Help me change my Mac to Dvorak
November 10, 2007 7:05 PM   Subscribe

Can I re-arrange the keys on my MacBook Pro for Dvorak and for some cleaning?

Today I read an article on about how switching to a Dvorak layout will make typing more comfortable and faster. There's a lot of people skeptical to that, but I'd like to give it a try. While I was reading the site they linked to (, they had instructions on how to pop off the key caps on the keyboard to switch to a new layout, while also giving a good opportunity to get out crumbs and dirt that's fallen inside.

I personally have a Santa Rosa MacBook Pro. I tried to pry off a key using the nail file on a pair of nail clippers as a wedge, but I chickened out as it took more force than I like to apply to tiny plastic parts on an expensive machine. I assume it's safe for the keys and the backlights. Has anyone done this, and am I doing it right (prying from the top)? Also, would the guys at the Genius Bar give me a problem if I brought in the computer for unrelated service from the keyboard and they saw that I had clearly modified the keyboard?

Thanks for your help.
posted by mccarty.tim to Computers & Internet (13 answers total)
This dvorak macbook pro keyboard cover might do the trick. I don't know how to remove/replace keys on my MBP; I'd go with the cover instead, it'll keep you from needing to clean out more crumbs and dirt, too. :)

Good luck!
posted by cactus at 7:24 PM on November 10, 2007

I've never tried it on a Mac, but I want to make sure that you know that switching the keys won't change the 'keymap' -- you need to change it in software.

I tried Dvorak for a while. I just changed the software key mappings, since I don't look at keys anyway. (However, I had to print out a diagram of a Dvorak keyboard.) After a few instances of forgetting and just sending people IMs that came across as complete gibberish, I decided it wasn't worth the steep learning curve.

As for crumbs, canned air works fine.
posted by fogster at 7:26 PM on November 10, 2007

Here are two illustrated guides to removing the keys on a MBP:
posted by mosk at 7:28 PM on November 10, 2007

The MBP keys have little plastic tabs on them that are fairly breakable; however, if you're firm and quick, you can generally pop them off without incident. Just hook your fingernail under the top of one, then pop it off like it's a coke pop top.

I've found that the Genius Bar folks are pretty generous with new keys if one breaks.
posted by Addlepated at 7:36 PM on November 10, 2007

@fogster: I know about changing over the software key map. Thanks for telling me about your experience.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:37 PM on November 10, 2007

I switched years and years ago. I did move the keys around initially but on a standard keyboard it looked dopey because all the angles are off when the keys move rows. I soon switched back and have never had a Dvorak layout since then.

My suggestion is don't bother switching keys*. If you touch type (definitely worth learning if you don't know how) proper technique is to not look at the keyboard. Print out a diagram. I also recall that I downloaded a little shareware typing tutor. It may have had a Dvorak layout or I just skipped to the more advanced lessons that didn't have a keyboard on screen. I imagine something is available for Mac along those lines.

The world's fastest typist uses/used Dvorak. But don't think that switching will automatically make you faster. There are some potential advantages in the layout and you definitely don't shift rows as much as you do in QWERTY, but if you carry your same technique over you'll probably end up about as fast as you were, or maybe a bit faster. Like anything, you need to put the work in to improve significantly. I am now significantly faster than I was on QWERTY (fun to type on the Dvorak layout!) but it took time. I also can switch back if I end up on a standard layout computer. Takes probably 10-15 minutes to get reasonably fast again, and I do have look at the keyboard some.

*There are actually some disadvantages to physically changing your layout. Since it's very easy to switch in software in any common OS these days if you ever let someone else use your computer they'll be frustrated if they're a poor typist that relies on looking at the keyboard. Probably a minor concern for your personal laptop but my desktop is shared by my brother and parents whenever they are in town. A potentially more serious concern is if you ever need to access various boot functions when your computer loads. In Mac these are accessed by holding down various keys, like T for Target Disk Mode, which can be problematic if you forget where the QWERTY locations are. Obviously you could search out another computer to look at the keyboard under those circumstances. But you'll look pretty dim if you're on tech support and have to tell the guy you don't know where your C key is.
posted by 6550 at 7:57 PM on November 10, 2007

A few more notes. I will admit, without having the Dvorak layout, it took me longer to get comfortable with the locations of less used keys, namely [{, ]}, and =+. Still, I think not switching is the better idea, particularly for touch typing. I do realize it makes one of the special features of the MBP, the lighted keyboard, pretty irrelevant. When I first read about the feature I thought "Huh, so what?"

I'd also recommend changing the Caps Lock to a Ctrl key. That's an option under OS X. You can also get third party programs for more extensive re-mapping. But I've always thought it was a real shame to put the Caps Lock function, something I hardly ever used, on such a prime key.
posted by 6550 at 8:07 PM on November 10, 2007

I definitely agree with not ripping the keys off right away - perhaps you have a usb keyboard handy? I'm in the process of learning and I have two keyboards on my desk - one regular layout and one DVORAK. You can then set up a keystroke to switch between layouts when you switch physical keyboards. At least for me, it's a nice crutch to have while learning. The whole crawl, walk, then run thing. Typing is a skill that really is not easy to re-learn, at least it hasn't been for me thus far.
posted by mike_bling at 9:44 PM on November 10, 2007

I just realized my first paragraph could be slightly confusing. I switched to Dvorak about ten years ago but only kept the physical keyboard layout a short period of time before moving the keys back due to aesthetics. But I've used Dvorak since.
posted by 6550 at 10:10 PM on November 10, 2007

I've done it on my Powerbook. You just lift the upper side (i.e. the furthest away from the trackpad) with a small wide screwdriver. To replace the keys, you do it the other way around.

It isn't worth the effort, and is even counterproductive. The F and J key bumps won't be under your indexes, so you can't learn touch-typing. I've tried sticking bits to the U and H keys, but it falls off and isn't as raised and easy to feel.

I also tended to look at my keyboard when it was physically dvorak. I knew where the keys were, but I still looked, out of habit.

When I got my Macbook Pro, I took the plunge and switched the keyboard layout to Dvorak without changing the physical layout. It was hard. It made me feel mute for a week. I had to keep the Keyboard Viewer window on my screen for a month. It's been about a year, and I don't look at my keyboard anymore.

If you use MacPorts, there's a dvorak tutor called dvorakng in it.
posted by stereo at 5:22 AM on November 11, 2007

I've used dvorak for about two years. While cleaning your keyboard is never a bad idea, I personally wouldn't switching your keyboard layout. You probably won't be looking at the keys to type once you learn the layout anyway, and other people may need to be able to switch the keyboard layout and type qwerty down the road (if they share your computer at all). The Dvorak zine's suggestion to print out a keyboard layout and stand it by your computer is a good one.

Also, since I don't see it here yet: ABCD, a page with fun Dvorak typing drills.

Efficiency comment: It may or may not make a significant difference in speed, but you will spend *vastly* more time on the home row, so you will strain your fingers going back and from from the top and bottom rows far less. (I'm a programmer, btw.)
posted by trouserbat at 7:12 AM on November 11, 2007

I wanted to use Dvorak, but my job requires me to use a typewriter on occasion, and it's too hard to switch from Dvorak to QWERTY and back.
posted by Lucinda at 7:23 AM on November 11, 2007

I don't have much to add, other than that I've been a dvorak typist for 7 years or so, and I also recommend not moving the keys. The positions of the "tits" are crucial to touchtyping. I doubt there's a dvorak typist in the world who looks at their keys!

I did once have my workplace buy me the dvorak keycaps for the HHK Lite. But that was just to scare off the qwertyuiops.
posted by rlk at 4:59 PM on November 11, 2007

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