I’m sure you have heard of the QWERTY keyboard layout’s origin – typewriter salesmen needed to easily demonstate typing the word ‘typewriter’ and the input needed to be slowed down to prevent the typewriter’s strike keys from jamming. With computers and digital input, we don’t need to worry about jamming the keys so why don’t we use a keyboard layout that promotes the fastest, most efficient, and most comfortable typing?
Like the U.S.A. never switching to metric, I think we’re stuck on QWERTY for better or worse.
QWERTY is the most popular keyboard layout out there. Dvorak, named after its creator, and Colemak, pseudo-named after its creator but following the Dvorak naming convention, are the number two and three most popular alternative keyboard layouts, respectively.
The Dvorak Simplified Keyboard layout claims to be able to increase typing speed, decrease errors, and increase comfort. Its improvements come largely from placing the most frequently used letters on home row. With fingers travelling less distance, this is reported to help alleviate repetitive stress injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome. Typing speed averages are also reported to be able to reach new maximums over QWERTY.
The benefit of the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard is that it has been included in most operating systems for quite some time. Apple’s Snow Leopard include Dvorak, Dvorak – Left, Dvorak – Right, and Dvorak – Qwerty through as an input source under ‘Language & Text’ in the System Preferences. Windows 7 includes United States – Dvorak, US – Dvorak for left hand, and US – Dvorak for right hand. You can enable these keyboard layouts through the Control Panel – Region and Language settings.
The Colemak keyboard layout also claims to allow more efficient and ergonomic typing. Its benefit over Dvorak is that fewer keys move away from their location in QWERTY, making it easier to learn. It’s other advantages are summed up as being ergonomic, easy to learn, fast, multilingual, and free.
Colemak is available with a few different operating systems but is not yet bundled with Windows. You can download the installer for the keyboard layout for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux/Unix from colemak.com. From that site, you can also take lessons to learn the layout. Colemak is also available on Android and iOS5 devices.
I have never tried switching keyboard layouts before because I was touching dozens of different keyboards a day and constantly switching between QWERTY and a different layout, I felt, would have increased the learning time and tripped me up on QWERTY. I might give it a try just to see if I can make the switch and the benefit of improved ergonomics sounds worthwhile.
Have you tried a different keyboard layout? Do you swear by it or do you swear the whole concept off?