[Keyboard Filter] Trying to decide what Keyboard layout to use (Dvorak, Qwerty, Colmak, etc.). Help me decide please!
November 6, 2008 8:35 AM   Subscribe

[Keyboard Filter] Trying to decide what Keyboard layout to use (Dvorak, Qwerty, Colmak, etc.). Help me decide please!

I am a computer science student and I am constantly on the computer for work, surfing the web, etc. you know the deal. I have been using qwerty for my whole life and after hearing about Dvorak that caught my eye because I always wondered why Qwerty was so bad. While looking at Dvorak though It does not seem to be good for programmers because punctuation, brackets etc are way out of reach?

I was wondering what keyboard layouts you use, especially those who are always on the computer and programmers. I have no problem switching to any layout i can put in the work, but im also wondering how these layouts might affect things like vi (h,j,k,l) and emacs editing too. Thanks!
posted by Javed_Ahamed to Computers & Internet (14 answers total)
Why do you want to switch? Do you think it will increase your typing speed?
posted by smackfu at 8:42 AM on November 6, 2008

This question from last week also has a lot of great answers.
posted by smackfu at 8:44 AM on November 6, 2008

Check out the best answer the question smackfu links to. Specifically:
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.
posted by niles at 8:56 AM on November 6, 2008

well I am developing some RSI i think, i also want to increase my speed (honestly i dont even think i type qwerty in the most efficient way). + things like having brackets and stuff so far away and only having the right pinky press them does not make sense to me... there has to be a more effecient layout for programmers in general.
posted by Javed_Ahamed at 8:57 AM on November 6, 2008

Niles, so you are suggesting just to stick to qwerty? I don't think right now incompatibility of my keyboard with others is a big problem since no one else touches my computer really and I only really use my computer to do anything but I guess this could be a problem when i get out into the real world :/.
posted by Javed_Ahamed at 9:00 AM on November 6, 2008

Yeah, I'd recommend sticking to qwerty. From what I've heard, you'll won't be able to switch back and forth effectively at all. This might not be a problem now, but what happens when you need to help debug a coworkers code on their computer? What happens when your computer dies, and you have to use a lab machine at school where you can't change the keyboard layout? I've thought about learning dvorak, but it just isn't worth it. Work on typing properly and more quickly in qwerty instead.
posted by niles at 9:10 AM on November 6, 2008

I tried switching to Dvorak for a few months last year. I was getting to the stage where I was faster at typing regular text by this method. However you will only be able to get to a serious level of speed if you touch type and you will probably find that you will only be able to touch type properly using one layout. For me this was starting to be a real drag when using anybody else's keyboard. I also noticed that for programming (as opposed to typing ordinary text) Dvorak had much less of an edge: there was less of a need for me to type stuff fast as the problem was more about thinking about the characters than it was about their quantity. Also I would agree with the notion that there are a few important yet quite rare characters which are important for programming but tricky to learn to touch type.
posted by rongorongo at 9:26 AM on November 6, 2008

I switched to Dvorak years ago due to RSI issues, and am very happy with the switch. I'm a programmer and have remapped a bunch of punctuation to be easier, as well as my Emacs bindings (and I bought the same keyboard for home and work.) This means, of course, that my computing environment is wholly unusable by anyone else, but I don't know why that's supposed to be a problem -- I don't have a job that requires other people to use my computer; in my home, my wife has her own computer; I can get by in qwerty or bog-standard Dvorak when I have to.

If you're spending most of your time on machines you control, and it's not the case that other people have to use them, there really aren't any drawbacks, and the advantage in comfort is well worth it.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 9:44 AM on November 6, 2008

I tried switching to Dvorak to help with RSI and it didn't help, even a programmer's Dvorak layout with useful punctuation. Two things did help me, though. One: a proper keyboard tray. And two: a Kinesis countoured keyboard. If you're itching to try a funky keyboard layout give it a go. Still basic QWERTY for the letters, but punctuation and modifier keys are much more convenient. They're expensive, but ask around your school and they may have one you can borrow.
posted by Nelson at 10:19 AM on November 6, 2008

I'm currently learning Colemak, since I'm afraid of losing my QWERTY ability if I switch to Dvorak, and Colemak is supposedly pretty close to QWERTY in layout while having speed and distance advantages over it. It's not that hard, the punctuation are mostly in the same place, and common shortcut keys like Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V are in the same area. Does it really have benefits over QWERTY? I can't tell so far, but it's worth looking into if you're concerned about losing QWERTY.
posted by curagea at 10:36 AM on November 6, 2008

Take a look at frogpad keyboards. If your up to a real change.
posted by RobGF at 10:39 AM on November 6, 2008

As an RSI sufferer, I would say that you're more likely to get relief from that by changing your workspace setup and taking better care of yourself. I've just recently found, after several tries, a physical therapist who has been able to help my 3-4 year old nagging RSI.

Get a better keyboard (I love the Keyovation Goldtouch), switch your mouse to your left hand and also use it less (keyboard shortcuts!), get a keyboard tray that can also hold your mouse at lap-level, sit up straight, put your feet on the floor, use a keyboard timer (Workrave for Windows/Linux, AntiRSI for Mac), and learn some stretches to do when you take breaks. RSI often doesn't go away with just a change of equipment, though. You need to focus on the muscle/tendon/joint issues as well as the equipment issues.

Finally, in my opinion alternative keyboard layouts aren't very worthwhile. You can type pretty damn fast on a Qwerty layout. It's not like your productivity output as a programmer will dramatically increase because you can type faster. You'll find that a lot of your time is spent designing the code and figuring out the cause of bugs, etc, rather than literally typing. Further, as others have cautioned, once you learn an alternative layout, switching back in a pinch is a pain in the ass. I worked with a guy who insisted on Dvorak, but then he could never type anything on my keyboard when I asked him to help me with something. I would also guess that changing the physical key caps on a laptop would be difficult or impossible depending on the model.
posted by autojack at 11:48 AM on November 6, 2008

I very much agree with the point that keyboard layout is no silver bullet for RSI prevention, and is less important than taking regular breaks or having a proper ergonomic setup that facilitates proper posture during computer use.

That said, I do think the vastly reduced finger travel Dvorak incurs was one of many things that helped me come back from crippling RSI that had multiple doctors tell me I'd never do computer work full-time again to being able to do so in comfort.

It's not about the speed; it's about the effort.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 12:00 PM on November 6, 2008

I used Dvorak for about 10 years, and found that whenever I switched back to qwerty I developed pain in my left hand after a couple of days -- I think the left-hand dominance is a bigger issue than any particular finger-travel problem. It was also a pain for coding, since all the punctuation is in different places.

I've since switched to Colemak. It's not prebuilt into older systems (like my XP system at work, which required me to use AutoHotKey), but it fixes most of the problems I've had with qwerty without introducing the ones found in Dvorak.

Whether you switch at all is a personal choice, I think. It's a pain for sharing, or if you use software that relies heavily on control key sequences. But if you do switch, I'd highly recommend Colemak over Dvorak.
posted by bjrubble at 8:01 PM on November 6, 2008

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