Colemak is (relatively) easy to learn if you know QWERTY, and it's been life-changing for me: I can work for more hours of the day, and I suspect more years of my life with Colemak.
Interestingly, I tried configuring my phone for Colemak a while ago and had to switch it back. The relatively small movements you make with Colemak meant that the swipe typing thing was just about useless -- it just couldn't discriminate between words.
Dvorak offered no benefit to me. I firmly believe that any differences or gain that people attribute to Dvorak is attributed to finally learning how to properly type. Many people make this switch from a misguided thought that Dvorak will help them type faster (it will - but only because you relearn how to type) or that it is more ergonomic (I firmly believe that it isn't - but you're likely using proper finger movements now and thus it will be more comfortable).
Colemak is noticeably more ergonomic and doesn't mess up as many default keybinds. I much prefer typing in Colemak than Qwerty, although I type in both to retain my ability to type in Qwerty lest I find myself having to use someone elses' computer.
It takes a few minutes for the wires to switch over - but it's totally possible to retain one's ability to type in either layout. For those wanting to try a new layout but are scared of forgetting the original - just make sure to practice in both!
E: Since another user below also mentioned the context switching being difficult for a year - my context switching takes about 5~8 minutes and I've been using Colemak for about 2-3 years. I use Colemak while at home and Qwerty while in the office. So I spend roughly equal amounts of time in both. It doesn't seem to matter how much time I've spent "not typing" between the context switch. Colemak at 8pm at night, Qwerty at 8am the next day? Still need a few minutes before the brain swaps over. It's a little weird but I've grown accustomed to the "warmup period" I guess, but I know a few people who don't seem to have this problem at all.
I carry a mechanical keyboard with dipswitches that allow me to use colmak on other people's machines without much trouble (as a bonus, mechanical keyboard generally nicer than their keyboard too).
Edit: autocorrect fix
Another thing people should try, at least if they are at a workstation is pedals. Back when I was still using evil (an Emacs mode for emulating vim) I tried a pedal that switched to normal mode for every other mode or switched to Insert mode from normal mode.
Together with a properly set up abbrev mode that has saved me more typing than anything else combined.
What do you mean? What are you using?
If it's a Mac, Colemak is one of the pre-installed layouts, so if I need to work on someone else's computer I'll just enable it while I work on it and remove it afterwards. Otherwise I can manage, but it does slow me down quite a bit, and I'll have to look down at my hands pretty frequently. You immediately notice the extra workload though: Colemak is pretty low effort, but QWERTY just feels like finger moshing to me now.
I'm pretty sure it's possible to remain proficient in both, but QWERTY was sufficiently destructive to my hands that I use it as little as possible.
However, I rarely need to use Qwerty. It's less than once per week. The only times are when I'm in the UEFI settings on my laptop, or fixing my wife's computer. Any other time I have my own user, and can switch the layout to what I like.
Having an external keyboard also means that other people can still use my work laptop when needed (pairing etc)
FWIW your ability to type on QWERTY returns after a while - you just need to keep using both. It's like a switch changes although it helps to have visual queues to get back into gear with qwerty I find. Otherwise my keyboards are all blank now including a blank kinesis advantage. If I use qwerty I need to look at the keys to start typing usually.
And my typing speed is probably slower than it was when I was using qwerty. I was reaching 120wpm peak on qwerty, maybe could do 100wpm with colemak (haven't checked) but I type much better as I learned the new layout with discipline - eg no cheating with wrong finger on keys - and I move my hands much less so my RSI is better. You can visibly see wear on my home row - a sheen that's on those keys from pressing them more than the other keys. My co-worker says it looks like I'm hacking on the matrix because my fingers don't appear to move when I'm typing.
QWERTY does return to you, sort of, but only if you still actively use it in some other contexts. If you don't use it regularly, you'll lose proficiency in it and not really be able to easily switch between the two (though in my own experience I did retain some of the muscle memory, it was just much more error-prone). I'm at the point now where I can somewhat easily switch between the two, but it's very context-specific. My fingers recognize my laptop keyboard and gaming machine keyboard and instinctively use Colemak and QWERTY for them, respectively. But there are still times where my brain gets into an "undefined state" where I can't figure out which layout a machine is using or which layout my fingers are attempting to type, and as far as I can tell I end up typing something like a nonsensical hybrid mashup between them which is surprisingly sticky and difficult to recover from.
In the end, I believe my typing speed is something like 10%–15% faster than what it used to be with QWERTY, but I don't feel there's many contexts where I'm genuinely limited by typing speed. On the other hand until I become semi-fluent in QWERTY again, it was maddeningly difficult to use other people's computers.
That said, after finally learning it I realized that Cut/Copy/Paste will forever be broken for me on Windows.
I am now a hunt-and-peck typist on Qwerty, which doesn't bother me.
It's a good security device, like a manual transmission - at least against non-hacker mortals.
Programming doesn't really benefit from touch typing. But my touch typing speed without concentrating is much higher with Dvorak. I can type far faster without trying.
If you set up some shortcuts to switch between layouts then other people using your computer is not a problem either.
I will sometimes begin to type in Dvorak unconsciously if I am on a laptop keyboard that feels similar to my personal laptop.
As soon as I see the mistaken letters coming out I switch back without any effort.
I switched to dvorak in college for about two semesters, cause it seemed like it would make my typing faster. (I actually was a very good touch typist having taking a proper typing class in HS that cured my 4 finger self-learned typing habit).
It only took me a few days before I could actually touch type dvorak. I was really happy because it seemed dvorak was going to be great. But then I kept having to use lab computers, or friends machines and I just couldn't switch back to qwerty for a "session". This resulted in lots of hunt and pecking. If I used the machine for >15 minutes without switching the layout the qwerty would start to come back, then I wouldn't be able to use my own dvorak machine without another 10-15 minute struggle to switch back.
The result was that I never got as fast with dvorak as my previous qwerty speeds, and my qwerty skills were pretty much non-existent.
I think in my case learning the new layout wasn't the problem. The problem was learning to switch layouts quickly and despite struggling with the problem for nearly a year I eventually concluded that it was going to take me years to learn the skill of switching at will. So one weekend after spending 1/2 a day sharing a machine with my boss I switched my keyboard layout back to qwerty.
Although, similarly I use the exact same keyboard model at home and at work because I discovered switching between physical keyboards affects my accuracy (and therefore speed). Its not really the base character set (a-z) that is the problem, its all symbolic stuff that I type as part of programming.
> Learning a new layout is one of the most frustrating experiences that I’ve had so far.
Learning anything is frustrating. Learning Dvorak, for me, was less frustrating than learning QWERTY was in the first place.
I am now about 7 years into an RSI issue that nothing seems to work on, but I haven't committed to any training routine for more than a couple of weeks (with no effect).
[The Functional Programmer - keeping Repetitive Strain Injury at bay](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_eelK-KLIA)
The Pascarelli and Quilter RSI book is worth reading and as I recall does have exercises.
I use it tented up in the middle at about 30 degrees with an accessory. The setup isn't very portable though.
Most of my typing is done with my Kinesis keyboard on my lap. Doesn't look like the Ergodox can go on your lap, which is a dealbreaker for me.
Also, I mounted a trackpad|touchpad in the center of the Kinesis (with tape), and it's wonderful. Again, doesn't look like you can do that with the Ergodox.
For me, this list resonates (I use Colemak), but I would maybe call it "Things to consider before learning another keyboard layout".
It's almost never a problem in my life. Someone using my computer? Switch the keyboard back to Qwerty for them. Me using someone else's? I can still do okay with Qwerty.. but I'm never using someone else's computer for longer than 10 minutes.
It _was_ significantly easier to learn to touch type a whole new keyboard layout than it was to un-do my terrible Qwerty habits I picked up from shit-talking people while playing Age of Empires 2 as a kid (I tried and failed for a while to touch type Qwerty).
For the record, I never plan on going back. I'm a big fan of Colemak.
Split keyboards are another story entirely, comfortable, compatible with QWERTY touch typing, and the outward down tilt and separation solved my RSI issues. Definitely YMMV.
Contrary to this author's experience, however, I very rarely need to do any serious typing on anyone else's computer, so the fact that I become an absurdly clumsy two-finger typist in front of any machine but my own is nothing more than an occasional source of amusement for my coworkers; nor do I especially mind their reluctance to jump in on my machine and type for me. I can imagine how this would be more of an issue if you worked in a pair-programming shop, but I never have. In any case, this problem has been trivially solved for decades now, on every OS - you just enable a little built-in menu bar widget which selects the keyboard layout, and you can flip back and forth in less than a second.
This makes me think that neither Dvorak nor Colemak are the best layouts for me, but rather something that optimises for di- or trigraphs. This will be pretty language dependant, even moreso than Dvorak/colemak, and as someone who regularly write in three languages it is probably just easier to stick to something with a more general design.
The capewell-evolved layout does so for English, and it can really be worth checking out.
The most I had to do was to learn my password (into muscle memory) in both qwerty and dvorak (since corporate windows was qwerty until you login and then user settings take over).
However, I think the speed-up can mostly be attributed to forcing me to have a clean slate and learn to type correctly, rather than any intrinsic advantage of Dvorak.
On Qwerty I typed the style I'd evolved since elementary school, and on Dvorak I touch-type like I'm meant to.
Case in point, my handwork is a mess of barely legible chicken scratches in English and whatever other latin character using language I might dabble in.
By contrast I took Russian in college (i.e. later in life than gradeschool English) and learned cursive script. My handwriting in Russian won't win any calligraphy awards, but it's pretty good.
A good example is how ls now adds fake quote characters if your file listing has spaces in it. As someone who mastered the Tab key ages ago those quotes are useless visual noise and I find myself typing them occasionally because I forgot. You can set an environment variable to disable them, but I have to to look it up each time and you have to do it on every new machine.
Edit: the magic environment variable is:
With small tweaks like a non-symlinked file that contains only machine local variables (I call mine .bashrc.local and source it from the main bashrc), you can evem make the configs vary across machines on the subtler things.
This works wonders for me getting custom configs everywhere, with the exception of windows machines that are always a huge headache to work with.
Despite the fact that I haven't had to do that for many years, I still don't spend a lot of time customizing. Old habits are hard to break.
I've actually noticed another thing: using someone else's keyboard can be frustrating, even if everything else is the same. I just moved for my job for a few months and I accidentally grabbed my wife's MS4000 instead of mine on the first day in my new office. Despite it being the exact same keyboard and having all my customizations available, I had to put it away and use the keyboard on my laptop after less than an hour. The wear patterns in the key mechanisms were different enough that I was dropping characters all over the place. The spacebar was by far the worst offender.
What this has done is improve on overall flexibility.
At times, my role is one where I do end up using other people's environments.
First thing I do is get them to tell me, then work that way as much as is possible.
Some peak efficiency is left on the table, but the impact is usually minor and I can optimize somewhere else and do just fine.
Dependence on muscle memory is a double edged sword.
If one does not environment hop much, it is worth it. Where that needs to happen, exercising "stretch" to work differently can be equally worth it.
Not sure there is a free lunch here. I find state changes difficult. When it is reverted to default, or my preference, the others are not happy, and it takes time to put it all back, and sometimes more time to remember how to do those things and debug having done them.
It's certainly a mild annoyance when using someone else's computer, but in practice, seldom do I actually need to use someone else's computer, and even more seldom that I need to do development work on someone else's computer. It's usually helping someone out real quick, in which case it's easy enough to just deal with it. If I had to work on another machine for an extended period of time, it's easy enough to copy over my settings.
Joke aside. I don't think that pleasing other potential users of your computer should be a motive to not make it productive for you.
However, an extended typing session in qwerty just feels...weird. I feel vaguely unbalanced, and I'm more likely to get off by one key left or right (while touch-typing). It also tends to put me in four-finger typing mode, rather than eight-finger.
Can any users of Colemak / other layouts who have also used Dvorak comment on whether the Dvorak->Colemak migration is worth it?
I think that's actually the first time I hear about somebody who "forgot" how to type on qwerty after switching to dvorak/colemak. I wonder how long has he been using qwerty before switching.
> The jury is still out on whether Dvorak improves typing speed.
> I cannot judge if Dvorak helps with RSI issues as I never had them from typing
why was this article post even written?
Learning dvorak many years ago was something I’m still glad I did. I didn’t know touch typing beforehand, and found learning dvorak relatively easy.
My spouse did know qwerty touch typing beforehand, and she also found learning dvorak relatively easy.
Some years ago I did some rough estimates of saved finger stretching based on a corpus of my own emails. I’ll never know whether I'd have typed those emails faster or slower with qwerty, but I’m absolutely convinced I did save finger strain.
EDIT: Oh, and it hasn't slowed down my QWERTY typing at all, I still keep a standard board on my desk as well. The reason I took up the split board with Workman was because of RSI, and swapping between the two is a good way to vary the movement of my hands.
Dvorak, by itself, won't make you a faster typist. It will help only if you're actively training for speed-typing.
Dvorak will cause problems with any keyboard shortcuts that depend on the positions of the keys. Control-Z, Control-X, Control-C, Control-V are now in different parts of the keyboard. So is the hjkl of Vi.
But Dvorak is more comfortable to type. If you don't want to move your fingers from the home row as much, it is better.
And unlike Carpalx (http://mkweb.bcgsc.ca/carpalx/), Dvorak is available on most systems without extra software.
Learn it if you like. I strongly disagree with Frederik Dudzik: If you don't care for it after you learn it, you CAN go back. And it take less time to re-train yourself back to Qwerty.
I don't know if I'd unilaterally recommend learning Dvorak, but it is a superior (and very near optimal) keyboard layout and I'm quite happy with my decision to switch, even though I didn't believe skill extinction was possible when I made the decision. (Practicing both concurrently may prevent QWERTY extinction, but I found it impossible to resist the urge to fall back on QWERTY without quitting it cold.)
But honestly it's only an issue if you're chasing that last 5%, and IMHO not worth the time and effort. Especially if you are like me and bouncing around different keyboards all day long.
> probably a myth as I find the letters that stand right near each other
And that's exactly the problem. Dvorak is optimized to maximize alternating hands, on purpose.
On a physical keyboard, I just don't see the point of learning a new latin layout (e.g. Canadian English layout, UK layout).
It's easier to use a US keyboard instead of a Canadian English keyboard because the few times you need an accent are heavily outweighed by having symbols in the wrong position to what your next computer might have.
I switched to Dvorak in graduate school and it was super-worth it. It took less than 2 months to get comfortable (and I can still switch between the two layouts in 15-ish seconds of conscious attention).
Here's a nice way to think of it -- will you be alive for longer than 5 more years? If so, you should switch to Dvorak.
At worst, you can say QWERTY is antiquated. The conditions it was designed for no longer exist.
I have never had any problem with wrist stain and just from trying out "proper touch typing", I feel like my way of typing is far less straining and "more natural". That could just be confirmation bias of course.
Who else has learned typing similarly to me and what have been your experiences?
It will never be a problem most likely until your situation changes. That change could be anything from a new keyboard to a new sport your trying out that increases the stress on wrists and arms.
I am not an expert in any way, but as long as your elbows rest on the desk and your wrists are straight, you should be fine.
> Who else has learned typing similarly to me and what have been your experiences?
I learned informally but started to use most fingers. Later on I learned two different dvorak layouts, switched back to qwerty for a couple of years, switched back to dvorak again. I feel that I have some weird ways to type sometimes, but I only had wrist problems once and that was when I switched keyboards and skipped the wrist rest (quite high keyboard). I've always found that the strain is in the elbows and how well you rest your wrists. Not depending on touch typing/layout etc.
I switched to Dvorak by using a model M with movable key caps back when I was a teenager. It really was one of the most frustrating experiences with muscle memory I have ever had--in fact it felt painful to receive continual mismatch of intent and results. I think it took me 2 weeks to write sentences without conscious pain, and about 3 months to get to a moderate speed.
Even so, I still type dvorak for more than a decade now.
My writing speed isn't really comparably faster with dvorak, but I do believe that it does reduce wrist strain. Ortholinear layouts further reduce some strain for me.
When it comes to QWERTY, I still use it plenty on touch screens, and as a touch typist, I can still do it if I'm on a cheap logitech rubber dome keyboard. Though after a short while I feel like muscles are strained in my hands on physical keyboards.
It is near impossible for me to type QWERTY on a mechanical keyboard or a macbook keyboard. The touch feel I have is so attuned to that layout (despite not having the legends on the key caps in dvorak) that I am continually making mistakes or reverting back to dvorak mid sentence.
I don't regret my decision at all, though my coworkers are intimidated by it.
- I’m still not as accurate with non-Python punctuation as I was on QWERTY.
- no support on iOS
- people need to change my layout if typing on my machine
- noticeably more comfortable typing
- can be faster for some things
- I have been forced to touch type as I don’t use any Dvorak printed keyboards, this has contributed to me typing faster and is generally useful.
- I don’t really use other people’s computers
- my thumb QWERTY typing on my phone appears to be totally different muscle memory so this hasn’t restricted my learning at all
- macOS has a quick switcher for keyboard layouts which makes it very easy to change for other to use my computer.
Overall it has been very positive, and I’d recommend to anyone who is likely to type for their whole career (for prevention of RSI), and who can take a month of being unproductive at typing. The learning process was frustrating, but with 2 weeks off work over Christmas - practicing a little each day - I didn’t feel like it slowed down my programming once I was back at work. It slowed down my slack/email, but it was manageable and only temporary.
Are there no Dvorak keyboard apps?
I mostly type with 6 - 8 fingers, with my attention split 50/50 between the keyboard and the screen. I can type around 50 wpm, more or less, though I probably average around 30. While I'll concede that typing faster would be a boon, how much faster can one realistically type before they start to outrun their inner voice? When I'm typing up emails or narrative reports for work, I regularly stop and consider what I'm going to write, with frequent revisions. Typing papers is just as start/stop, if not worse. I can think at a certain speed, but having my hands go much faster than that seems like wasted effort. What am I missing? Is it simply a RSI (repetitive strain injury; had to look it up) thing? I can see the obvious benefit if you do a lot of transcribing, but beyond that...I'm not entirely sure. Might someone help me out?
This also happens when someone else needs to use your computer, which involves a mandatory explanation of why you are using a different layout and switching it for every time the typist changes (which is frequent when collaborating on one computer).
This is the reason why i don't over-configure my vim or anything else. If you do so you can get lost on not your own machines easily. Also coming to someone's computer which has some weird configs(vim remapping of esc and caps lock anyone?) is extremely annoying.
One of the things I'm considering as a possible explanation for my issues is that all of the changes I've made have made my usage patterns smaller and more repetitive, and that going back to more inefficient methods slow me down and force me to move my arms in bigger movements might actually be less painful.
Learning a new skill as an adult can be be like this. If you would have given up after hitting the wall on something as minor as learning Dvorak, you're going to miss out on a lot of life.
It's definitely been worth it for me -- my trigger was RSI-like symptoms, which have been in remission since the switch. I would have been 23 when I switched and I'm 37 now, so I've been typing on Dvorak for the vast majority of my professional life.
This is why I invested in an external keyboard which is hardware set to dvorak. So whatever machine I go to, I just plug-in, and be on my way.
- TypeMatrix 2020
- TypeMatrix 2030
I personally use an Ergodox.
I still use qwerty on my keyboard but I started learning both to try them out. I accidentally left my phone's keyboard layout in colemak and didn't realize until months later when a friend tried to use it. It's kinda funny how your brain just adjusts.
But on a work computer, where other people should be allowed and able to do some minor operations on your machine, it's too much of a hassle.
I will add that the initial learning period was infuriating but more than anything a pretty fun challenge.
Without skipping a beat, I reply, "precisely for this reason".
Security by obscurity. ten seconds of my life: totally worth the three months of effort I put into learning it decades ago.
I've been using Dvorak for about seven years now, and personally I love it.
For the longest time, I typed on QWERTY using a glorified hunt-and-peck method. I could type decently fast, but speed aside, I knew that touch typing was something I needed to learn. Figure if I was going to learn, I might as well learn on Dvorak.
Extremely happy with that decision. Typing just feels natural now, and I can type fast enough. There's many people that type faster than I do -- both QWERTY and Dvorak -- but I don't think I've ever thought to myself "I really wish I could type faster."
The biggest challenge for me in learning Dvorak was after I had more or less "learned" the layout, there was a period where typing was still involved consciously thinking "move this finger to this key". Most of my mental effort at that point was spent thinking about where to move my fingers, which made it more difficult to think about the actual code I was writing. Moved past that phase after a few weeks and never looked back. Overall, it took about month to learn, and it wasn't too difficult.
The author also mentions challenges when using someone else's computer. For me that's been a mild annoyance at worst--not enough of an annoyance to be worth complaining about. And on Mac OS at least, it takes all of a few seconds to switch keyboard layouts.
Anyway, I’m happy with the result. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. It was a big win for my RSI.
But when does typing speed actually matter?
That's the only thing I can think of.
Wait, that's Dvořák.