General discussion


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?

This conversation is currently closed to new comments.

43 total posts (Page 2 of 5)   Prev   01 | 02 | 03 | 04 | 05   Next
Thread display: Collapse - | Expand +

All Comments

Collapse -

You're missing the point.

by apotheon In reply to Have you even tried codin ...

I could code Perl on an alphabetically arranged speak-and-spell keyboard, too, if it included all the special characters I needed. Since we're talking about efficiency of typing, though, including lack of finger-travel, lack of key chording, and other such matters, suddenly "can write Perl just fine" isn't good enough. Moving brackets and braces even further afield than parentheses is definitely a net loss for almost every programming language in existence. It's less of a loss for Perl, where slashes and question marks get used in regexen, than in many other languages that don't use those symbols, but slashes and question marks are still far less commonly used than brackets and braces for serious Perl programming. The relocation of the semicolon and colon key to a less-useful place is a bit dismaying for a Perl programmer as well.

The Dvorak keymap is designed for English. Most programming languages were designed for the qwerty keymap -- as in, the keymap came first, and the language was fit to the keymap when it was created. There's really no way around that, short of reinventing programming languages in general.

I know that the Dvorak keymap is, in general, supposedly easier to learn than the qwerty keymap. I don't dispute that -- I have no evidence to the contrary. that doesn't change the fact that the financial costs involved in migrating all the world from qwerty to Dvorak, and even in migrating each company that makes heavy use of keyboards from one keymap to another, would be prohibitive. There's also a significant migration productivity lag -- even a couple weeks to get up to speed on the new layout would result in massive losses for a major corporation, and not everyone adjusts that easily. As I said, it's not much of an argument in the long term, but it certainly explains the failure of this newfangled keymap to sweep over the world's population with stunning quickness.

I certainly support efforts to get Dvorak taught in schools alongside qwerty, though. Schools are the place most likely to make a "quick" difference. Inside of one generation, we could have an optimal adoption rate of Dvorak keyboards if the schools got on board. Without it, I think it will be quite a longer time -- by which point, someone might have invented something even better, anyway.

Something to guard against, though, is schools adopting ONLY the Dvorak layout. That'll just lead to problems.

Collapse -

Different Languages, Different Layouts

by marketingtutor. In reply to You're missing the point.

I would tend to agree with Apotheon on this point. It seems nearly impossible and at best, highly unlikely that any major corporation will make a push to move to DVORAK. Besides, if you've ever been to any other country other than USA and Canada, you'll notice that all of them have a variation. Not all ar e sitting right there on a stock qwerty layout. Just for instance, both German and Spanish keyboards deviate from pure qwerty to make the keyboard more appropriate for their languages.

North America at large has a very narrow mindset. Americans tend to think that they are the only ones that exist, and have a "Well...Surely everyone else speaks english too" mindset. In my experience, switching keyboard layouts is no more difficult that speaking another language. If you're multi-lingual, you will definitely understand what I mean.

My solution has always been to encourage as many different layouts as possible, but only learn one at a time to avoid confusion. Once you have one under your belt, its no more hard to type in that layout than it is to speak in another language, and certainly once you get used to switching back and forth, it gets even easier. Problem is that statistacally speaking, roughly 80% of Americans only speak English, and when you head near the ghetto (aka Da' Hood), they barely speak english. I suppose if you count all of the illegal aliens that are doing the farm work, that could bring up the stats on the "Other than English" category.

Anycase, my solution has been (and Apotheon listen up) use a key remapper for your given operating system (XKB is my prefence, or MS Keyboard Layout Creator on Windows) and create/use a custom keymap for particular jobs. Qwerty and Dvorak both stink compared to making a custom layout for any give programming language, where you can control right where you want any particular character. I use an optimised keyboard layout for PHP/Javascript/HTML, and standard Qwerty for most typing tasks, and a different layout when I am working in spreadsheets.

I think there should be as many key layouts as there are languages (both Spoken and Programming). My wrists hurt just thinking about programming using a qwerty layout.

Collapse -

Not really.

by eiskra In reply to You're missing the point.

Your logic is good, but your assumptions are wrong.

I know of no programming language that was designed around the qwerty keymap, or any keymap. All the major languages were designed around symbols (in the sense that a word is a symbol to parse), and the symbols were based on the language of the inventors. In other words, K&R based C on English, Wirth based Pascal on English, Kemeny and Kurtz based BASIC on English, Wall based Perl on English, etc.

The use of many different types of non-letter characters - such as braces, dots, etc., is a function of the need to clarify the parsing of symbols for the computers to read the computer language. To that end, all those braces, etc., are adjuncts which are littered around the letters.

While XPerT or Dvorak layouts won't help much for the aspects of a programming languages which use those adjunct characters, most of the language uses letters, and the letters are a function of the command words which are in English, so you'll get some assistance from an alternate layout, and likely little or no harm.

The real downside to the alternate layouts (which I'm considering right now), is that control combination will move. For example, Ctrl-C has long been used in many interfaces for "copy" (because of the "c" in "copy")and Ctrl-X is standard for "Cut" (from the editors mark to strike something; you X it out.) For convenience, the adjacent Ctrl-V has become standard for "Paste."

In an alternate layout, these keys are no longer logically adjacent. Other commonly-used shortcuts can likewise be moved - and a shortcut which is common can be on a letter that is used infrequently, causing it to move to a worse location, not a better one.

But I realize that I type letters for the sake of letters far more often these days - back when using complex text editors I might have argued otherwise, but these days, text is the vast majority of my keystrokes.

If I were still a gamer, I might complain about the need to constantly remap game key default layouts, too... but I've no time for games any more.

Collapse -

Keymap swap

by ozi Eagle In reply to Have you even tried codin ...

The problem with swapping keymaps is the labels on the keys. Very confusing to have to press the F key to get a U. Unless keyboards are made with key caps that change depending on the keymap this option would slow everything down.
Years ago I inadvertently set my keymap to some other layout. A nightmare to cross reference the new layout to the keyboard layout to reset it.

Collapse -

two options

by apotheon In reply to Keymap swap

You could go one of two directions to solve that:

1. Get the Optimus keyboard. This is the one that would probably make you happier:

2. Get Das Keyboard. This is the one that would definitely make me happier:

Collapse -

cost to benefit

by mindilator In reply to languages, cost, habit

i agree wholeheartedly with the second sentence of your second point in particular. however i think that we may be the only ones left who value a short term sacrifice for long term gain. current business practices seem to expect the world to end next week, so make that dollar now and screw the future is the ethos.

Collapse -


by mjd420nova In reply to Why do we type this way?

Besides changing just the US keyboard standard,
the whole world would have to change, and what
do you think the chances of that are???
The TI Speak and Spell toy had an alphabetic
keyboard, quite hard to get used to, so as
would just about any other layout. Yes, the
letters were rearanged to prevent the old
typewriters from jamming, but as is known,
that is a long lost technology now.
Take a good look at the keys on a calculator,
and then at your phone. Think you have
trouble, try dialing a phone after spending
all day on a 10 key. There are loads of
utility programs that will allow you to remap
the keyboard to any configuration you desire,
the gamers have tackled that problem long ago.
There also keyboards that fold and such, to
try and put your hands in more desirable
positions in an attempt to negate the carpal
tunnel problem, but they seldom really help,
they just move the problem from the wrist to
the elbow or forearm. An alpha wave interface
could solve all that, you just think about the
word and it appears on the screen.

Collapse -

Alpha Wave would lead to other problems.

by royhayward In reply to STANDARD??

I am not sure that having a neural interface for my key board would be something that I would want. When my mind wanders in a meeting my lap top does not start typing about ski trips and beach parties.

And what will happen when I get distracted by a cute secretary? I might get fired if that happened while typing an email to my boss!

Collapse -

The reason in a word....

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

Ok, so several words. Remember metric? When I was growing up, it was, ooohhh gotta learn metric, we're going to change, and on and on and on. Do I use metric today? No. Same way with the new math buzz. Do I do base 12 mathematics, or whatever the heck it was? No, and I can hardly do regular math from them confusing me so bad. Nope, as long as I can go my 90+ wpm on my qwerty, I won't be changing, and I'm sure I'm not alone.

Collapse -

That's fine. For people already typing, it boils down to need...

by shamusoneil06 In reply to The reason in a word....

If Qwerty is working for you, then there's no reason to spend the time to switch. Most of the people I know who switched did so to alleviate pain when typing.

The difference between your analogies of the Metric system and Base-12 Math and Dvorak is that those methods don't affect somebody's body directly. Typing keymaps do.

Qwerty puts needless traffic on a person's fingers and increases repetitive stress. Like I said before, if it doesn't cause a problem, then don't change. But I think it's worth teaching our children Dvorak as all new computers these days can easily switch back and forth between Qwerty and Dvorak. The adults can have Qwerty and the kids can have a greater chance of avoiding repetitive stress injuries with Dvorak.

Back to Desktop Forum
43 total posts (Page 2 of 5)   Prev   01 | 02 | 03 | 04 | 05   Next

Related Discussions

Related Forums