QWERTY v. Dvorak Keyboards

September 24, 2008

Over 230 years ago, an American editor and a friend developed a forerunner of the modern typewriter. However, if someone operating the “typewriter” typed too fast, the keys would jam together. So, over the next several years, they developed what would become known as the QWERTY keyboard that we all use and (?) love.

(Image from Wikipedia)

This early QWERTY layout was slightly different than the modern QWERTY layout. The “0” and “1” keys were missing, and users would use the “L” and “O” keys instead. The “M” key has migrated downward, and the “C” and “X” keys are now reversed. Punctuations keys have moved to different parts of the layout as well.

The layout of keys were designed to actually SLOW the user down by having the user alternate hands between each keystroke. The left hand was the one actually doing most of the typing. In addition, the most-used keys were mounted on an upper row to further slow the user down.

Does this mean that our typing speed today could have been faster than it actually is, thanks to how the QWERTY keys are positioned? Exactly right! The QWERTY layout has been rendered an anachronism, still being used way past its useful lifespan, because of drastic advances in technology.

Various keyboard layouts have been proposed to improve the typist’s speed, and the more well-known of these layouts is the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard.

(Image from Wikipedia)

As seen from the picture of the layout, the key placements are drastically different from those in the QWERTY keyboard. The most commonly-used keys are on the initial row and the least-used keys are on the bottom row. Some of the commonly-used punctuations have been moved around as well.

According to Wikipedia, August Dvorak had several factors in mind when designing this keyboard layout:

  • Letters should be typed by alternating between hands.
  • For maximum speed and efficiency, the most common letters and digraphs should be the easiest to type. This means that they should be on the home row, which is where the fingers rest, and under the strongest fingers.
  • The least common letters should be on the bottom row, which is the hardest row to reach.
  • The right hand should do more of the typing, because most people are right-handed.
  • Digraphs should not be typed with adjacent fingers.
  • Stroking should generally move from the edges of the board to the middle. An observation of this principle is that, for many people, when tapping fingers on a table, it is easier going from little finger to index than vice versa. This motion on a keyboard is called inboard stroke flow.[3]

There are Dvorak keyboards and keyboard overlays available for sale, and most computers would recognize these keyboards.

If the Dvorak layout is so much faster, why ain’t I using it? Ah, because I’ve become too successful at learning the QWERTY layout. It would be too much of a struggle for me to switch to the Dvorak layout at this stage, and besides, just about every electronic device has the typical QWERTY keyboard. Too difficult for me to switch, and I suspect for just about everyone else as well.

Why am I telling you all this, then? Ah, I like the “trivia” of this info, and there’s hope yet for yet faster typing …


12 Responses to “QWERTY v. Dvorak Keyboards”

  1. WAD Says:

    Interesting tidbit! I think “R” is used more often than “H”. It’s like you’re playing Wheel of Fortune. Contestants select the most common letters first. I will pick “R” first before “H” unless you see a word “T _ _” which obviously would be “THE”.

  2. Alison Says:

    I learnt to type at 14 years old, on a manual typewriter. No electric. Am way too old.

    Have you typed in Europe (not the UK)? The keyboards are different, and a nightmare.

  3. proudgeek Says:

    Learned how to type on a manual typewriter too. I remember trying to pound the keys together to see if I can get the strokes (or whatever the thing that actually prints the letter on the paper is called) to jam together on the paper.

    Nope, never tried the European version!

  4. I use a Happy Hacking keyboard with a Dvorak layout and keycaps on my Ubuntu workstation (my main machine that I’m in front of the most hours). I use a Japanese-variant QWERTY layout on my one of my Windows machine, and a straight English QWERTY on my Macbook Pro.

    As for my cellphones, I use both JP 10-key for some. And for my Android phone, I use QWERTY. :)

  5. Bert Says:

    Hi Proud Geek-

    I tried to learn to use Dvorak when I was a freshman in college- thinking that the investment in time then would save me time later on when I had to write a lot of term papers.

    I changed the setting on my computer to Dvorak and I wrote the new letters on the keys in red permanent marker. I spent about two hours relearning how to type and was eventually able to do it, if not too quickly.

    I was doing some kind of translation in my brain, like “old L = new N.” Eventually it really messed with my brain. In fact, someone came to my dorm room and asked if my room mate was there. It took me a long time to get the word “no” out of my mouth because I was thinking “new N = old L; new O = old S.” That person probably thought I was on drugs…

    Later that week I had to write a small assignment and changed my laptop setting back to normal. Wasn’t quite worth it at the time.

  6. proudgeek Says:

    Interesting, Adrian and Bert!

    Adrian, I’m jealous that you got your grubby paws on an Android phone. Send one my way :-)

    Bert – that’s why I’m afraid to try to learn the Dvorak layout. Did you ever wash the red markings off the keyboard??

  7. Bert Says:

    Thousands and thousands of keystrokes eventually wiped the red away… and now that laptop doesn’t even work anyway. It was a long time ago.

  8. Bill Says:

    I switched to Dvorak 3 years ago. It took 2 years to get back to my normal speed. It’s not hard to re-train your fingers to do each letter. Since we think of words when we type you really have to re-train for each word. That’s why it takes a long time to change. I never labelled my keys.

    If you are doing a lot of normal writing, I think it’s worth the investment. When coding, not so much. Added bonuses: noboby will want to use your computer; you can type your password with people watching and they still have no clue to what it is (as long as they aren’t using you machine).

  9. Oliver Says:

    Two months for me to get up to speed. Now much faster. So much more comfortable to type with dvorak and it’s supposed to be better for your hands too, I’d agree.

  10. Kenneth Burchfiel Says:

    Dvorak was the first keyboard on which I learned to touch type. For that reason, perhaps, I was able to learn the keyboard in about three to six months. It proved out to be the best technology decision I’ve ever made. To see a Dvorak keyboard in use, check out some of my typing test videos:

    To those avoiding the Dvorak keyboard on the premise that they wouldn’t be able to touch type at work: there exist plenty of “Dvorak Converters” online. Just google “Qwerty Dvorak Converter,” and you’ll find sites where you can convert your text without having to change any of your computer statistics.

    I’m now able to type at 100-120 words a minute without any wrist strain at all. The Dvorak keyboard is far superior to Qwerty, and I implore you to give it a try. You may very well end up typing faster than me.

  11. Coach V Says:

    I wat to find a virtual Dvorak keyboard for my Palm Treo 755p. Can anyone help?

  12. kyith Says:

    Dovark might not garner the same following with the smartphone revolution. i am going to find one for android and test whether i can type on such a layout.


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