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

    by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Sunday January 18, 2009 @06:06PM (#26509707) Homepage Journal
    Taking a peek at the Dvorak layout and then imagining typing in it, I prefer qwerty because I'm not a "proper" keyboardist.

    I can type fast because of experience and muscle memory but I don't allocate one finger to a few keys, then allocate another finger to another set of keys as learned in a rigorous keyboarding class.

    Part of exercising a set of fingers is ensuring that they get the full range of motion and not just the cramped(but reportedly more efficient) "most commonly used in a single row" idea behind dvorak. But Your mileage and experience may vary.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 18, 2009 @06:12PM (#26509765)

    If you're serious about typing at high speeds, you know better than to use a sequential keyboard, you go for chorded. A sequential keyboard is one where you type all letters in sequence, such as the common qwerty or dvorak. A chorded keyboard is parallel in the sense that you type whole syllables at the same time; it's kind of like playing the piano. Instead of typing s-y-l-l-a-b-l-e, you'd type syl-la-ble. Do that at speed and you're golden; you can get around three times the speed of ten-fingered qwerty once you're into the system and have it in muscle memory.

    The sad truth is of course that that qwerty is here to stay since it has no barrier to entrance: you start with hunt and peck and take off from there. Chorded keyboards take conscious effort to master, but once you're trained on them, they're bliss.

    Check out the Veyboard, by a Dutch company, it's one of the nicer chorded systems. (Doesn't lean heavy on abbrevs and cryptospeak like Stenotype.) http://www.veyboard.nl

  • !speed (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Cillian (1003268) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @06:17PM (#26509805) 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. Keys jammed then adjacent keys were pressed at the same time, so you want this to happen infrequently.
  • by repvik (96666) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @06:18PM (#26509813)

    Dvorak ain't language agnostic, so for non-english languages it's worse.

  • Editing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mpyne (1222984) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @06:41PM (#26510025)

    I know that the Slashdot editing has a very low reputation around here but I was pretty interested to see how much work was done on this article writeup. You can see mine at the Firehose [slashdot.org] entry. The Slashdot editor even went to the trouble of looking up prior Dvorak-related articles (and taking the trouble to notice the article I submitted was 13 years old -- whoops)

  • by mungurk (982766) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @06:43PM (#26510051)
    I find switching between QWERTY and DVORAK as easy as transposing key signatures in music. Ask any studied musician about transposing from C major to G major, it is just a tiny mental shift, that's all. I must admit, though, that going from a regular DVORAK to a Microsoft "split" keyboard , natural keyboard, or ergonomic keyboard is very frustrating.
  • Re:gotta say (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LingNoi (1066278) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @06:44PM (#26510063)

    Here's the tl;dr version as a public service for everyone but me that didn't RTFA..

    There is no evidence that Dvorak is faster. The only evidence is from Dvorak's own book.

    Many places cite an old navy study as confirming that Dvorak is better/faster however upon trying to obtain a copy they couldn't find one, leading the author to believe that the people making the claims didn't even read the study but quoted from each other.

    When he did find a copy in some persons house it warned that the study wasn't a fair one. The author then describes how the two tests performed were unscientific and found evidence of data tampering to make Dvorak look better in the results.

  • by Saberwind (50430) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @06:52PM (#26510165)

    I used to get pains in my finger joints from typing too much. Switching to a Microsoft Natural keyboard helped, but did not alleviate the pains I was getting. Then I did some research and reasoned that switching from Qwerty to Dvorak layout might help me. Ten days later, I was completely switched. My finger pains completely stopped. I haven't looked back.

    I don't care about the subjective speed or typo difference between Qwerty and Dvorak. Dvorak's logical arrangement of keys cuts down finger travel, and that is easily quantifiable.

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

    by Scott Wood (1415) <scott@buserr[ ]net ['or.' in gap]> on Sunday January 18, 2009 @06:54PM (#26510179)
    I'm not a "proper" keyboardist either, and I greatly prefer Dvorak. It wasn't very long after switching that the experience and muscle memory effect kicked in with the new layout -- and I no longer feel like my fingers are being tied into knots.
  • by Kaz Kylheku (1484) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @06:57PM (#26510229) Homepage

    I believe that the typewriter jamming issue solved by QWERTY makes typists faster. It's not true that QWERTY is designed to slow typists down. QWERTY is designed to eliminate ``hazards'' in the machine's ``pipeline''.

    We can in fact liken this to the execution of instructions on a processor.

    The opponents of QWERTY say that its purpose is to bring about ``underclocking'', i.e. slowing down of the overall keystroke issue rate. But the technical issue is not speed, but collision between the hammers in the typewriter. The margin, or window of interference for adjacent hammers (corresponding to keys that are in adjacent columns of the keyboard) is worse than for keys that are horizontally distant.

    There can be consider parallelism in the action of these hammers. Two keystrokes can be in progress at the same time, with one hammer slightly ahead of the other. One strikes the tape and paper, then recoils, and the other one lands in the same spot afterward. The farther apart the hammers are located, the closer together they can be temporally; i.e. the faster the typist can issue these keystrokes without causing a jam! I.e. the typist is encouraged to be faster, not to be slower.

    But this spaced arrangement also makes it easier for the typist to go fast. Alternation between the hands leads to much more rapid typing. The typist can double the rate compared to using one hand. It's difficult to type a fast sequence with the fingers of one hand. This is particularly true of the weaker fingers: ring finger and pinky. Pianists struggle to get these into shape. Try playing a fast trill using your ring finger and pinky on a weighted piano keyboard, then try it with your thumb and index finger, then with two strong fingers from the opposite hand.

    Also it takes energy to make the keys and hammers move, in a typewriter or piano. The typist can use gravity: the weight of his forearm from the elbow can act through a single finger to send power to the keystroke. If two or more keys have to be hit in rapid succession using the same hand, the energy of a single fall of the forearm has to be distributed across all three. C. C. Chang describes the concept of parallel sets and gravity attack principle in his Fundamentals of Piano Practice http://www.pianofundamentals.com/book [pianofundamentals.com].

    When piano music contains a monophonic passage (one melody line), pianists take advantage of two-handed fingering to achieve greater virtuosity. Playing a melody with one hand is a difficult compromise for the sake of polyphony (e.g. Bach two-part invention with two independent melody lines often at the same tempo).

    Also look at the African folk instrument known as the thumb piano. It's a resonant box with protruding, tuned metal reeds that are plucked with the thumbs. The scale is arranged such that you can play fast runs by hitting notes with alternate thumbs on opposite sides of the ``reedboard''. Virtuoso thumb piano players can shred blazingly fast over scale and arpeggio runs due to this left right alternation. You can see these guys in action in Bela Fleck's documentary film Throw Down Your Heart http://www.throwdownyourheart.com/ [throwdownyourheart.com]. It's hard to believe they are just using their thumbs.

    Well, that concludes my typing rant. At least it's not about static versus dynamic typing, for once! :)

  • by harry666t (1062422) <harry666t@gmail. c o m> on Sunday January 18, 2009 @07:11PM (#26510393)
    > still wonder by how much, in that case.

    Use this Python script:

    import sys, string
    d=dict([(k,0) for k in string.lowercase])
    for ch in sys.stdin.read():
            if string.lower(ch) in string.lowercase:
                    d[string.lower(ch)] += 1
    print sorted(d.items(), key=lambda x:x[1], reverse=True)

    Usage:
    $ ./countletters.py <<EOF
    This is a sample sentence in English.
    I am typing this text to see which letters are used the most.
    I will repeat this for other languages I speak.
    EOF
    [('e', 18), ('t', 14), ('s', 13), ('i', 12), ('a', 8), ('h', 8), ('l', 6), ('n', 6), ('r', 5), ('g', 4), ('o', 4), ('p', 4), ('m', 3), ('c', 2), ('u', 2), ('w', 2), ('d', 1), ('f', 1), ('k', 1), ('y', 1), ('x', 1), ('b', 0), ('j', 0), ('q', 0), ('v', 0), ('z', 0)]

    Do a `wget|html2txt|countletters.py' with a few pages from Wikipedias in various languages and you'll have the answer.
  • I attest that Y is a consonant in Spanish. Vowels are only five: A, E, I, O, U.
  • Wrist ache (ahem) (Score:4, Interesting)

    by calzakk (1455889) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @07:25PM (#26510519) Journal

    I've been using the dvorak layout for several years now and will say that:

    1. Dvorak isn't necessarily faster than Qwerty.
    I certainly used to be able to achieve faster typing speeds using Qwerty.

    2. Dvorak is more comfortable.
    I used to suffer periodic bouts of painful wrist and finger ache (no comments please!) when typing on a Qwerty layout. I switched to Dvorak and everything has been hunky dory since.

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

    by Skreems (598317) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @07:28PM (#26510543) Homepage
    I use Dvorak on all my accounts, but have to switch back to Qwerty when I'm on someone else's machine. It's not too bad. I'm faster in Dvorak, but I can still touch-type reasonably well.

    I spent maybe 4-5 years touch-typing in Qwerty, and the past 5 in Dvorak, and I much prefer it. The amount of motion necessary to type is much smaller. I'm probably not significantly faster than I was in Qwerty, but the conservation of movement makes my hands feel a lot more relaxed. Even if it's all just mental, I think it's worth it.

    Sure, it's not for everyone. And it's not worth this back and forth battle of "proof" about which one is better. It's just an alternative, there for you to try if you want.
  • Re:It's interesting. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Sunday January 18, 2009 @07:31PM (#26510575) Journal

    It took awhile, but I'm at the point now where the only place I really run into problems is games -- some don't let you change their mappings, and most are not written with alternate keymaps in mind.

    WASD doesn't work very well when you're actually typing something like comma, A, semicolon, or H.

    Solution: Learned it, got very proficient at everything except games, grudgingly change the mappings in games, and re-learned QWERTY at about 30-40 WPM so I'm not completely helpless when I borrow a computer.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 18, 2009 @08:06PM (#26510869)
    I call bullshit on your "140wpm". Words per minute uses a 5 letter per word definition. That's 840 keystrokes per minute, including 140 space key presses. Which means 14 key strokes per second overall. Do you honestly expect us to believe you're pressing fourteen different keys on a QWERTY keyboard every second?! Not to mention some of those may be repeats, which make things worse.
  • by SteveWoz (152247) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @08:36PM (#26511091) Homepage

    I always read about how our QWERTY typewriters were designed to deliberately 'slow' you down. I even taught this to my classes of elementary and middle school students.

    In my classes I tried to teach my young students (5th grade) to use the computer to enhance their regular school work. One day they came to class and told me that their homework was to find a sentence and count, how many a's, how many b's, etc. I delighted in teaching them to use a spreadsheet for this.

    The next day my son came home from school and showed me the class totals. I was struck by an idea. I pulled out my Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing manual (in the days when they came with paper manuals) to compare the results of these 5th graders with the Dvorak keyboard. I was stunned, as they matched almost perfectly.

    If young children without a bias come up with the same result, there is a rightness and a logic to it. Soon thereafter my son switched to Dvorak and after about a week was faster. He was even much faster another week later.

    Soon thereafter, I used Mavis Beacon to learn the Dvorak keyboard while on a flight to Tokyo. I was typing fully in Dvorak by the end of that flight and never went back. Only rarely am I forced to type in QWERTY and on those occasions I have to look at the keys. I try to keep it out of my consciousness so as not to conflict with my use of Dvorak, and I have forgotten how to type fast in QWERTY.

    The main benefit is that it feels so much better, as my fingers travel less. There is a lot less stress on my fingers. My fingers were starting to exhibit signs of pain and exhaustion when typing in QWERTY and that went away. Dvorak is much easier on the fingers.

  • Re:Dvorak (Score:3, Interesting)

    by _Hellfire_ (170113) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @09:10PM (#26511297) Homepage

    I noticed your name is gEvil (beta), and I'm here to tell you that Betamax is NOT superior to VHS.

    I suspect that it's actually a play on Google's habit of sticking (beta) on everything they do. Google are famously "not evil". The username might be the owner's opinion that Google are becoming evil (ie in a beta release of evil) and that they could have a product name called gEvil (in the same vein as gmail etc).

  • by BetterSense (1398915) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @11:22PM (#26512271)
    I also type Japanese in Dvorak, on occasion. I can't see how any language could be better in that POS QWERTY layout than Dvorak. A particular lameness is that XP requires a registry edit to use the IME and dvorak at the same time. Without it you can have dvorak, or you can have Japanese, but you can't eat it too.
  • Re:Not good enough (Score:3, Interesting)

    by thtrgremlin (1158085) on Monday January 19, 2009 @12:05AM (#26512565) Homepage Journal
    I am actually using Colemak because it is fewer changes than from qwerty to dvorak, to just be weird, and it isn't supported in Windows. But I have run into the same issue. My wife only uses Colemak and loves it. Same thing said above, your fingers don't get so tied in knots. But I am forced to use qwerty at work and switching between is a bit odd.
  • Proof by grep (Score:3, Interesting)

    by shish (588640) on Monday January 19, 2009 @01:35AM (#26513041) Homepage

    Assumption: alternating between left and right hand letters is fast and easy on the muscles (I think this has been found to be true, but I can't find the study)

    $ cat /usr/share/dict/words | grep -E "^([qwertasdfgzxcvb][yuiophjklnm])+\$" | wc -l
    254

    $ cat /usr/share/dict/words | grep -E "^([pyaoeuiqjkx][fcgrldhtnsbmwvz])+\$" | wc -l
    637

    Conclusion: dvorak allows you to type 2-3 times as many words using the alternating hands technique

    (Note: the regex is inexact, missing out words which start on the right hand side, or are an odd number of characters long; I leave a more complete regex as an excercise to the reader :-) )

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

    by grumbel (592662) <grumbel@gmx.de> on Monday January 19, 2009 @03:40AM (#26513551) Homepage

    Thats a myth, QWERTY was not there to slow the typist down, but to speed them up. Letters that would jam where places further apart, so less jamming and more speed as the result. As a result QWERTY is simply the solution to a problem that no longer exist.

  • by julesh (229690) on Monday January 19, 2009 @04:58AM (#26513859)

    The Sinclair ZX Spectrum had something like this. Its particular solution didn't exactly sweep the world off its feet it seems.

    There are probably two reasons for this:

    * The Spectrum's input system was designed by Sir Clive Sinclair, who really wasn't a master of sensible product design. Somebody with a good knowledge of how input techniques are learned could design a much better system.
    * The primary goal of the spectrum's input system was _not_ to enable faster program entry (although this was a side effect). The main point was to reduce the complexity of the BASIC interpreter and at the same time increase program storage capacity by using only a single character for storage of BASIC keywords in RAM. This enabled Sinclair BASIC to be faster and smaller than most of its competitors, and let more useful programs run in the 16K of RAM available on early model Spectrums. The easiest way of achieving this was to have extended input modes to enter those keywords as a single keystroke (the later Spectrum 128K models allowed direct text entry, but required an additional 16K of ROM that was paged in and out in order to achieve this).

  • Re:learning curves (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Memophage (88273) on Monday January 19, 2009 @05:41PM (#26520757)

    When I was in college, having heard about the Dvorak layout, I decided to give it a shot. I switched my keyboard layout, applied some new letter stickers, and spent a couple weeks re-training myself to the new format. After about three months, I gave up and switched back, primarily for two reasons:

    First, shortcut keys. The letter layout itself may be (arguably) more efficient, but the placement of shortcut keys is an overlay on top of that which has its own efficiently. Take Copy (Ctrl-C), Paste (Ctrl-V). They're right next to each other, and use the left hand so you can copy/paste while using the mouse with your right hand. If you use Dvorak, Ctrl-V is on the right-hand side of the keyboard, so you have to choose between moving your hand off the mouse, or using your left hand on the right side of the keyboard. I suppose you could re-map all your shortcut keys too, but that becomes an even more involved process with a higher learning curve.

    Secondly, it became a struggle to use other computers. Although I'd retrained myself on my keyboard easily enough, it became more difficult to use other computers, and remember to switch back and forth. Hitting the wrong shortcut-key combination can have disastrous results in different applications, and it just became too difficult to deal with.

    So, while the QWERTY layout may not be the most optimally efficient, in my opinion the overhead in switching it to anything else is simply too great.

        It's still a great case study in how engineering decisions are made though, and I highly recommend giving it a try. Perhaps forcing a classroom of engineering students to do it for a quarter would prevent costly project overruns years down the road...

  • by Pushnell (204514) on Monday January 19, 2009 @06:44PM (#26521561)

    Working in a web shop where lunch conversation was occasionally about how thoroughly we had memorized the hotkeys for our favorite dev programs, I hacked up some foot pedals for one of our designers by destroying a usb keyboard and wiring directly into the keyboard's controller chip. What we eventually found was that the average desk worker does not maintain the same posture all day long, but instead alters it, shifting weight to the left, right, or center to alleviate fatigue. This made any particular arrangement of foot pedals uncomfortable to use throughout the course of the day because it required maintaining a specific posture or rearranging the pedals at every (previously unconscious) shift in the chair. Now, we did not have $1000 chairs, so perhaps foot pedals could work with some highly ergonomic office equipment, but our relatively simple setup didn't afford further testing.

    As to what difference is made by rearranging the letters on the keyboard, I believe that the primary argument should not be about speed but efficiency. Most people type only in short bursts anyway, so wpm is a diminishing return metric above a certain threshold (I've heard around 35), but highly efficient layouts dramatically reduce the finger and wrist work required to type the same text, which reduces fatigue and injury. I suggest checking out http://klausler.com/evolved.html [klausler.com] for an example of unbiased methodology which shows that Dvorak reduces effort per text by over 50%, which I may add, has been my experience. I switched to Dvorak after I started noticing early signs of CTS (numbness, tingling, etc) and have had 0 problems since, 6 years later.

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