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Why do we type this way?

By Tink! ·
I saw the following article and thought it was interesting. I remember when I learned to type on my brother's Apple IIe I tried learning the Dvorak method too - just for fun. I don't know if I could switch now after typing Qwerty method for so long.

Do you think Dvorak will ever be the standard?
What are the pros and cons?

Qwerty Query: Why Do We Still Type This Way?
By Dory Devlin
Mon May 22, 2006 12:40PM EDT

I went to our town's middle school last night to hear Willard Daggett, an education consultant, talk about the dismal job we are doing educating our kids for a global economy they will be hard-pressed to compete in. Big issues, but one small one caught my ear.

The Qwerty keyboard. We've been using it since the 1870s, when typewriter inventor C.L. Sholes moved letters around the keyboard so typewriter keys would stop jamming.

Well, we don't use typewriters anymore. Technology has caught up with human dexterity. Jamming keys are no longer a problem. And the gymnastics our fingers do on the Qwerty keyboard can exacerbate repetitive stress problems.

In the 1930s, Washington State University Professor August Dvorak came up with a more common-sense design that placed some of the most commonly typed letters, including vowels, on the home row. (Pictured above) A typist can type about 400 of the most common words in the English language on the Dvorak keyboard home row, compared with about 100 on the Qwerty keyboard home row.

"Why," Daggett asked, "aren't my grandchildren learning to type on a keyboard that is 28 percent faster and won't lead to carpal tunnel syndrome?"

He asks a good question. One, I have to admit, I have never given much thought since the Qwerty keyboard is all I've known. Anyone can change the keyboard layout to Dvorak settings in Windows. And many who are battling RSI (repetitive stress injuries) have done so. But, as this Forbes article suggests, isn't it time for a new universal keyboard design that can help speed typing without mangling a new generation of hands?

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tried dvorak

by Dr Dij In reply to Why do we type this way?

I got good at touch typing on dvorak keyboard. Had program for my PC that swaps the key values to a dvorak keyboard. I'm sure it's still available.

Thing is, gets confusing if you switch, so unless everyone switches is kind of pointless. I type real fast on a regular keyboard, so not much point.

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Wow! I hate to sound like

by Old Guy In reply to Why do we type this way?

My Dad used to but after using the same type keyboard for almost forty years (I'm 51)I don't know if I could change. I do agree with Dr Dij, unless we made a national switch it would be extremely difficult to go back and forth. However, unlike some old folks I would be willing to try to switch if it really was easier.

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I'm a travelling computer consultant and I switch back and forth daily.

by shamusoneil06 In reply to Wow! I hate to sound like

One of the arguments against Dvorak is that "I'd need to switch back and forth and that would be difficult." Well... I do it. It requires me to not run on autopilot and consciously make the switch at first, but once I make the switch, it's all Qwerty again. When I get home or use my laptop - BAM - back to Dvorak. Switching back to the client's computer - BAM - back to Qwerty. It's not hard.

Have you tried Dvorak yet? If not, I encourage you to try it. There's a website that describes Dvorak and links to many other support sites including a free on-line typing tutor. Just google search: bigler dvorak


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Well, I would certainly

by Old Guy In reply to I'm a travelling computer ...

be willing to give it a shot. I'm not one of the old folks who is too set in their ways to try new things. I have learned to be ambidextrous for surgery as well as computers so I think I could learn it if I needed to. I think it would be fun to try it just to see. I will check out the website on it.

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This depends on the person

by BeMindful In reply to I'm a travelling computer ...

I started typing QWERTY in 1962. I taught myself dvorak in about 1992, after 10 years working with personal computers. Once learning dvorak, I found that I had to look at the keys to type qwerty. I don't know if this is age related or just differences in brains, but I certainly can't switch between the layouts like I can switch between languages.

BTW, I'm not sorry I made the switch. It's caused a bit of inconvenience since my role is now partly support, but I think it's probably worth it for lessened repetitive motion.

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languages, cost, habit

by apotheon In reply to Why do we type this way?

I can think of three reasons we're still using qwerty:

1. We're in the habit of using qwerty, and changing such habits is difficult -- especially when some of us already type 100+ wpm on a qwerty keyboard.

2. It would involve a huge aggregate cost to switch everyone to Dvorak -- both a financial cost and an opportunity cost. Of course, that's not much of a good reason, since it's a temporary cost in exchange for a long-term, ongoing benefit. It does present a tremendous conceptual hurdle for people to overcome for migration, however.

3. Different languages are better suited to different keyboard layouts. The English language is best suited to the Dvorak layout. Other languages are best suited to a qwerty layout -- and by "other languages", in my personal experience, I mean languages like Perl and C/C++.

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Have you even tried coding Perl on Dvorak? I doubt it.

by shamusoneil06 In reply to languages, cost, habit

Argument "3" is no good. I can code Perl on Dvorak just fine. First, learn Dvorak _well_. Then code Perl on it. Give it a shot.

Argument "1" is very sound. If somebody doesn't have a problem with it, there's no need to change. It's only when people start experiencing pain do they look for alternatives.

Argument "2" also has some weight to it. But I have to tell you that Dvorak is MUCH easier to learn than Qwerty is; and there are studies by the US government to back that statement up. It took me two weeks to get my old speed back and another two weeks to get faster. Now, I can type around 70-80 wpm when I'm flying. If I wanted to do more drilling, I could get that speed even higher.

The solution would be to encourage the children to learn Dvorak and just have them switch between the keymaps whenever they use the computer; we'll be doing them a huge favor. All major operating systems nowadays have the ability to quickly and easily switch back and forth between Dvorak, Qwerty, and whatever other keymap you want to use. Because of that, the costs are very small. Parents don't need to change a thing and children can learn something better.


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So is Dvorak really faster?

by Tink! In reply to Have you even tried codin ...

The article says Dvorak is 28% faster than QWERTY. But is that really true?

70-80 wpm on Dvorak isn't any faster than my typing 80-90 wpm on Qwerty.

Anyone seen any actual statistics on this?

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It's a matter of capability. Dvorak is streamlined whereas Qwerty is not.

by shamusoneil06 In reply to So is Dvorak really faste ...

Don't take my typing speed of 70-80wpm as the theoretical limit of Dvorak. There is a lady clocked at 212 wpm on Dvorak in the Guiness Book of World records. The highest I've seen is 170 on a Qwerty board.

BUT, as we can get lost in the significance of highest peed and what not, we should remember that Dvorak was tailored to the English language. This means that there is less finger travel to type letters. The two most common letters in the English language are T and E. And on the Dvorak keymap they are placed on the home row beneath your two strongest fingers; your middle finger. The rest of the letters correspond according to that same rule.

Lowering the finger traffic on a keyboard and reducing one-handed words increases typing speed. Give it a shot. Type out these one-handed Qwerty words: Reverberate and Opinion. Next, try them on Dvorak. You'll notice the forced alternation between hands and after typing on Dvorak you'll appreciate how much of a traffic reduction there is.

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Well, actually...

by eiskra In reply to It's a matter of capabili ...

It's not one-handed words that are really the problem for a proficient touch typist. It's repeated-finger combinations. In fact, alternate-hand words can be worse.

Background: I am a touch typist who does 90wpm on qwerty, and I have also been a life-long pianist.

I can type "opinion" extremely rapidly and accurately. "Reverberate" slows me down because of the "rb" in the middle, both typed by the same finger.

Typing with alternate hands is, however, less accurate... take, for example, one of hte most commonly "typoed" words, "the." And I actually mis-typed it above, and left it for effect. It's also commonly struck as "teh." You'll notice that the letters typed with the left hand - "te" - are in the correct order in both common mis-deeds. Everyone can type "te" very quickly, because they are struck by adjacent fingers on the same hand. The error comes from having to interpose the "h" between the "te" with the other hand, and the "te" happens sooooo quickly!

Also, for reference, another error I've made while typing this note: "alos" for "also", another case where an alternate-hand word is botched because of syncronization between hands.

Note: for people who (I mis-typed people as "poeple" just now, another alternate-hand error, and typed "jsut" when typing "just," another one...) do not know how to touch-type and who rapidly type with the two-finger method, alternate-hand words are probably much better. For this reason, two-finger typists are probably better off with something like EXpeRT, which is designed to increase alternate-hand combinations while minimizing differences from Standard layouts.

Touch typists will get less benefit and may become less accurate, so they are probably better off going through the pain of learning Dvorak, whcih minimizes finger travel. ("Which" is another alternate-error!)

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