Introduction to Qwerty and Dvorak

The Qwerty layout was designed because it makes your typing slower. Back in the 1800's when Christopher Sholes created the Qwerty layout, it solved the problem of the the key bars colliding during typing.

If two keys near each other were pressed quickly in succession, the bars they controlled sometimes collided or jammed. so in order to avoid this problem the Qwerty layout was born, in that the most common combination of key presses were harder to type and therefore slower, reducing the chances of the bars colliding or jamming.

Also interestingly enough the word 'typewriter' can be formed by using only the keys on the top row of letters. This was designed for typewriter salesman who did not want to be seen 'hunting and pecking' for various keys.

This layout has been in use ever since. As all typists were trained to use this Qwerty layout economics determined the fact that it has stayed in place ever since, no company was willing to take the risk of bringing an alternative layout into the world when there was no market for it.

Unfortunately many people are not aware of an alternative layout which now in the age of computing makes a lot more sense.

Dvorak?

The Dvorak Keyboard was designed by Drs. August Dvorak and William Dealey in the 1920s and is also called the Simplified Keyboard or American Simplified Keyboard, but is commonly known as the Dvorak keyboard.

Dvorak is an alternative to the Qwerty layout. It's designed to cause as little hassle as possible. The most commonly typed keys are placed under the fingers and then this makes it easier to type common combination of letters and words.

In Qwerty, approximately 31% of typing is done on the home row. In Dvorak it's 70%. The Dvorak layout also has 35% more right-hand reaches, 63% more same-row reaches, 45% more alternate-hand reaches, and 37% less finger travel.

All this greatly helps to reduce stress on the fingers, hands and wrists which lessens the chances of getting RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury).

A typical Dvorak keyboard layout looks like this.

Dvorak Keyboard Layout


How Long Does It Take To Learn?

As with anything, with a bit of time and practice virtually anything is simple to learn.

The learning curve is not particularly steep. Any typist of any reasonable ability probably spent most of a year in school or college reaching a speed of 40 words per minute with an acceptable error rate. But much of that learning was not just key location. A new typist must learn hand position, finger movement and force, and rhythm.

Good typists type letter combinations, not just individual letters. Much of this typing is automatic: thinking of a word, with the fingers then hitting the proper keys, in the proper sequence. This concept is sometimes referred to as "muscle memory". Although the term is a misnomer, the concept is real.

So, regardless of what keyboard layout you have initially learned, a large portion of that initial education transfers to another keyboard layout. An accomplished Qwerty typist will take, on average, about 100 hours to make the transition.

Once the transition is made, the Dvorak typist will usually type faster, with a lower error rate and with reduced fatigue and injury. If you type up to several hours per day, your total transition time will be less. Learning the Dvorak Layout is dependent more on learning key location than how to type. Thus, remembering where the keys are located is what takes the time. Short, daily practice sessions will minimize the transition time.
Using the Dvorak design, researchers have found that fingers need only travel 1 mile to do a typical day's typing whereas on QWERTY, fingers travel 16 to 20 miles to do the same work!


How do I convert my keyboard to use Dvorak?

You can either purchase a keyboard designed specifically for Dvorak, but this is not necessary.

Microsoft Windows

  • Double click your Control Panel and open the keyboard settings.
  • There is a tab called 'Input Locales', simply select Dvorak from the drop down list and select apply.
  • You may find you have to restart older versions of Windows, but Windows 2000 and XP shouldn't require this.

Mac OS 9 or lower
  • There are several KCHR files available online that will add the Dvorak layout to your keyboard control panel.
  • Mac OS X contains the necessary files for Dvorak usage.

Using the keyboard

There are now three methods for using the keyboard.
  • Print off a picture of the Dvorak layout and pin it to the side of your monitor / keyboard. This has the advantage of a visual aid but other people who are not familiar with Dvorak can still your computer.
  • Print off a series of labels to attach to the keys on your keyboard.
  • Alternatively you can prise the keys from the keyboard and rearrange them into the correct order.

Useful links