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Dvorak Layout Claimed Not Superior To QWERTY 663

Posted by kdawson
from the contra-network-effects dept.
Michael Pyne sends in an article published at Reason Online 13 years ago, dismantling the entrenched myth that the Dvorak keyboard layout is a superior technology to QWERTY. The odd thing is that this 13-year-old article recaps research (refereed and published in a respected economics journal) 19 years ago. While we have discussed Dvorak many times over the years, I don't believe we have dug into this convincing-sounding refutation of the Dvorak mythology. The article is in the context of arguing against the conventional wisdom of "first mover advantage" — that the first product to market gains a large entrenchment benefit, such as VHS vs. Beta, MS-DOS vs. anything, etc. It's very much a pro-markets piece.
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Dvorak Layout Claimed Not Superior To QWERTY

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  • by Simon (S2) (600188) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @06:12PM (#26509767) Homepage

    but because it saved my writs from the carpal tunnel syndrome. I really started to feel pain in my wrists, after switching to dvorak it vanished. Now, tell me what you want, it may be a placebo effect or whatever, but my fingers move less on the keyboard, I write about 10wpm faster than I did before with qwerty (150 vs 140), and best of all I don't feel any pain any more.

  • by dexotaku (1136235) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @06:38PM (#26509983)
    As someone who types with only one hand [nerve damage to left hand/arm] I'd like to point out that Dvorak exists in three standard layouts: two-handed, left-handed, and right-handed. I've been typing on QWERTY since I was about 10, and typing on Dvorak-RH since I was 18. The difference in speed isn't actually great, but the difference in required range of motion and therefore repetitive strain injury is significant. It's worth it for that alone; QWERTY spreads keys so far apart that typing with one hand is painful after only a few minutes.
    That said, it's really only good for English, which isn't an issue to me but would of course be for people who type more often in other languages.
    ..Just wanted to point out that there are other reasons for other keyboard layouts, accessibility for the disabled among them.
  • by hedwards (940851) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @06:47PM (#26510095)

    Not really, the keys are placed on a Dvorak keyboard based upon the frequency of use. Trying to balance it so that as much as possible you're not using the same finger for consecutive letters and often times not on the same hand. It's basically meant to be fast and efficient. Whether or not that's the case is a matter for consideration elsewhere.

    And yes, that does depend a great deal upon the language, as just because you're talking about 21 different non-vowels, they're not necessarily optimally placed in the same places in French as in German as in English. And you've also got the added need to consider the special characters, accents, umlauts, etc.

  • Its very difficult to compare as in typing speed measurements one will either be limited to different people as well as different keyboard layouts, or at least different amounts of exposure to each layout. And what about some control cases of randomly generated layouts or alphabetical layouts?

    An interesting hypothesis to test would be that any keyboard layout might have similar typing speeds (say give a factor of 2 or so) once a user has enough experience with it - for things that can be typed with single key presses.

    I _do_ have some personal experience with the (standard 2-hand) dvorak keyboard layout which anyone can try by selecting that layout in their OS's keyboard settings (irrespective of their physical keyboard), a side effect of this is that you will be forced to learn to touch-type as obviously the letters written on your standard keyboard will have no relation to what comes out on the screen any more!

    Speaking entirely qualitatively - it was suprising how easy it was to learn, and a few times since I abandoned it I've gone back and found that it can be picked up again within an hour or two once learnt (just like riding a bike?). And as a few other posters have already mentioned (for typing normal English) it feels more comfortable as less finger movement is required on average.

    However (and this is the reason I've abandoned using it) - the dvorak layout is inappropriate for most uses apart from simply typing English - such as computer programming, working with spreadsheets, linux command line usage etc.

    This is because by arranging the characters by their frequency in standard english, many non-alphanumeric characters which are rarely used in standard english but now very frequently used for other tasks on a computer are placed in very awkard positions requiring you to type with the little finger (or even worse, shift + little-finger). Here are some examples
    ':' - used a lot in C++, is where shift-'z' is on qwerty.
    '{' and '}' - are shift-'-' and shift-'=' on qwerty.
    '\'' and '"' - are q and shift-'q' on qwerty.

  • by Chris Mattern (191822) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @07:03PM (#26510293)

    No, in the real world, we measure words per minute by dividing the number of characters we type by five. Otherwise, your measured "typing speed" varies proportionately with the length of the words you are typing, even when you are in fact typing at exactly the same speed. That makes no sense.

  • by FST777 (913657) <frans-jan@ v a n -steenbeek.net> on Sunday January 18, 2009 @07:03PM (#26510303) Homepage
    The Flemish use an AZERTY layout, because then all of Belgium uses the same layout. It could have been the other way around, were it not that not too long ago, the French-speaking community (which included the upper class of Flanders) ruled over Belgica.

    The Dutch had a wrangled QWERTY-layout, but these days it is almost obsolete. Almost everyone has switched to the standard en_US variant.
  • by WeirdJohn (1170585) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @07:03PM (#26510305)

    Dvorak layout is based on far more than that. Dvorak looked at the relative frequencies of words, of letters, of 2 and 3 letter groups and used a few mechanical principles (keystrokes that alternate hands are faster, the 1st and 2nd fingers are stronger than the others, the right hand is stronger for right handed people, that moving up is easier than moving down, that consecutive strokes with the same finger are easier if the finger is tracking down etc.).

    Dvorak layouts exist for many languages, and the left-handed layout is different to the right. There are also one handed Dvorak layouts for each hand for those who can't use the other hand. And it's a simple mathematical process to develop a Dvorak layout for any alphabetic language.

  • by corsec67 (627446) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @07:04PM (#26510309) Homepage Journal

    For an example of a keyboard for a non-Latin alphabet, look at the alternate symbols on this Japanese keyboard:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:MacBookProJISKeyboard-1.jpg [wikipedia.org]

  • by toxis (323509) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @07:10PM (#26510379)

    Yes, very mysterious.

    Frequencies English:
    y = 1.974%
    z = 0.074%

    Frequencies German:
    y = 0.04%
    z = 1.13%

    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letter_frequencies [wikipedia.org]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 18, 2009 @07:13PM (#26510417)

    Italian is a latin language and it doesn't even have a Y. If it's used at all, it's in foreign origin.

    In fact, Latin itself didn't have a Y either. Linguistics fail.

  • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Sunday January 18, 2009 @07:22PM (#26510489) Homepage Journal

    hehe.. actually, it was sarcasm. Hovering your hands over the keyboard and moving them as little as possible is exactly how you get CTS. This is why kids don't get taught the "home row" method of typing anymore. Correct posture is to rest your wrist in front of the keyboard and reach for the keys. This is called, among over things, the "reach method". The purpose is to encourage as much movement as possible. Exercise, it's not just for your legs.

  • Re:Not good enough (Score:5, Informative)

    by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Sunday January 18, 2009 @07:27PM (#26510533) Journal

    What about bouncing between Dvorak and QWERTY? I assume that you've had to type on a keyboard other than your own on more than one occasion.

    Well, at first, I figured out just how easy it is to switch keymaps on most modern OSes. Unfortunately, when I forgot to change it back, I left a wake of "My keyboard is broken!" computers in my wake.

    I've actually gotten to the point where I can use both, and QWERTY is reasonably fast, though still not as comfortable. It takes a bit to get used to, and my error rate goes way up, but the difference is basically kicking me back to 30-40 WPM -- I'm typing this sentence in QWERTY to prove that point.

    But, since I have a laptop, I can pretty much type the way I want most of the time. It also is yet another customization of said laptop that discourages others from using it without supervision.

  • by Jesus_666 (702802) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @07:31PM (#26510571)
    German, sometimes. German has A E I O U Ä Ö Ü and Y, but Y can be a vowel or a consonant depending on context and it's only counted by a vowel by most people because it's most often used as an Ü allophone. Still, some people learn in school that Y is not a vowel... But then again, school has always lagged behind current science by 30 to 50 years.

    An example for consonant use of Y would be "Yacht", which means exactly what you think it does.
  • by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Sunday January 18, 2009 @07:39PM (#26510651) Journal

    dvorak is fine for coding, especially when you type verbose variable names and comments -- usually in English, because that is the defacto language for code.

    You're absolutely right about thinking keeping up, but this is also like the question of burst vs sustained bandwidth. I probably type very slowly most of the time, spend more time thinking. Occasionally, though, I get a burst of insight, or I find myself doing something repetitive, like unit tests. Then, it's useful to be able to type fast -- and again, English does help.

    I would also argue that substitution outside of unit tests hints at broken design, just as reliance on copy and paste would.

  • Trivia! (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 18, 2009 @07:41PM (#26510673)

    Trufax: QWERTY was designed for typewriters. The reason why the keys are so far apart is so that the hammers in the actual typewriter didn't crash and burn.

  • by Jesus_666 (702802) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @07:49PM (#26510741)
    One more thing: It doesn't matter whether Y is a vowel or not; it simply doesn't occur that often in some languages. For example, it's actually the third least common letter in the German alphabet, before X and Q. (Source: Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] citing Albrecht Beutelspacher, Kryptologie, 7th edition, ISBN 3-8348-0014-7, p. 10) Having it smack dab in the middle of the keyboard is pretty useless - observe the German standard layout, where the Y and Z keys have been switched.

    For comparison, in English the Y appears almost 500 times as often as in German (1.974% vs. 0.04% of the alphabet) whereas the Z is more common in German (1.13% vs. 0.074%).

    The Dvorak layout simply doesn't work that well for non-English languages, hence localized (and even more obscure) layouts like NEO [neo-layout.org] have been created.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 18, 2009 @07:53PM (#26510765)
    Und wer ist dieser Typ?!
  • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Sunday January 18, 2009 @07:55PM (#26510783) Homepage Journal

    dvorak claimed not superior to qwerty

    If one of my writing students had created that headline, I'd have flunked him.

    "...claimed not superior to..."?

    This is why techies who know how to write well are such a valued commodity.

    But thanks for the interesting story. I tried dvorak in grad school and I had my doubts about it back then.

  • Re:Not good enough (Score:4, Informative)

    by hot soldering iron (800102) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @08:06PM (#26510871)

    I DO use both keyboard layouts at work. I use two laptops side by side, Linux/Dvorkian on one, WinXP/Qwerty on the other (the WinXP box is locked down so hard I'm not ALLOWED to make any changes in setup). I've been a Qwerty typist for 26 years and have used Dvorak for almost 6. I'm moderately fast on both, and switch all day long. It IS a pain in the ass, but thankfully not in the wrist anymore. That was the big reason I switched: I started developing RSI in my right hand (I'm married, it wasn't caused by THAT). The keyboard layout change made all the difference between going under for surgery and recovering on my own. Efficiency may not be as uber as word of mouth says (I think it is), but it definitely made me feel physically better. As for TFA: I didn't read it (this IS slashdot, right?), but claiming Dvorak isn't better because it didn't dominate the market, neglects several significant factors (Industry inertia, marketing, the fact that it's DIFFERENT, and general lack of knowledge or care about it). A "market-based" argument isn't worth the electrons used to write it.

  • Re:Not good enough (Score:5, Informative)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @08:14PM (#26510917) Journal
    This was what killed it for me. I switched for myself for a few months, but I spent a lot of time typing on other peoples' computers and then I ended up having to switch back to QWERTY. Dvorak is a nicer layout in terms of comfort, but switching between the two was just irritating.
  • Re:.nnw C mgoy oaf (Score:3, Informative)

    by zobier (585066) <<ten.reiboz> <ta> <reiboz>> on Sunday January 18, 2009 @08:33PM (#26511059)

    In case you cant work out Dvorak -> QWERTY, parent says:

    <subject>ell, i must say</subject>

    this new layout is very confusing and counter intuitive

  • Re:Dvorak (Score:2, Informative)

    by commodore64_love (1445365) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @08:34PM (#26511073) Journal

    I noticed your name is gEvil (beta), and I'm here to tell you that Betamax is NOT superior to VHS. That's a common myth, but here are the facts:

    - Both formats store the same bandwidth (3 megahertz) and therefore equal horizontal resolution.
    = VHS was more easily adapted to usage in home camcorders due to its M-load mechanism which was smaller in size (VHS-Compact).
    - VHS has the advantage in time (10 hours versus 5 hours), and that is the REAL reason it won the battle. Consumers like a bargain and VHS could offer twice the recording time at approximately the same cost.

    Also of note:

    It's a common misconception that the professionals use Betamax. They do not. They use Betacam which is a completely different standard (Component video instead of S-video storage). If you try to play a Pro-Betacam video in your Betamax, first you'll get garbage. Second you'll get an expensive bill because Betacam's metal tape will destroy your player's heads. Betamax was exclusively a consumer standard.

  • by SynapseLapse (644398) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @08:55PM (#26511211)
    I, personally, find Dvorak a lot more comfortable.
    But try this app out: http://colemak.com/Compare [colemak.com]

    It's a java app that let's you enter text and compare how far your fingers are traveling each time and other fun stats.
  • Re:Not good enough (Score:5, Informative)

    by Skater (41976) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @09:27PM (#26511429) Homepage Journal

    I used to use Dvorak - did for about 10 years. What made me switch back?

    First, I wasn't really any faster with Dvorak than Qwerty.

    Second, Windows is messed up. When I had the Dvorak keyboard loaded at work, if I called the help desk and they tried to log into my machine, their typing would come out as though they'd typed Qwerty on a Dvorak keyboard - gibberish. I would have to reboot before calling the help desk. There were other weird things, too - if I logged in then changed the keyboard layout, Windows' password prompt would still be whatever the keyboard was when I logged in.

    The headaches of dealing with it got old.

  • by nog_lorp (896553) * on Sunday January 18, 2009 @09:28PM (#26511443)

    You are correct about the design principles behind QWERTY, but your metaphor for human efficiency is terrible. Human fingers are not hammers of a type writer, and do not behave similarly at all.

    More importantly, you follow with principles of fast typing as if they support QWERTY over Dvorak, when in fact Dvorak is designed with all of these things in mind. The most commonly used letters are in the home row, but spaced such that the same hand rarely types multiple letters in a row. Meanwhile, with QWERTY, vast quantities of common words are purely or a majority one handed.

  • Dvorak (Score:3, Informative)

    by countach (534280) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @09:28PM (#26511445)

    Having used Qwerty, then I switched to Dvorak for about a decade. Then I switched back about 4 years ago, so I feel qualified to talk more than most.

    * Your fingers move a lot less under Dvorak. You can definitely tell.

    * Because your fingers move less, you've got to be more careful about overdoing it and getting RSI. You need to lift your hands up more and do some exercises.

    * I think Dvorak is definitely faster with less effort. Maybe Qwerty can be as fast (don't know) but you'll need a lot more training to get there.

    * For general use as a programmer, it doesn't matter much. As a secretary typing big documents as quickly as possible its more likely to matter. But typing at the speed of your own thoughts it doesn't matter much.

    * At the end of the day the reason I switched back was the annoyance of living in two worlds. If I'm at somebody else's computer with Qwerty, it was a pain. If somebody else came to my computer it was a pain. Yes, to some extent you can learn both, but basically living with both systems was more trouble than it was worth I think. If you don't have anyone else using Qwerty to deal with, it might be worth a go.

  • Re:Dvorak (Score:5, Informative)

    by SlashWombat (1227578) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @10:06PM (#26511731)
    Well thats plainly wrong! Beta has/had a higher bandwidth, thus it was capable of a better picture (more lines).

    See http://www.geocities.com/videoholic2000/BetaBetter.html [geocities.com] or even http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S-VHS [wikipedia.org]

    So betamax was better. But VHS won the format war anyway.
  • by ozamosi (615254) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @10:21PM (#26511851) Homepage

    Y is a vowel in Swedish too. And it just like GP says about it being able to act as a vowel in German, it can act that way in english too, like in "why".

  • by mnemonic_ (164550) <jamec@NOSpaM.umich.edu> on Sunday January 18, 2009 @10:38PM (#26511965) Homepage Journal

    Dvorak is a more efficient layout, allowing a typist to type more words with less finger movement. The advantage has been quantified:

  • Re:Not good enough (Score:3, Informative)

    by Yvan256 (722131) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @11:05PM (#26512153) Homepage Journal

    By the way, Qwerty was chosen for English, the French have a different QWERTY layout, because of the different frequency of occurrence of letters in their dictionary.

    I think you mean "the French have a different keyboard layout called AZERTY".

  • Re:Not good enough (Score:3, Informative)

    by Chris Daniel (807289) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @11:25PM (#26512287) Homepage

    As for TFA: I didn't read it (this IS slashdot, right?), but claiming Dvorak isn't better because it didn't dominate the market, neglects several significant factors ... A "market-based" argument isn't worth the electrons used to write it.

    Well, I did RTFA, and that's not what it said. It cited several studies that concluded there was no benefit to speed from using Dvorak over QWERTY. They didn't really say anything about ergonomics, however.

  • Re:Dvorak (Score:5, Informative)

    by squiggleslash (241428) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @11:36PM (#26512365) Homepage Journal

    So betamax was better. But VHS won the format war anyway.

    No, so Betamax had slightly higher image quality (they both sucked, FWIW), but VHS won the format war anyway.

    Betamax was not better than VHS from a "usability for application" standpoint. The short recording times per tape meant it had limited use as a movie distribution format or a system for recording more than one show unattended. By 1977, VHS could typically squeeze four hours onto a single T-120 video tape, while Betamax was limited at that time to one hour per tape. When considering whether one thing is "better" than another, you have to look at the whole picture. Betamax's picture was higher quality, but in every other respect, it failed every test. Consumers consistently chose recording length over picture quality, because it's better to get a fuzzy recording of a movie than only the first half.

    And yes, I'm aware later versions of Betamax "solved" the recording length issues, but by that point the war was over and done with.

  • Re:!speed (Score:5, Informative)

    by STrinity (723872) on Monday January 19, 2009 @01:01AM (#26512883) Homepage

    From what I've heard, QWERTY wasn't designed to slow typists down, but rather to try to stop commonly adjacent letters being adjacent on the keyboard.

    I think a glance at the top row is enough to disprove that -- qw/wq and yu/uy are the only uncommon two-letter combos, while extremely common ones like we, er/re, rt/tr, io/oi, and ty are present. There are even several common three letter combinations -- wer, tre, ert, rty, and poi. If you expand to include vertically adjacent keys, you'll find even more.

  • Props to noobs (Score:2, Informative)

    by symbolset (646467) * on Monday January 19, 2009 @02:18AM (#26513237) Homepage Journal

    both developed by sony+phillips.

    I think you answered your own question here. Sony+Philips is not Sony. Sony's failures in media are all about the attempt to assert control too early in the demand curve. When they split ownership of a standard with Philips, they surrender the ability to assert control.

  • Re:Not good enough (Score:4, Informative)

    by blankinthefill (665181) <blachanc@NosPAM.gmail.com> on Monday January 19, 2009 @04:18AM (#26513719) Journal
    actually, they did say mention ergonomics.

    Ergonomic studies also confirm that the advantages of Dvorak are either small or nonexistent. For example, A. Miller and J Thomas, two researchers at the IBM Research Laboratory, writing in the International Journal of Man-Machine Studies, conclude that "no alternative has shown a realistically significant advantage over the QWERTY for general purpose typing." Other studies based on analysis of hand-and-finger motions find differences of only a few percentage points between Dvorak and QWERTY. The consistent finding in ergonomic studies is that the results imply no clear advantage for Dvorak, and certainly no advantage of the magnitude that is so often claimed.

  • Re:Not good enough (Score:2, Informative)

    by alan.briolat (903558) on Monday January 19, 2009 @05:56AM (#26514075)

    Just FYI, Windows Vista and onwards support keyboard layout changing at the login screen, and even setting the default keyboard layout at installation time (and probably later) that also applies to the login screen.

  • Re:Dvorak (Score:4, Informative)

    by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Monday January 19, 2009 @08:02AM (#26514603)

    Dvorak was introduced and was technically superior to QWERTY, but by this point it was too late because QWERTY had a dominant market share and pepole did not want to have to learn two keyboard layouts.

    The analogy is pretty good.

    Actually, the whole thrust of the article was how myths get repeated enough that they become accepted as facts. In the case of QWERTY vs DVORAK, that while many people believe DVORAK was superior; properly conducted tests show no inherent advantage to the DVORAK keyboard. As a result, there is no reason to switch.

    As a result, an number of arguments using QWERTY adoption as there basis for conclusions are invalid.

  • by Zed Too (177545) on Monday January 19, 2009 @08:28AM (#26514719)

    On a mechanical typewriter, the levers were arranged in strict left-to-right order, ignoring the row.

    That is, the actual order was 1QAZ2WSX3EDC4RFV... well you get the idea. Keys on the same row were four levers apart, much reducing the risk of jamming.

    You can still find a few common letter combinations, but you should be looking up/down rather than left/right.

  • Re:Dvorak (Score:3, Informative)

    by commodore64_love (1445365) on Monday January 19, 2009 @08:59AM (#26514849) Journal

    >>>First mover advantage is real, as is best product advantage.

    If that were true we'd all be using Betamax, because Betamax beat VHS to market by a full year. (Actually, Sony's Umatic was the first on the scene back in 1970, with full support of all companies.) It appears the first mover advantage is Not real. Lots of first-to-market items flop:

    - laserdisc beat both CD and DVD but failed to win the market
    - Genesis/Megadrive beat Super Nintendo by about two years, but SNES still outsold it by ~30 million units
    - Dreamcast arrived first, but PS2 won the market
    - Xbox360 beat PS3/Wii but failed to win the market; The Wii dominates
    - Minidisc and Digital Compact cassettes beat recordable CDs by about three years, but neither won.
    - The MPman, Roxio, and other digitial media players were first to market, but did not win - that honor went to Ipod 3 years later.
    - And on and on and on.

  • Re:Dvorak (Score:5, Informative)

    by julesh (229690) on Monday January 19, 2009 @09:26AM (#26514983)

    Actually, the whole thrust of the article was how myths get repeated enough that they become accepted as facts. In the case of QWERTY vs DVORAK, that while many people believe DVORAK was superior; properly conducted tests show no inherent advantage to the DVORAK keyboard. As a result, there is no reason to switch.

    The artice, and the research it was based on, were both written by employees of a thinktank which set out to prove that the market always finds the best solution, and on misreadings of earlier research. They tried to "debunk" the idea that Dvorak is better than QWERTY because if it is true and the market-dominant QWERTY system was inferior, their thesis was wrong. With such a biased starting point, I'm not sure I trust anything they say or that their research was in any fashion neutral.

    There's a very good article here [mwbrooks.com] which debunks the article we've been linked to here.

  • Re:Dvorak (Score:3, Informative)

    by commodore64_love (1445365) on Monday January 19, 2009 @09:30AM (#26515001) Journal

    >>>No, so Betamax had slightly higher image quality

    Everybody says this, but they never back it up. It simply isn't true. Betamax records 3 megahertz of bandwidth, identical to what VHS records. There's no difference. I recall in college a friend invited me to watch her Betamax VCR, and she proclaimed it's better than VHS, which being an engineering geek intrigued me. So I sat, and I watched, and I honestly saw no difference.

    In fact, I saw FAR more difference in the college's Super VHS units which looked crystal clear compared to blurry Betamax or VHS. Later I did research, and the specs on VHS and Betamax are virtually identical. That's why I saw no visible difference.

    By the way the specs are: 320x480 luma; 40x480 chroma (approximately).

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