The Uncarved Block

Making the switch

Changing over to dvorak typing is tough, but worth it

Some time ago I decided to give the dvorak simplified keyboard layout a go. The major incentive for me to switch was that a colleague of mine introduced me to the brilliant typematrix 2030 keyboard with its innovative and striking "matrix" layout. It also features a hardware switch to configure the keyboard either as qwerty or dvorak. Even on unix-like operating systems where keyboard remapping is easy, this is a great feature because it means that even before login you can type dvorak.

In any case, the change was excruciatingly hard for the first few days as I have always been the sort of typist whose fingers roam erratically over the board and I was being forced to actually learn to stay on the home row. Nonetheless, as the typematrix folks say, if you stick at it and type nothing but dvorak for the first couple of weeks then it soon becomes very easy and switching back to qwerty if you need to use someone else's keyboard or whatever is not difficult at all after that.

I was a bit skeptical before, thinking that a lot of my typing was unix commands and program keywords and that as they are not normal english, the rearrangement of the letters may not be optimal for that use. That doesn't sem to be the case. Until I tried to switch over, I underestimated how much of daily typing was just english text (emails, program comments, documentation, notes to myself etc).

In spite of being an inveterate vim user, I have not found the loss of the vi home row arrow keys (hjkl) particularly hard to bear. It seems that I never used them much anyway, mostly doing searches or word movements rather than line movements. When I do need a line movement, I am happy to use the arrow keys. Certain keystrokes in certain applications, however ("ZZ" in vi to save and quit, for instance) I have obviously learned completely kinesthetically and it took my brain a couple of weeks to stop typing those incorrectly by mistake.

I would recommend switching to dvorak to anybody who types a lot (programmers etc) and is prepared to really give themselves a couple of weeks to do it. Since I switched, four of my colleagues at work have done the same, and they were all up to speed in around the same time as me or less. It seems to especially help if you are a bit of an ad-hoc typist with qwerty, rather than a typing maestro. That way you give yourself the additional benefit of learning to type properly at the same time.

Getting a typematrix keyboard may help because the change in layout is a trigger for my brain to switch into dvorak mode and when I feel a conventional keyboard I naturally think qwerty. I switched briefly on a conventional keyboard too, but since I use the typematrix at work and at home, I didn't do enough dvorak on a staggered keyboard for it to really stick for me.

permalink Updated: 2006-04-21