Alternative Keyboard Layouts – a journey into the unknown

It all started while watching a YouTube video on the Dvorak keyboard layout, you see apparently the QWERTY keyboard layout is so badly designed that by switching to Dvorak you do your fingers a massive favor, and boost your keyboard productivity, well that’s the short version.

I then did some research into the very best alternative to QWERTY and came across a layout designed in 2006 that is an outstanding keyboard design, designed with the help of some powerful algorithms, its called Colemak, well I quickly downloaded it and got started learning the layout through a series of typing tutors.

Now I must tell you I am not a slow typer, I’ve been a programmer since forever and a day, and before that I was still using computers in some way or form. All the computers I have ever used have had a QWERTY layout, so my motivation was to gain the benefits claimed in the marketing material from the makers of Colemak and Dvorak, proven less overall finger movement and greater comfort while typing, increased speed.

I pressed on for days trying to learn the layout, the whole experience felt like trying to run with a broken leg. I thought that soon the sensation would pass, but it never did. 4 days into the experiment I have decided to switch back to using the best layout I can think of, and that’s QWERTY. Unfortunately I am just too in the mold to change, as as they say ├Âld habits die hard”.

QWERTY is the layout I have been raised on, I started using it at 9 years old, I am now over 30, in amongst the usage, I have adopted my own unique hand position, and I have a very good keyboard and mouse relationship with this layout, frankly said – I am very happy with it. I didn’t start out learning touch typing, I have a unique style that I have adapted for my own comfort and speed. I guess, I switch positions depending on if I am typing or programming.

There is more to a switching a keyboard layout than simply just learning new key positions, this is something Dvorak and Colemak marketing fails to mention, let me explain – in amongst your comfortable typing routine are many little shortcuts and key/hand combinations that you acquire over time, lets just refer to them as habits, however these are the useful type of habits, along comes Colemak, and all those little things you do, those productivity boosters, all those little time savers are all wiped out completely, and you end up having to relearn them, much like a brain damaged invalid, you find yourself stumbling through the keyboard. It feels like you’ve had all your brain cells removed, except 2. And you are relying on these 2 brain cells to tell you which key to press next. Sometimes the brain cells give you an immediate answer, and sometimes they don’t.

But what if you have never learnt QWERTY, would it be beneficial for our youth to make the swop? This is perhaps the most valid question I can think of. Colemak might be superior in design, but QWERTY is just too ingrained for it to be replaced. Its the globally accepted layout, and thats the way it will always be. It makes far more sense for youngsters to learn QWERTY, even if it’s not the best, it is what is being used. Toy laptops all possess QWERTY layouts, and I don’t think you’ll find Colemak coming to the shops anytime soon.

This is unfortunately another example of technology being implemented not because its the most efficient, but simply because it would be too difficult to get everyone to change to a new system.