“Something’s wrong with your keyboard,” a friend borrowing my laptop would say. “When I type, all that comes out is gibberish!”
“Nothing’s wrong with my keyboard,” I would reply with a grin. “It’s the layout on your keyboard that’s wrong!”
What usually follows is a long lecture on how the Dvorak keyboard layout is better than QWERTY in every way.
My friends usually humor me — this has happened several times — but I’ll spare you the sermon and make it short. Out of the hundreds of reasons you should switch to Dr. Dvorak’s layout, here are seven:
1. QWERTY was designed for the typewriter, not the typist.
Christopher Sholes, who invented the typewriter, found that early prototypes of his invention had a mechanical flaw: When he struck neighboring keys in rapid succession, the typewriter jammed. He needed to replace the initial alphabetical layout with one that separated keys often struck successively. Thus the QWERTY layout was born. This did not solve the problem entirely, but it made the machine jam a lot less.
Good for the typewriter. But what about the typist? While QWERTY was designed so that the typewriter could work, Dvorak was designed so that the typist could work well.
2. Dvorak increases your speed.
Typists base their fingers on the home row of the keyboard. If you want to increase typing speed, the home row is where you place the most commonly typed keys. This is exactly what Dr. Dvorak did in his layout — 70% of keystrokes are on the home row; 22% on the top row; 8% on the bottom.
In QWERTY, only 32% of keystrokes are on the home row. Which means most of the time, typists’ fingers are either reaching up for the top row (52%) or down for the bottom row (16%). So not only does QWERTY do nothing for typists, it actually hinders them.
Dvorak further increases typing speed by placing all vowels on the left side of the home row, and the most commonly used consonants on the right side. This guarantees that most of your strokes alternate between a finger on your right hand (consonant) and a finger on your left (vowel). Alternating between fingers from either hand is faster — just imagine texting with one hand or drumming with one stick.
3. Dvorak lessens your mistakes.
Not only is Dvorak faster than QWERTY, it’s also more accurate. Errors occur more when you type away from the home row, or consecutively with the same finger. When you combine the two problems (using the same finger to type consecutive letters not on the home row) you make even more mistakes.
Reaching away from the home row, typing consecutively with the same finger — these happen more often in QWERTY. And so do mistakes.
4. Dvorak is more comfortable and better for your health.
Although its only your fingers that do the extra reaching in QWERTY, the distance adds up. A study compared the distance traveled by the fingers of two typists in performing the same task. In Dvorak, the typists fingers traveled 1.5 km per day; In QWERTY, 30 km per day. This extra distance increases not only the likelihood of errors but the stress on your fingers.
The discomfort is often temporary. But with the amount of typing we do today — plus the prevalence of QWERTY keyboards — it is not uncommon for the pain to progress to repetitive strain injury. Some RSI sufferers have reported some relief from taking breaks, doing stretches, improving posture, and of course, switching to Dvorak.
5. Switching to Dvorak is easier than ever.
Studies have shown that Dvorak is easier to learn than QWERTY. If you already touchtype with QWERTY, it’s even easier, because you already have the finger coordination needed for touchtyping. There are online resources on learning Dvorak and a ton of typing games for practice.
But where do you get the keyboards? Today, keyboards with the Dvorak layout (or that can switch to Dvorak) are available if you wish to buy one. But you won’t even have to. Most operating systems allow users to make Dvorak their default keyboard layout. You can also make it easy to switch between layouts, but trust me — you won’t want to.
6. Dvorak is cool.
Aside from getting friends and coworkers to type gibberish on your computer (a useful security measure, by the way) Dvorak has other cool benefits. Using Dvorak puts you in an exclusive club — like having a Mac instead of a PC. But aside from mere prestige, you can flaunt your productivity and the ease with which you attain it.
You’ll also be in the company of some cool people, including Bram Cohen, inventor of BitTorrent; Matt Mullenweg, lead developer of WordPress; and Barbara Blackburn, world’s fastest typist.
7. Using Dvorak is a noble cause.
Dr. Dvorak created something great, but he died in vain.
“I’m tired of trying to do something worthwhile for the human race,” he said, realizing his failure to convince people to adopt his layout. “They simply don’t want to change!”
QWERTY has remained the default keyboard layout for over a century. It has outlived the purpose for which it was designed, yet its weaknesses still remain. By switching to Dvorak, you are joining a movement that empowers typists and honors the legacy of a great man.
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