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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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  • Dvorak (Score:5, Funny)

    by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @06:00PM (#26509637)
    Is that old blowhard at it again? Why do you keep posting stuff about this bozo?
    • Re:Dvorak (Score:5, Funny)

      by jonasj (538692) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @06:02PM (#26509649)

      Blaarrh.... old joke.

      Though I wouldn't want to type on him.

    • Re:Dvorak (Score:5, Funny)

      by reboot246 (623534) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @06:14PM (#26509779) Homepage
      Hey, I like Dvorak! His New World Symphony is awesome.
  • The world is full of people who tried Dvorak and didn't think it was all that special.
    • 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.
      • 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.
        • Re:Not good enough (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Firehed (942385) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @07:18PM (#26510457) Homepage

          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. I tried to use Dvorak for a short while but gave up because of that more than anything else.

          • 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 digitalchinky (650880) <dtchky@gmail.com> on Sunday January 18, 2009 @08:56PM (#26511215)

              I quite literally scraped off all the key labels from all my keyboards both at home and at work. It doesn't just discourage the keyboard illiterate, it actually leaves them questioning your sanity, so they tend to stay well away.

            • 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 bjdevil66 (583941) on Monday January 19, 2009 @11:21AM (#26515989)

                The common shortcuts are too valuable to give up. Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V, Ctrl-X, Alt-F, etc. are all in the wrong place on the keyboard when you switch to Dvorak. I tried to learn it for a little while, but I quickly gave up after running into this real-world problem.

                Yeah, I suppose I could've gone through and re-mapped those shortcuts, but that would've been a pain in the butt doing at every computer I ever sit down at, for every application.

          • 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: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: (Score:3, Informative)

              by Chris Daniel (807289)

              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:Not good enough (Score:4, Informative)

                by blankinthefill (665181) <blachanc.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: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: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by thtrgremlin (1158085)
            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.
      • Re:Not good enough (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Scrameustache (459504) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @07:29PM (#26510555) Homepage Journal

        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.

        You seem to be implying that qwerty exists for ergonomic reasons, rather than minimizing the tangling of mechanical components of type writers.

  • gotta say (Score:3, Funny)

    by EpsCylonB (307640) <eps@NOspaM.epscylonb.com> on Sunday January 18, 2009 @06:08PM (#26509725) Homepage

    tl;dr

    • by ChienAndalu (1293930) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @06:10PM (#26509749)

      Still learning the new layout?

    • 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 Fred Ferrigno (122319) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @08:26PM (#26511011)

        The author ties it all into a criticism of path dependence, the fairly obvious idea that once a particular option becomes entrenched, it can keep superior options from replacing it. To do that, he cites studies that found retraining existing QWERTY typers in Dvorak wasn't cost effective compared to additional training in QWERTY.

        Well, duh. That's almost what it means to be an entrenched option. We've reached a local maxima; movement to the global maxima would be costly. Whether or not Dvorak is superior, it is highly unlikely that QWERTY is the perfectly optimal layout, so there's probably some better layout. Yet we're stuck with QWERTY for the conceivable future because QWERTY came first. That is path dependence in action.

  • 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

    • by jythie (914043) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @06:38PM (#26509991)

      Depends on what you have to type.
       
      chorded keyboards, just like most technologies that try to make life 'easier' on users are built around usage assumptions, making those uses easier but making other uses more difficult.
       
      One of qwerty's strenghts over these special-purpose systems is, well, it is general purpose. You can do more with them but nothing all that well.

  • 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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by QuantumG (50515) *

      Yes, because moving less is the solution.

    • by MartinSchou (1360093) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @06:20PM (#26509829)

      140 wpm? O_o

      WPM is standardized at 5 keystrokes, so that's 700 keystrokes/minute or almost 12/second. I can barely do that if I'm just mashing the keyboard at random.

    • by joh (27088) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @06:58PM (#26510241)

      I have never understood how merely rearranging the keys on the same fscking keyboard could make a real difference. Yeah, you might get a 6% improvement in typing speed. Who cares?

      What would make a difference would be to make sure that you can press Control, Shift, Alt and at the same time press another key without dislocating your fingers. And to have an ergonomic layout of the surrounding keys (cursor movement, backspace, etc.). Our keyboards are in the stone age and the challenge is *not* the arrangement of the character keys, it's the arrangement of everything else. Where in a given layout your p's and q's actually are is a minor thing. Being able to move around your cursor and delete and edit things without leaving your home position can easily *double* your editing speed. That's the reason why people still love vi and Emacs. And this is not a joke.

      That, or finally introduce foot pedals. It's a shame that even the most recent keyboards are still bound to torture your hands and your mind just to type capitals, to hit a key combo or to move two words back. Get a decent keyboard that allows to press the control key with the edge of your hand instead of with your pinky and use Emacs and you'll be in editing heaven. Pathetic...

      • 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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Sycraft-fu (314770)

      It's probably not carpal tunnel actually, most things people call that aren't they are some other kind of repetitive strain injury. At any rate if you've found something that helps, that's all that matters. One of the reasons could perhaps be not the layout, but if the keyboard itself is more ergonomic. I suffer from RSI and my solution was contoured keyboards. Lets me keep my wrists in a more neutral position.

      At any rate the real key is do what works for you. There isn't a need to justify it to other peopl

  • !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.
    • 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.

      • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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)

    • OMG HaXX0r! (Score:5, Funny)

      by Mr. Underbridge (666784) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @08:33PM (#26511057)

      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 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)

      Wow, you're right. I'll fire off an email to Taco letting him know that kdawson's account has been hacked. That sort of compromise can't be tolerated, even if it's by a benevolent professional editor.

  • On Markets (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chandon Seldon (43083) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @06:49PM (#26510129) Homepage

    This article is the sort of crap that results in people talking about "market fundamentalists" and dismissing the very real benifits of decentralized decision making produced by healthy markets. The authors of this article missed three key points:

    1. Not all markets are healthy. Oligopoly and misregulation commonly screw things up.
    2. Getting the best results from a market require that all participants have perfect information (which implies they've spent the time to do a full analysis of all their options). This never happens.
    3. Network effects really can result in entrenching technically inferior solutions. The barrier to entry can be so high that the market can't overcome it in a reasonable amount of time.

    Healthy markets really are a good way to solve resource allocation problems and to make locally effective choices. They're probably even the best way. But saying that all markets always have optimal outcomes is absurd and results in people making the opposing absurd claim ("all markets are broken and need either heavy regulation or to be replaced with central planning") sound more reasonable.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by im_thatoneguy (819432)

      I would add a Number 4 to that list:

      4. Market stabilization has no consideration for the emotional and physical consequences of its activities.

      Maybe your mother dieing is necessary for a particular market to stabilize. While the economic costs of her death would be negligible to the system the emotional costs may be too great for you. You may prefer the economic hit to the emotional hit.

      This is a point that many anti-global warming dissenters miss. They will argue: "The world has been around for billions

  • Bias much? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Angst Badger (8636) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @06:54PM (#26510185)

    It's very much a pro-markets piece.

    It's very much a pro-markets publication. While the arguments put forward rest on their own merits, it's safe to say that Reason Online -- whose masthead includes the slogan, "Free Minds and Free Markets" -- is certainly not going to publish articles that challenge the idea that the market is an efficient and rational actor, at least most of the time. Whether that inherent bias extends to cherry-picking the data used to reach conclusions, or whether the data is even unambiguous, are things one needs to consider in cases like this.

    Probably everyone here can think of some examples of inferior products that have remained dominant despite the appearance of superior alternatives, and also examples of the reverse. For any of that to mean anything, one would have to survey a substantial sampling of such cases, determine which represented the majority and by what measure (total monetary value, units sold, etc.) and then look at all kinds of other factors (market segment, cost of switching products, and so on) before one could begin to draw useful and quite probably heavily qualified conclusions.

    Then there's the inherent ambiguity involved in "superiority". Take Mac versus Windows versus Linux, for example. If, like most computer users, you have a preference, you can probably explain what drives that preference. But so can people who have different preferences. One might prefer Windows for reasons that are entirely irrelevant to a Mac aficionado, and vice versa. So which is superior? Obviously, there is no single, universal answer to this question -- and many others like it -- so we continue to see a market for Windows and a smaller, but quite healthy, market for Macs. Likewise, Harley-Davidson motorcycles continue to sell alongside everything from Vespa scooters to Honda racing bikes, and there are a dozen or more brands of sandwich bread at the average supermarket despite, what, more than six thousand years of not very exciting developments in bread technology.

    The short version is that in any complex area of study riddled with exceptions and special cases, sweeping general conclusions are likely to be true, if at all, only within some arbitrary subset of cases that may be of very little predictive value, but that will seldom deter anyone with an article deadline and a point to "prove".

  • 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! :)

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by nog_lorp (896553) *

      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, va

  • by Confuse Ed (59383) <edmund&greenius,ltd,uk> on Sunday January 18, 2009 @07:02PM (#26510279) Homepage

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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:

  • A few issues. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by seebs (15766) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @11:26PM (#26512297) Homepage

    1. This is not news -- to put it mildly.
    2. As has been pointed out every time this comes up, the "research" isn't even CLOSE to addressing the real claims of Dvorak advocates. (Hint: Any test under about ten years isn't going to give you a fair comparison to "experienced" keyboard users...)
    3. Furthermore, this also doesn't hint at issues related to RSI. I didn't switch to Dvorak because it was "faster" -- I switched because I was hurting my hands. Switching seemed to have helped, because my fingers moved in different patterns.
    4. Why, oh why, is kdawson still able to post garbage like this? This is not news, it's not stuff that matters. It's a "debunking" over a decade old with major, blindingly-obvious, flaws. I don't even think this is the first time it's been on Slashdot in particular.

    Can't we PLEASE get someone in who has actually read Slashdot before, and knows both what kind of material is suitable, and what's already been posted?

  • 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 :-) )

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