Summer Project: The Dvorak Keyboard

I’ve found a new endeavor to busy myself with for this summer (aside from preparing myself for college): mastering the Dvorak keyboard.

For those of you who don’t know, the Dvorak keyboard layout was patented in 1936 by Dr. August Dvorak and William Daley. Whereas the widely preferred QWERTY keyboard was designed to slow people down (it was made for early typewriters, whose keys clashed when people typed too fast), the Dvorak layout was designed with speed in mind. It minimizes the distance a typist’s fingers need to travel and reduces the risk of repetitive strain injuries. Matt Mullenweg, the creator of WordPress, is a well-known Dvorak typist.

Since it is next to impossible for me to find and purchase a Dvorak keyboard, I have taken to modifying my USB QWERTY keyboard. The original plan was to print out a copy of the layout, cut out the individual keys, and paste them to my keyboard keys, but since my roll of adhesive tape has gone missing, I simply wrote the Dvorak layout on my keyboard using liquid eraser. Ubuntu Linux (which I use) allows you to simply choose the keyboard layout you prefer (go to System -> Preferences -> Keyboard); instructions for Mac OS X are available here (and in many other places around the Web, I’m sure); the Dvorak Assistant utility looks perfect for Windows users.

I practiced touch-typing on the Dvorak keyboard using this dandy webapp, and now I use the layout nearly 100% of the time. I only use the QWERTY layout when I have to boot into Windows to download podcast episodes on iTunes (as I’m too lazy to modify my already-borked Windows install). I’ve mastered the positions of the keys in Dvorak and right now I only need to work on regaining the typing speed I had on QWERTY. My biggest qualm about the switch is that since I’ve already lost my mastery of the QWERTY keyboard, from now on I will have to hunt and peck when using machines other than my own. Still, I’m confident that the switch will be worth it in the long run.

If you’re curious about Dvorak and/or are thinking about switching to Dvorak, here are a few good reads: The Dvorak Keyboard and You, typedvorak.com, and dvorak-keyboard.com.

Are you contemplating switching to Dvorak? Are you a Dvorak typist? Tell your tale in the comments.

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4 thoughts on “Summer Project: The Dvorak Keyboard

  1. It seems like a good idea if you have your own laptop. I want my mom to learn this since she has CTS (carpal tunnel syndrome) which is a form of RSI. But I think at her age, she would just prefer to stay with QWERTY instead of investing time to learn a new layout.

    D:

    They should teach this in schools. UPD, perhaps?

    1. They should teach it in schools, shouldn’t they? I remember touch typing being one of our first lessons back in freshman year. We used QWERTY, of course. Looking back, it would’ve been great if we were taught Dvorak, or at least given a choice. (Teaching us both layouts wouldn’t have done us any good — I don’t imagine the human brain has the capacity to retain our mastery of both at once.)

      I don’t think there’s much incentive for schools to teach anything other than QWERTY, though. Ultimately, right now we’re still living in a QWERTY world.

  2. I’ve always wanted to switch to a more RSI-friendly keyboard layout. Would’ve done the work that you do and force myself to learn Dvorak, but I have tens of things to write (or type) everyday and I work with multiple computers (not my own) at a time so it’s just not practical to relearn all that muscle memory with a new layout. One day, I hope, probably when I’m 80 and I’m sitting on a porch with just my laptop and the world, heh.

    1. That’s also one of the things I considered before making the switch. Now I’m just hoping I don’t land a job that would require me to use or fiddle with different computers.

      I don’t think keyboards will still be around when you’re 80, man. We’ll all probably have 200th-gen iMacs reading our minds for us. LOL.

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