Maltron vs Dvorak keyboard Layout

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

Is the Maltron layout more efficient than Dvorak?

There's the Maltron layout. I always questioned its claim that it's a improvement over Dvorak.

Here's a photo of the Maltron keyboard.

Maltron keyboard-17420
Maltron keyboard, with Maltron layout. 3104×1948 image source Maltron keyboard

Here's the Maltron layout.

Maltron keyboard layout US
Maltron keyboard US layout. image source

Note that Maltron has this odd e key placement, for the left thumb. That always throws me off, regarding it alien.

Now, look at the letter frequency in English.

English letter frequency To Build a Fire  Jack London 50383
English letter frequency, from text To Build a Fire by Jack London. 〔►see Character Frequency Counter

You see that the letter E is significantly more frequent than the second most frequent letter T.

So, the Maltron put it on the thumb. But how much better is thumb than index finger or pointing finger?

We can explore this question by looking at another key we use for thumb, the space key. We use thumb for space. How frequent is space?

A quick calculation shows, the space is almost twice frequent as E!

So, this means, E for thumb is a major improvement. We type space with thumb all day, and it didn't have a problem. There is nothing wrong with the oddity of placing a letter for the thumb.

So, this means, the Maltron layout is significantly better, simply because it added a home key (the thumb key), and moved a significant load to the strongest finger. But keyboard layout optimization is more than just choosing letters for home keys. There are many other considerations that CANNOT BE IGNORED, such as finger travel distance, same finger movement, bigram, …. However, mapping most frequent letters to the home keys is the most important criterion, and the specific move of E to thumb is a huge improvement in this aspect. So, even if Maltron layout screwed up in other aspects, it is probably still a better layout than all the others that do not consider thumb key, such as Dvorak, Colemak, Workman, Bépo, ….

So, you keyboard layout fanatics out there, this means, quickly, run and buy a Maltron or Kinesis keyboard, remap your keys, for the sake of perfection, start learning to type all over!

If you are actually interested in doing this, you need a keyboard with at least 2 thumb keys. The candidates are:

thanks to Nick Alcock, whose recalcitrant insistence on the Maltron made me think.