined, thus they are pressed by your index finger and pointing finger. 〔➤see Computer Languages Characters Frequency
  3. Position for punctuation (➢ for example: { } ( )) and math symbols (➢ for example: +) is also re-arranged, independent of the digit symbols arrangement. Frequently used symbols now have easier positions.
  4. Swap the keys ' and ;.

Overall, the Programer's Dvorak is marginally better than Dvorak. The 2 advantages it has over Dvorak are: ① Using the Dvorak's original arrangement for the number keys. ② rearranging the symbols. The other two changes made by Programer's Dvorak, the inverting number now, and swapping semicolon and apostrophe, may be worse, depending on what language you code. For detail, see:

My personal solution for inserting bracket pairs is to have emacs commands to do so, and reposition cursor between the brackets. The command is bind to 3 easy key sequences. For example, to insert ( ), i press 【▤ Menu Space t】 (the ▤ Menu is left space bar on Truly Ergonomic Keyboard, t is right index finger at home row in Dvorak) 〔➤see Emacs Lisp: Insert Brackets by Pair

Minimak, qwpr, Asset, Norman, Colemak

Layouts {Minimak, qwpr, Asset, Norman, Colemak} have one thing in common. They all keep many QWERTY keys in same position, so it's easier to learn it if you already touch-type QWERTY. Also, they keep the {z, x, c, v} keys in the same position as QWERTY, so that the {undo, cut, copy, paste} keys don't change, which actually induces Repetitive Strain Injury. See: Why Undo Cut Shortcut Keys Are Bad?.


Colemak layout is designed for easy transition from QWERTY. Colemak is aggressively marketed. Colemak layout is now in Linux and also in Mac OS X 10.7 (released on ).

Colemak layout
Colemak layout. 17 keys are different from QWERTY.

Colemak appeared in 2005. It is designed by Shai Coleman. It is perhaps the one that popularized keyboard layout design craze. It's also the most popular alternative layout, after Dvorak.

Before Colemak, people who want QWERTY alternative simply points to Dvorak, without question. But with Colemak, it shows that a layout equally efficient to Dvorak is still possible.

Colemak's rise to fame is easy to switch from QWERTY yet claims to be more efficient than Dvorak.

〔➤see What's the Most Efficient Keyboard Layout? Dvorak?

Colemak home page


The Capewell layout is designed using a evolutionary algorithm to evolve the best possible layout.

    .ywdf jpluq
    aersg btnio
    xzcv; kwh,'

Capewell is designed by Michael Capewell. Released ≈2005. Home page at


Workman is a improvement of Colemak. It appeared in 2010. Created by OJ Bucao. Mainly, the author didn't like Dvorak, and complaints that there are too much lateral movements in Colemak.

workman keyboard layout
Workman layout. 21 keys are different from QWERTY.

Workman home page at

See also: Computer Keyboard Layouts: Dvorak vs Colemak vs Workman.

Minimak Layout

The Minimak layout is designed to be fastest to learn for QWERTY touch-typers. It only changes 4 keys, so that 2 of the most frequently used letters in English (e → 13%, t → 9%) are now on the home row, typed by the strong middle fingers.

Minimak 4 key keyboard layout
«The Minimak layout gives 60% of the benefit of Dvorak while changing just 4 keys from QWERTY.»

Minimak has other versions, with 8 keys change, then 12 keys change. The idea is that one can progressively adopt more efficient layout.

Minimak is created by Ted Lilley. Its home page is at The site appeared in 2012.


qwpr is another one similar to {Colemak, Workman}, but it changes even less keys, and lets you type many international language chars and Unicode symbols.

qwpr keyboard layout by Jameson Quinn
qwpr layout. 11 keys are different from QWERTY. (red for keys that change fingers and purple for those which move but say on the same fingers)

qwpr is designed by Jameson Quinn. It appeared in 2013. Home page at


Asset is designed for easy transition from QWERTY.

    qwjfg ypul; []\
    asetd hnior '
    zxcvb km,./

The colored keys are different from QWERTY. 14 keys are different from QWERTY.

Asset layout is designed by David Piepgrass in 2006. Home page at

Norman Layout

Norman layout is the result of study of all existing layouts. It doesn't claim to be more efficient than any of {Dvorak, Colemak, Workman, …}, but is at the same level of efficiency, and the author believes it has merit over others.

Norman keyboard layout
Norman layout. 15 keys are different from QWERTY.

I tried to read the home page a few times, but never figured out exactly why he thinks his layout is better, or in what way it stands out.

Also, Norman layout, like many others, has a critical mis-conception, believing that the X C V keys are optimal for cut copy paste. In fact, using QWERTY's {X C V} positions for the frequently needed operation of {cut copy paste} is Repetitive Strain Injury inducing. 〔➤see Why Undo Cut Shortcut Keys Are Bad?

Norman layout is very new, released in 2013. Norman layout is created by David Norman. It has a well designed homepage, at

Ergonomic Layout for German: de-ergo, NEO, ADNW

The de-ergo layout is optimized for Germany language.

A supposedly improved version is the NEO layout.

neo keyboard layout 2013
NEO Layout

Neo layout started around 2005. Original site at

Neo home page at

Neo layout has a community site and seems to have a cult following.

ADNW Layout

the ADNW (Aus der Neo-Welt) seems a improvement on Neo. Home page at:

Aus der Neo Welt AdNW keyboard layout 2013
ADNW layout

Ergonomic Layout for French: Dvorak-fr, Bépo, bvofrak

There appears to be 2 layouts for the French language, both designed for efficiency. Both designs follow Dvorak layout principles. Both have vows on the left hand home row.


One is called “Dvorak-fr” at This layout appeared in 2002.

  * 12345 67890 +%
  _ =/-è\ ^(`)" []

    :’ég. hvcmk z¨
    oaueb fstnd w~
  à ;q,iy xrlpj

Dvorak-fr has 2 other variations. “Dvorak-fr-e” for entering all euro lang characters. “Dvorak-fr-k” for the Kinesis Contoured Keyboard.


Bépo is another layout for French.

bepo keyboard layout
bepo keyboard layout

Both Dvorak-fr-e and Bépo are designed to enter most or all accented characters for European languages.

Both Dvorak-fr and Bépo invert the number row, same as the normal French layout. 〔➤see International Keyboard Layouts〕 However, they do not use the original Dvorak layout for the number keys arrangement.

Bépo is a later invention than Dvorak-fr. It claims to improve some problems in Dvorak-fr, and is more well marketed.

Bépo home page at


Bvofrak is another French layout. It's based on Dvorak-fr and Bépo. Home page at

It has several different versions for different keyboard.

bvofrak layout pc keyboard
Bvofrak layout for standard PC keyboard
bvofrak layout truly ergonomic keyboard
Bvofrak layout for Truly Ergonomic Keyboard
bvofrak layout typematrix
Bvofrak layout for TypeMatrix Keyboard

There's even a version for English.

Portuguese: pt-Nativo

“pt-Nativo” layout is a efficient layout for Portuguese language, based on Dvorak principles. It is created by Ari Caldeira, around 2006.

pt-nativo-completo layout
pt-Nativo layout.

The “br-native” site is very well designed, and the author has put a lot thought about designing the layout. (the site is gone. For archived version, see: Efficient Keyboard Layout for Portuguese: pt-Nativo)

Maltron Layout

The Maltron Layout is specially designed for the Maltron Keyboard, a design copied by the more well-known Kinesis Contoured Keyboard.

Maltron keyboard-17420
Maltron keyboard, with Maltron layout. image source amazon

The distinguishing feature of Maltron layout is that the key e is positioned for the thumb. You will need a keyboard with a thumb key to use the Maltron layout.

Also, the Maltron layout is more efficient than Dvorak or any other, simply because it places the mostly frequently used key e on the thumb.

〔➤see Maltron vs Dvorak keyboard Layout

Misc Other Layouts

There are also a Dvorak layout for single left hand, and one for single right hand. And there are also various ergonomic-oriented layouts (inspired from the Dvorak layout) for several other European languages. ➢ for example: Turkish-F, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, and more. Except the Turkish-F, most seem to be designed by a single programer. For some languages, there are competing layouts. For links to these layouts, see: Dvorak Simplified Keyboard.

What is the Most Efficient Keyboard Layout?

A question we all want to know: What is the Most Efficient Keyboard Layout?

What About a Reasonable Efficient Standard Layout for All Languages?

Another common problem is for international users, of non-English languages. For example, German, Spanish, French, and even Chinese and Japanese can benefit because many of their input methods are pronunciation based and uses Latin alphabet. 〔➤see Pinyin Letter Frequency on Dvorak Layout. 拼音字母頻率, Dvorak 鍵盤佈局

In these languages, usually there are few extra characters that needs to be typed. There are many standardized layouts for them (➢ for example: QWERTZ, AZERTY), but often they still requires you to type the special chars by a combination of key press using AltGr or ⎄ Compose key, and these layout usually do not consider any ergonomics in the sense of Dvorak.

It's much better to find ways to create a universal layout that are largely efficient, fixes the hardware layout problem, fixes the number arrangement problem, and can be used for all languages. I think this is quite doable. Neo, Bépo, and i think br-Nativo already claim to be general for inputting all European languages.

Ultimate Keyboard Layout?

I entered the fray. I can't help it. It's not so much a key layout, but rather a physical keyboard design. See: Ultimate Xah Keyboard Layout.


Thanks to the following people who have made useful comments.

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