Keyboard Layout: Dvorak vs Colemak

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

Is Colemak better than Dvorak?

This is contentious issue.

I'm a Dvorak user, and here i'll tell you why i think Colemak isn't better.

colemak heat map-2
Colemak heat map.
dvorak heat map
Dvorak heat map. 〔image source

The text used for the heat map image is To Build a Fire by Jack London. The English used there is fairly simple.

There are many alternative layouts today designed to be efficient. Colemak is one of the first, invented around 2005.

〔➤see Dvorak Keyboard Layout

〔➤see Alternative Keyboard Layouts Fight!

Colemak is the second most popular alternative layout, after Dvorak.

Colemak proponents like you to believe that Colemak is the modern better more efficient layout.

Rolling Finger vs Alternating Hands

Dvorak focus on alternating hands.

Colemak focus on “rolling” fingers motion. That is, imagine typing “sdf” on QWERTY. Some people prefer rolling fingers than alternating hands.

Problem with rolling fingers is that if you need to type another language such as German, French, Spanish, Chinese, or any input that's not English, it becomes inefficient fast. With Dvorak, you still have alternating hands because the vowels are on the left hand.

Colemak claims to be more efficient than Dvorak. But it depends on what corpus is used, and on how you score rolling fingers motion for frequently occurring 2-letter digraph vs alternating hands.

Colemak is Easier to Learn?

Colemak is supposedly easier to learn for those who already touch-type QWERTY, because about 12 keys remains the same as QWERTY. I've seen at least 1 guy who blogged about how Colemak is more difficult for him to learn.

Copy Cut Undo Keys Stays the Same, Good?

Many people think that the shortcut keys {undo z, cut x, copy c, paste v} is perfect as is, and many layouts, including {Colemak, Asset, Norman, qwpr} are designed specifically to retain these key positions.

But there are Dvorak with QWERTY-shortcuts layout, builtin in Linux, Mac OS X. For Microsoft Windows, you have to download it.

Actually, the QWERTY {z, x} key positions on QWERTY induces RSI. It happened to me with the key x.

〔➤see Why Undo Cut Shortcut Keys Are Bad?

Colemak T H, Index Finger Side Motion Problem

One common criticism is the frequent sideway motion. For example, try to type t h e. The problem is h, which requires you to move your index finder to the left.

“TH” and “HE” are two of the most frequent digraphs. With Colemak, it's a problem.

See the Workman layout author who criticized Colemak:

Computer Keyboard Layouts: Dvorak vs Colemak vs Workman


In my opinion, there is no decisive benefit of Colemak over Dvorak. It's up to you which to learn.

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