The Dvorak keyboard is an alternative keyboard layout that arranges the keys in a more efficient way:
(Image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:KB_United_States_Dvorak.svg, public domain)
The Dvorak keyboard layout was created in 1936 and was designed to be a more efficient layout than the normal QWERTY layout. Every letter is moved from its original QWERTY position except for "A" and "M". For more information on Dvorak and its history, see this Wikipedia article.
If you look at a QWERTY keyboard you'll notice it is possible to type "TYPEWRITER" using only the top row of keys. Coincidence? I personally think not. The Dvorak keyboard is so interesting to me because it was designed to be a good keyboard layout for typing. QWERTY? Not so much... According to Discover Magazine
, 70% of your normal keystrokes are done on the home row with Dvorak, versus about 32% on the home row for QWERTY. There is a ton of information out there on the internet comparing Dvorak to QWERTY so I won't repeat it here, but if you are interested do a search on Google.
The world record holder for English language typing speed, Barbara Blackburn, typed on a Dvorak keyboard.
I have been using Dvorak exclusively for the past 8 years, and wanted to share my experiences using it as an IT person.
Here are the benefits I've found of using Dvorak:
- It is way, way more comfortable than typing on a QWERTY keyboard. If you have health issues / pain related to typing, you might want to look in to Dvorak. Your fingers move much less with a Dvorak keyboard since the most frequently used keys are on the home row.
- Dvorak is an ANSI standard and you can easily remap your keyboard to use the Dvorak layout on virtually any modern OS such as Linux, Windows, Mac OS X, BSD, etc. You just go in to your OS keyboard configuration and choose Dvorak, and you are done.
- This can be a benefit or a drawback, but it makes it harder for other people to use your computer. So if you don't like people jumping on to your computer, just say "Sorry, I use this other keyboard layout so you wouldn't be able to type on this computer." Depending on your OS there are ways you can configure it to quickly switch back and forth if you need to have other people on your machine.
Here are the draw backs to using Dvorak:
- It took me several months to learn Dvorak during which time I could hardly type as I was learning it. Obviously everyone is different and some people might pick it up faster or slower than me.
- When Dvorak finally clicked for me and I could touch type it I lost the ability to touch type on a QWERTY keyboard. So now I do the "hunt and peck" method when typing on a QWERTY layout. I've known a couple of people however who can go back and forth and type on either QWERTY or Dvorak proficiently.
- This is a big one for IT people: The software remap of the keyboard doesn't work everywhere. For example, if you are using Windows the login screen where you enter your userID/password will still be QWERTY until after you login. Also, some software such as VMware directly reads the keyboard and bypasses your OS remap settings, so you are back to QWERTY unless you also configure your VM machine to use Dvorak within the VM.
- If you are constantly on different computers all day Dvorak probably isn't a good option for you. Make sure you don't configure someone else's computer for Dvorak and then accidentally leave it that way - unless of course its April fools day :)
- I can't type any faster on Dvorak. The original reason I wanted to learn Dvorak was to improve my speed. I was typing about 75 WPM with QWERTY and this is still what I type in Dvorak. But like mentioned before, it is much, much more comfortable typing on Dvorak.
Here are some things to consider if you switch to Dvorak:
- While you're learning you probably want to buy some stickers to re-label your keyboard. I used these while I was learning but no longer have them on any of my keyboards and just touch type Dvorak even though the keys are labeled for QWERTY. Here is one place to get these stickers: http://www.fentek-ind.com/keytop-labels.htm
- I haven't used it for awhile, but there is a Windows program called "dvassist" which makes it very easy to switch between Dvorak and Qwerty using a tray icon. It also will display a Dvorak keyboard layout on the screen for reference while you are learning.
- The very best option is to buy a hardwired Dvorak keyboard. This way no matter what application, OS, or anything else you are using you don't even have to configure anything. And they generally are labeled for both Dvorak and QWERTY and have a hardware switch to toggle between the two. But these are expensive ($95 plus shipping).. Here is one: http://www.fentek-ind.com/kbdvorak2ub.htm
- Another cool device is the "QIDO" (QWERTY in, Dvorak out). This device plugs in between your normal USB keyboard and your computer and makes any normal USB keyboard work like a hard wired Dvorak keyboard. It also allows you to easily switch back and forth between Dvorak and QWERTY. I would love to have one of these, but they are over my budget for this type of stuff (about $89 plus shipping)
In addition to Dvorak, there are some other keyboard layouts out there as well such as the "Colemak" layout, but these are not as standardized as Dvorak. But before you decide to switch to a different keyboard layout you should research others and come to your own conclusion on which is the best option for you. For me, it was Dvorak due to its relative widespread recognition, support in all modern OS's, and ANSI standardization.
Being a Dvorak typist can really be a pain sometimes when you need to use other peoples computers or when you run in to an application that doesn't use the OS keyboard settings. But it is so much more comfortable for me that it is worth it. If I had to do it all over again I would still make the switch to Dvorak.