Switching to Dvorak (Part-2)

So I’ve had a fair share of typing experience in Dvorak, I’ve learned to touch type and gotten to the point where I could type less than 20 wpm blindfolded. The experience of trying to learn an alternative layout like Dvorak had been fun though, but in the end I decided to revert back to QWERTY.

The major pros that made me try Dvorak in the first place were:

  1. Comfort – Makes maximum utilization of the home row, as the most frequently used alphabets in the English language are located in that region Which also means your fingers would flex less frequently compared to QWERTY. Comfort was one of the key factors that made me try Dvorak.
  2. Touch typing – Although I can touch type in qwerty, I thought learning to touch type in another layout would be a different experience altogether.

 

The cons of Dvorak that made me revert back to QWERTY:

  1. Utilization of both hands, especially the right hand. Since I’ve been using QWERTY layout from the beginning of time, it didn’t occur to me that QWERTY has a strong focus on left arm. Since I am left handed, it bothered me a lot when I had to regularly type using the right hand on Dvorak layout and I had sort of light wrist pain on the right hand.
  2. Slow progress – After a few days of moderate typing on Dvorak, I was not any better than 20 wpm. Which is quite slow in my opinion and it would mean I would have to invest a lot of time getting upto speed, and time is something I definitely don’t have at the moment.
  3. Usability – One of the major drawbacks of just about any alternative keyboard layout is that even though you use an alternate layout but on laptops your key caps are hard coded¬† with qwerty layout, which you can’t change. This is quite distracting because visually you see one key and then you realize you’re not using qwerty layout, therefore you need to backtrack that specific key in your mind and figure it out which key it is on the keyboard (as if you are blind folded).
  4. Support – Most applications, especially Vim (which I use for coding) are optimised for QWERTY layout therefore I will need to forget all the muscle memory I previously had on Vim and relearn it to suit Dvorak.

Well the experience was definitely fun, it gave me a broader view of different features that are available to me in terms of keyboard layouts. As the saying goes, if the cons out weigh the pros, it’s not worth going for it and thus I’ve decided to revert back to QWERTY layout.

I’m not sure exactly why Dvorak’s layout failed to beat QWERTY, but it definitely is not for me that I’m sure of.

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Switching to Dvorak (Part-1)

Recently, I’ve noticed that I get a lot of wrist pain after hours of extensive coding.

At first I blamed it on the Acer netbook I owned, specifically the narrow key gaps on the keyboard which kind of makes sense. But then, I decided to research more ways to make my typing more comfortable and I realized that not only can it depend on the type of keyboard you use but also on the keyboard layout.

I had no idea about the real purpose of having keyboard layouts, I initially thought that it was only meant to make your keyboard work according to your set localization options or to differentiate between the different characters depending on which country you are from (pound, dollar, etc.) Only place I saw keyboard layout or I had a choice to select one was during the installation phase of a typical Linux installer.

Anyway, I made a big assumption that since technologies had advanced quite rapidly and we have made so much progress on a technological level surely we have figured out what kind of keyboard layout is optimum for use right? Turns out we haven’t, the main purpose QWERTY style keyboard came into being was because during the 1800’s typists ran into issues while typing on a typewriter as typing multiple keys too fast (simultaneously) would make the keys get stuck on the paper and you would have to deal with paper jam, etc. So to solve the problem of people typing on typewriters, one man came up with the QWERTY keyboard layout to slow them down a bit and solve their problem.

QWERTY layout wasn’t designed from the ground up with modern computers in mind, and also it is not that efficient either because depending on where you are coming from it is not optimized in a way so that you would have the most common characters under your fingers resulting in them moving less to get the job done.

So why do we still use QWERTY based keyboard layout? Well, the main reason for this is adoption. It came first and people grew used to it therefore we haven’t bothered to change it because it would waste people’s time in order to relearn another keyboard layout.

Anyway after some research, I decided to go for Dvorak keyboard layout. Although there are a lot of other layouts like Coleman etc, the reviews related to Dvorak from other users have been quite positive overall. In theory, Dvorak not only allows you to type a bit faster (touch typing) but main purpose of it is that it reduces strain on your fingers specifically when you are typing in English.  In Dvorak, the most frequently used English character(s) are located right where your fingers rest (home row), resulting in them having to move less to get the job done.

Since I own a mechanical keyboard, I decided to take off the key caps and rearrange them manually to suit the Dvorak keyboard layout. Also having a physical Dvorak layout to work with will help me to migrate faster.

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I’ve tried typing using online typing tutors catered for Dvorak layout (for an hour or so) and it feels wonderful. Basically using qwerty based layout my fingers move like all over the place but with Dvorak it’s like they are fixed most of the time. Typing using Dvorak is a different feeling (in a good way) because all this time I’ve been doing what other people have been doing without giving it much thought and suddenly I’m starting realize that just because vast majority of the people do the same thing doesn’t necessarily mean that it is correct or the most efficient way of doing it.

The main utility I’ve used to change keyboard layout is setxkbmap on Linux, and I ended up binding keys on my window manager to dynamically switch keyboard layouts on key press.

# Switching between keyboard layouts

bindsym $mod+Shift+F10 exec “setxkbmap lv dvorak”;

bindsym $mod+F10 exec “setxkbmap us”;

Anyway, I expect it will take me a month or so to adapt and become proficient with Dvorak.

Yes it will definitely take a while before I’m even able to match the typing speed that I had on QWERTY layout but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make in order be more efficient in the long run. Also after I get used to regular Dvorak layout, I have plans to switch to Dvorak-programmer layout (optimized for writing code) as I have to write code on a daily basis.