Here are a few pictures of my Macbook mod to the Dvorak keyboard layout. Though it is not necessary to change the keycaps over, it does look pimp! Be careful when popping off the keys, as I have messed up a key before. It isn’t cheap to fix!

In OSX, all you need to do to type in the Dvorak format is go to International and tick the Dvorak button. I recommend the Dvorak/Qwerty option. It allows all the keyboard shortcuts to revert back to Qwerty when the Apple/Command key is pressed. Great for Command-C(Copy), Command-V(Paste), etc…

It took me a few months to learn the format using free online typing applications, and a couple of desktop applications. I started getting confused at about the same time using the old QWERTY layout, as I was typing on my personal computers in Dvorak, but all day at work in QWERTY. Until a network tech came over from Vancouver for another completely different reason, and found the registry key for me to use so I could type at work in it as well.

Having now moved between companies, using different ‘locked down’ systems within the banking industry, I have to say that it’s not too bad to get your IT department to turn on the language bar in Windows. I recently had to get it approved by an IT senior manager as it was considered to be a customization to my profile which is not common. Once I shared some information on how easy it is to switch between it and any other language setting, they were less concerned.

It may sound odd, but it is really nice to type and my hands don’t seem to get tired. If you are a fairly fast QWERTY typist, then prepare to be frustrated for about 6 months until your Dvorak speed starts to ramp up. After a year I was typing at about 60-70 words a minute, and expect it to only go up from here. The key combinations make more sense, with TH, ST, GH, CH, all being very close together.

Here is a nice bit of work on how much less your hands move using Dvorak! Posted from www.koniaris.com/dvorak/

A Comparison of the QWERTY and Dvorak keyboard mappings.

I was trying to think of a good text to type, and somebody suggested (as a joke) the Unabomber’s Manifesto. It seemed very entertaining to use something written on what is undoubtedly a QWERTY typewriter to compare keyboard mappings, so I tried that. If the program is correct, the results are as follows:
Comparison on a -30 degree skewed (i.e., typical) keyboard

I pasted the text into Maxwell’s program, and he claims that the ratio in planar movement of Dvorak divided by QWERTY is 0.57, and I get 0.59, so these numbers are probably both correct. In other words, your fingers only move 58% of the distance that they do on a QWERTY keyboard. How much distance is this? Maxwell estimates 5.3km. I report about 318 thousand key lengths, and converting to meters given his standard of 1.8cm, this results in 5.7km. I think that the disparity in distances is due to the fact that what I pasted into his applet is not exactly what my program read when it opened the page (there is a disparity of many thousands of characters, probably due to HTML markup [that my program was seeing and typing]). But, in any regard, the conclusions are clear:

* Typing the Unabomber Manifesto in QWERTY costs about 5.7km (XY).
* Typing the Unabomber Manifesto in Dvorak costs about 3.3km (XY).

The Z distance is about 220k keystrokes, and if this distance is 0.5cm, that’s about 1.1km, suggesting that planar (XY) motion dominates.
Comparison on a rectangular (Kinesis) keyboard

If a rectangular Kinesis-style keyboard is used, the motion on Dvorak and QWERTY keymaps is reduced by 6% and 3%, respectively.
Should you switch to Dvorak?

Your fingers might move half as much in the XY plane if you use a Dvorak mapping, and even less if you a Kinesis keyboard. The main reason not to switch is the initial pain of the learning Dvorak mapping; it can be extremely frustrating to spend ten minutes to hammer out one line of email. The second biggest problem is that you might become unable to type QWERTY, and this means that you’ll have to hunt-and-peck when you are at other people’s machines. (Of course, if you make them download a Dvorak keyboard driver, you’re set!)

If you’re using a keyboard at a kiosk of some kind, there will be no Dvorak driver, and you’ll have to hunt-and-peck on QWERTY. I doubt that this will change any time soon, although when wireless personal information devices become the rage you’ll carry your own input devices anyway, so ultimately this will not be an issue. (Or so I tell myself. :)

So, if you rarely need to use somebody else’s keyboard (i.e., you don’t work in a MIS department, for example), and you type a lot, then it might very well be worth learning Dvorak. If you type infrequently, I can hardly imagine that the change would be worthwhile.

Update – Here is a nice article over at Wired all about the “story” around the creation of the Dvorak layout…

Leave me a comment, if you have switched over, and how it went!

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