Is it really worth learning Dvorak given that friend/libraries/internet cafes all use QWERTY?
October 30, 2008 6:34 PM   Subscribe

Is it really worth learning Dvorak given that friend/libraries/internet cafes all use QWERTY?

I recently started learning to touch type using and have heard many arguments for Dvorak over QWERTY...I don't question the efficiency of the Dvorak layout, but am concerned that putting all of the effort required into learning to type Dvorak will be incredibly irritating when I'm forced to type QWERTY in the future...

How do other Dvorak typists find the transition between the two?

Any coping strategies?
posted by man down under to Computers & Internet (22 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I have found it to be too difficult when working in an environment where you share computers or resources with other people. I imagine it would be worlds easier in a home office or somewhere else that is yours and yours alone.
posted by tmt at 6:54 PM on October 30, 2008

The transition is hard. I've heard of Dvorak users who are able to switch between Dvorak and QWERTY whenever they like, but I find it quite difficult; in QWERTY, I become a lowly hunt-and-peck typist.

If you'll be using a friend's computer often, OS X has fantastic support for keyboard locale switching. You can put a little icon in the corner of the screen to change them at will. My girlfriend, a QWERTY typist, let me do this after a while. Windows lets you do this too, although XP's implementation is pretty bad: it retains a keyboard loadout for each individual application, not system-wide. Very annoying for multitasking.

In general, you just end up avoiding public keyboards when possible. Sorry, there's no good answer.

Curiously, I have no trouble at all with the thumb-operated keyboards on smartphones.
posted by svolix at 6:55 PM on October 30, 2008

It turns out that there's no good reason to learn Dvorak at all. It's not that it's a bad layout, it's just that it's nonstandard, and QWERTY isn't really all that much worse.

(It turns out that most of the laboratory evidence that supposedly showed the clear superiority of the Dvorak layout was collected by Dvorak himself.)
posted by Class Goat at 6:55 PM on October 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have never, ever, anywhere, seen a Dvorak keyboard. So, no.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:24 PM on October 30, 2008

I switched to Dvorak in an environment where I used my own computer 80% of the time, and others 20% of the time. Switching back and forth is really no problem at all; it's mostly automatic for me. The only times I have any trouble is after I use the mouse for a while and then have to type something, and forget that I'm not at a Dvorak keyboard so the first couple of letters come out wrong. That said, there have been periods where I've worked in environments that involved using others' computers for >50% of the time, and then I usually don't bother with Dvorak at all, even on my own computer.

My reason for switching was basically that I'd never really learned to type properly, so even though I could type quickly, I had a lot of bad habits that put strain on my hands/wrists. I figured one way to cure myself of my bad habits was to re-learn to type from the ground up, so I took the opportunity to learn the Dvorak layout. It also helps to learn Dvorak on a QWERTY keyboard so that you're not tempted to look at the keys or hunt-and-peck (it takes surprisingly little time to memorize the new key locations).

turgid dahlia: one does not actually need a Dvorak keyboard to use the Dvorak layout. It's just a different arrangement of the existing key locations, so you can type Dvorak on regular QWERTY keyboard, it's just that the letters printed on the keys don't correspond to the letters that the operating system maps those keys to.
posted by Emanuel at 7:39 PM on October 30, 2008

Best answer: I know 3 persons who learned Dvorak. All of them lost their Qwerty and were struggling to recover it. It made them curse every moment they had to use someone else's computer, and made everybody else curse when they had to use theirs. Not good.

If your are a coder, the switch bring no improvement in speed, or even a degradation, since the punctuation keys are really awkwardly placed on a Dvorak, and programming uses an inordinate amount of punctuation. There is Dvorak-for-programmer layout out there that tries to fix this. If you learn it, your keyboard wil be incompatible with all your Dovrak friends, in addition to being incompatible with all the Qwerty users.

In all practicality, it makes no sense. The speed improvement when writing English is around 10%, which is silly when you know you can switch to dictating with Dragon NaturallySpeaking and get a bold 10x speed increase -- I have two friends who dictate at 200 wpm, one who's at 80 wpm, and I dictate at 50 wpm. We all switched to Dragon because of RSI, not for speed, but the speed was certainly welcomed.

Another way to get 10% speed increase is to switch to a Kinesis keyboard. This is another fortuitous discovery brought by RSI. After you get used to it, the Kinesis is about 10% faster that a standard keyboard, while being much nicer on your wrists.

Switching to Dvorak, is, however, a major geek achievement -- it's the trepanation of computer mods. All your geek friend will admire you for it.
posted by gmarceau at 7:41 PM on October 30, 2008 [4 favorites]

Emanuel: Yeah, I understand that you can switch layouts, but a lot of internet cafes, libraries, places of work, and friends won't let you do that, and it is extremely hard to learn to type Dvorak when you don't have a Dvorak keyboard.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:44 PM on October 30, 2008

I have been a Dvorak typist for over a decade. I can do an adequate job in QWERTY if I look at the keyboard, but for touch-typing it is right out. I haven't found it to be a major stumbling block. I suppose if you had to use other people's computers on a regular basis for typing more than a few sentences, it might be annoying. But in today's world, you can always be using a computer you own.

A slightly bigger hassle is when someone has to use your computer at work; I have had IT people freak out pretty badly and threaten to reinstall my system. I have a hard-wired Dvorak keyboard I use at the office to ameliorate these concerns; you can switch it to QWERTY by pressing a button, and if the keyboard labels still throw someone off, you can plug in the bog-standard Dell keyboard (your work computer will always be a Dell, in my experience). Sadly, it is hard to find hard-wired Dvorak keyboards these days.

Dvorak is definitely more comfortable than QWERTY. After I switched, the pain I was getting in my wrists went away almost immediately. It is not appreciably faster, in my experience, though I do believe I make fewer mistakes. Also, typing in QWERTY feels like walking through three feet of snow to school uphill both ways after you know Dvorak.
posted by kindall at 7:45 PM on October 30, 2008

I've been using Dvorak for going on ten years. It really hasn't been a problem. I don't do serious typing, except on my own machines. Everywhere else, it's just browsing and email.
posted by Coventry at 8:25 PM on October 30, 2008

You may have luck using an unmarked keyboard, like Das Keyboard. No marks mean no confusion from looking down. When I was trying to learn the first time, I taped a diagram of the layout next to my monitor. It helped when trying to memorize where letters were in relation to one-another without feeling it necessary to look down.
posted by tmt at 8:32 PM on October 30, 2008

I learned Dvorak about 4 years ago, and I've slowly lost my QWERTY skills. When I learned it, I was already proficient in QWERTY, and a friend of mine mentioned something about this, and I decided to give it a shot. I took an old keyboard and popped out all the keys and put them back in where the Dvorak keys are, and that's how I learned.

To be honest though, for my high school years, I had no trouble switching back and forth between the two. I would use Dvorak on my home computer, then use QWERTY just fine at the library or computer labs at school. That being said, after coming to college, I lug my own laptop around all the time. I never really have to switch over to Dvorak in my every day works. If I'm put in front of a QWERTY keyboard, for the first two minutes I'm really slow, but I usually am able to acquaint myself and type semi-proficiently.

I agree with kindall wholeheartedly when he says that Dvorak is really comfortable. I feel so awkward when I go to QWERTY, and it's not because I don't usually use it anymore. Even when I was first learning Dvorak, I started to feel that QWERTY was weird. It's probably not going to make you a million times faster, but, like kindall, I feel I make a lot less mistakes.

And yes, it is a crazy geek achievement. I usually get introduced as the guy who's so geeky, that he doesn't even use the standard keyboard anymore. There's also the added benefit (or not) of other people not being able to use your computer unless they know how to switch.
posted by Geppp at 8:41 PM on October 30, 2008

BTW, if you program, and you want to be the uber-geek, learn Colemak. It moves fewer keys than Dvorak, has punctuation in nicer places, and is about as efficient as Dvorak overall. might have learned that instead of Dvorak had it existed at the time.
posted by kindall at 9:01 PM on October 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

I couldn't get used to Dvorak, but I tried out Colemak. The layout isn't too different from QWERTY, while supposedly being more ergonomic and faster. Switching between the two layouts was easier than Dvorak <> QWERTY, though honestly, I never learned to use Colemak completely.
posted by curagea at 9:05 PM on October 30, 2008

^ What kindall said.
posted by curagea at 9:05 PM on October 30, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the feedback guys. I guess the only way to find out is take the plunge really, but I appreciate the input.

I've got an AHK script that remaps the layout automatically and pops up a Dvorak layout reminder at the push of a button so should be a simple enough process...

If I'm honest I am also slightly motivated by the prospect of keyboard snobbery! :)
posted by man down under at 9:22 PM on October 30, 2008

I learned Dvorak and did experience an efficiency increase, and I was already a pretty fast QWERTY touch-typist in part due to working data entry summers.

What was interesting and surprising to me was that I didn't lose QWERTY. I found that the mappings were somehow stored in different places in my brain and after an initial moment or two of conscious awareness of my layout I was able to pretty easily switch.

I did, however, work in IT and spent 100% of my day on machines that either belonged to other people or needed to be available to coworkers at a moment's notice. So having a Dvorak setup at work was impossible. I did use one at home on and off but found myself switching to it less and less (this was in the DOS days and I had a TSR remapper). I never switched my key labels, either, which probably contributed to my level of commitment.

I still enjoyed it as a brain exercise and a few years ago I tried it again briefly as a lark. I'd lost almost all the Dvorak, unfortunately.

I'd say if you're game it's still worth it, but in the long run circumstances may force you back as they did me.
posted by dhartung at 10:12 PM on October 30, 2008

Best answer: I have typed Dvorak for ten years, and I would never go back. I also touch-type Qwerty, and am equally proficient in both layouts.

The way it happened was that I learned Dvorak at the same time that I bought my first Kinesis contoured keyboard. Once I learned Dvorak, I lost Qwerty completely. So after a while, I decided to re-learn Qwerty, which was much like learning to type from scratch, and something amazing happened. Somehow I configured my brain such that on my Kinesis keyboard, I automatically type Dvorak, and on any other keyboard, I automatically type Qwerty. I am now equally good with both layouts. The switching happens unconsciously, because of my finger memory of which keyboard I'm typing on. It's been very useful having my brain trained this way. If you don't have $300 to invest in a keyboard, I'd imagine you could do this for any distinctive layout, like a Microsoft Natural. Make sure you have Dvorak down cold (e.g., six months) before you try to relearn Qwerty.

As for issues raised in other answers:

1. Punctuation. Because I have a Kinesis, I remap programming-useful punctuation to my thumbs. Since my Kinesis is the only keyboard on which I type Dvorak, the fact that I don't know standard Dvorak punctuation is irrelevant.

2. Other people and my keyboard. I have a laptop, so if someone else wants to use my computer, I tell them to use the built-in keyboard. For a desktop, you could do like kindall and have a cheap Qwerty keyboard handy.

3. Is it faster? You really can't read too much from the controversy about whether Dvorak is really faster: Dvorak is sometimes used as a poster child for the "free market can be foiled by network effects" argument, so people who argue about Dvorak's speed don't really care about typing, but usually about some other agenda. To me, the point of Dvorak is not that it's faster---I don't think that it is for me---but that the distance that my fingers have to travel is dramatically less. For this reason, I find a lot more comfortable even at my normal typing speed (~80wpm).

gmarceau: Do you really program using Naturally Speaking?
posted by sesquipedalian at 10:32 PM on October 30, 2008

@sesquipedalian: Some people do program by voice, and I even wrote my own editor to make coding by voice easier, which turned into a semi-structured editor. Ultimately, I never could get the hang of voice coding and had to give up coding and become a teacher.
posted by gmarceau at 11:50 PM on October 30, 2008 [3 favorites]

I have typed in Dvorak for just over two years, and it feels like a clear improvement to me. While some people switch because of supposed typing speed improvements, I could already type 92-100 WPM on Qwerty, so that was never an issue. (I type at about the same speed on Dvorak. That's fast enough, so I haven't bother testing speed.)

The major difference with Dvorak is that my fingers spend substantially more time on the home row, and typing is more balanced (and more prone to alternating) between hands. For a good example, "the" on Dvorak is the same home-row keys as "kjd" on Qwerty. Why would you have K, J, and D on the home row? And semicolon? Dvorak is more comfortable for me to type, and tends to contort my hands quite a bit less. (In comparison, Qwerty feels stupid and clumsy.) Most comparisons focus on speed, but I think this is a far more important difference; most people probably type fast enough as-is.

I haven't lost the ability to type in Qwerty, though it takes me a second to switch back and forth mentally; the transition is probably comparable to people who switch between different languages while speaking. I habitually associate Dvorak with split/"ergonomic" keyboards and laptop keyboards, and Qwerty with normal keyboards, but it's not a big deal. Also, you really don't need a special keyboard - keyboard layouts are controlled by software anyway, and you'll do better if you don't look at the keys as you type. I had a printed copy of the Dvorak Zine by the keyboard - it has a keymap on the back.

I work as a computer programmer, and spend a lot of time typing. If it's a major job skill, and you spend most of your time at the same workstation, I'd recommend trying it. It took me about a month to get proficient, but I could type passably after a few days. If you spend part of your time already typing in a non-English language (e.g. a German keyboard layout, with ö, ß, etc.), that may complicate things, though there are Dvorak-style layouts for Swedish, Danish, and some others.

Learning resources:
* Dvorak Zine
* ABCD: A Basic Course in Dvorak

Also, rewiring deeply ingrained habits may be worthwhile in itself, depending on how long ago you learned to type. It helps keep your mind flexible.

On preview, seconding sesquipedalian: some people like to use Dvorak as their pet example that the free market is always right. Whatever.
posted by silentbicycle at 5:52 AM on October 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

I tried teaching myself Dvorak about ten or eleven years ago. I was able to switch my home computer and my work computer easily...but I worked in a law office, where I had to use that experiment ended fairly quickly.
posted by Lucinda at 7:52 AM on October 31, 2008

I've been typing in Dvorak for a week now (woo hoo!). I'm doing it more as a mental exercise. What I plan on doing once I get my WPM up is alternating layouts each day, and trying to be proficient in both., IMHO is kinda boring. Try Stamina, and Typer Shark.
posted by blahtsk at 5:28 PM on October 31, 2008

Take a look a the frogpad ergonomic one-handed keypad. I'm a right handed and use a frogpad with my left hand and a mouse in my right. I find it faster than any other input setup I've tried.
posted by RobGF at 6:44 PM on October 31, 2008

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