Switching To Dvorak

What to expect:

Expect the adjustment time to be long
You often hear that it is only a matter of a couple of weeks before you're used to the DvorakKeyboard. It's taken me almost a year (but I'm still glad I switched). How long it takes you to switch depends on many things; OneSizeDoesNotFitAll?. If you've used qwerty consistently for the past 20 years, it is going to take you a while to unlearn.

Expect to hate where they put the letter l (ell)

Expect to feel really smug when typing certain words
like the, that, tenth, height, church, etc.

Expect to be glad you made the switch!

What to do:

(for Windows users)
Go to Control Panel:Keyboards, go to the "Input Locales" tab, click "Properties" and choose "US-Dvorak". If you want the ability to rapidly switch from Qwerty to Dvorak and back again (e.g., if guests will often use your machine), add Dvorak as a separate input locale (I use Danish because its abbreviation is "DA"), then you can use Alt+Shift to switch between them. Alternatively, you can try out the free DVassist at http://clabs.org/dvorak.htm: It works great when PairProgramming. [Just installed it, it's awesome (though it took me 3 minutes to type this ;-)]

(for Unix users) Use xmodmap
See the advice under http://www.mwbrooks.com/dvorak/unix2.html, it's a great way to set up your terminal for easy qwerty/dvorak switching! Or just see the man-page for setxkbmap, and then do 'setxkbmap dvorak'.

(for GNU screen users) gives a screen rc file which remaps the keys from qwerty to dvorak. This is very useful when you ssh from a terminal that does not allow you to change the keyboard layout. Here are copies of the files: DvorakScreenKeymap, DvorakKeymapDvorakReg and DvorakKeymapDvorakCtl.

(for MacOsx)
Open System Preferences, click the International icon, click the Input Menu tab, and check "Dvorak". If multiple items on this list are selected, a small icon will appear on the menu bar which will let you switch between the selected keyboard layouts.

(Debian GNU/Linux) "aoeu/qwerty" utilities
In Debian GNU/Linux, I found a great little utility, aoeu switches dvorak to qwerty, and asdf switchs qwerty to dvorak. That's the PairProgramming assistance I needed! -- ShaeErisson

(all) A Brief Course in Dvorak.
http://www.gigliwood.com/abcd/abcd.html This is where you go to learn it. Also, do yourself a favor and print out a keyboard chart, so you can use a reference when you need one without removing your hands from the keyboard.

What not to do:

Don't pop the keys off your qwerty and rearrange them (on certain keyboards)
Keys on certain keyboards are angled differently based on their row position, so rearranging them leaves you with a keyboard that's an obstacle course. Use stickers instead. If you've got one of those really nice IBM clicky keyboards that doesn't have this issue, praise the deity of your choice.

Don't always use stickers
Use stickers for the first week or two, and then take them off. This is so that you won't get used to looking down to locate keys. This is especially bad with DvorakKeyboards, since if you're looking down to find where a key is, chances are it's on the home row under your fingers! This requires you to move your hand out of the way and then back again. Learning the discipline of touch typing will ease your transition to the Dvorak.

Don't keep switching between Qwerty and Dvorak during the learning phase
It just confuses your fingers and makes you type half Qwerty, half Dvorak. Instead, immerse yourself in Dvorak until it's imprinted in your subconscious. Then you'll have an easier time switching keyboards on demand.


It took me about a week to get up to reasonable fluency with Dvorak (reasonable being about 30-40 WPM...enough to use it for normal typing). Three months later and I'm at about 80-100 WPM, about 10 WPM more than Qwerty. It's like learning any other motor skill - you have to practice constantly, until you burn the new layout into your brain. I used it for almost everything - AIM, e-mail, writing papers - probably about 5-6 hours a day. You really need to devote a solid chunk of time to practicing every day to make appreciable progress.

Expect the first few days to be torturous - I was stuck at about 1 WPM for a good 2-3 days (though I didn't have stickers...I often had to try every key on the keyboard until I found the right one). I noticed a rather odd effect after about 4-5 days: half of the Dvorak layout was burned into my brain (mostly the home row keys), but half was still Qwerty. So when I tried to touch-type on Qwerty, half came out as Dvorak gibberish, and when I tried to type on Dvorak, half came out as Qwerty gibberish. Obviously, you can't get much real work done during those days - this is a good project for a weekend or vacation.

Memorize the keys. I think that's what made the difference between my successful conversion and the previous two times I'd tried to convert (where I spent several months without making appreciable progress). Just knowing "okay, the q is on the left side of the bottom row, the c is on the top right", etc. made things much quicker. I ended up forgetting where the keys are after I became fluent anyway, but they helped a lot in making the layout "stick." It's like Phonics - you don't actually read by sounding out words anymore, but you need to know the sounds in order to learn to read.

-- JonathanTang

Here's what I've always wondered... after you've learned Dvorak, what do you do when you walk up to someone else's computer to type? Does it mess you up?

You look at the keys as you type. It slows you down, but you're not usually using someone else's computer for long periods of time. -- WyattGreene

I find that my brain does the context switch easily. Although I use both keyboards on a regular basis --PhilDawes

"I learned qwerty first by hunting and pecking, then by putting my hands in place but looking at the key caps. I learned Dvorak as true touch typing. The result is this: When my eyes are on the screen, I automatically reach for Dvorak positions, and when they are on the keyboard, I reach for Qwerty. I also use both on a regular basis. --NathanERasmussen"

I can type 60 words per minute using QWERTY. As a software engineer, why would I want to switch? Typing never gets in the way of my productivity; I definitely type more than fast enough to write code. I suspect that it is the same for many out there. What compelling reason can you give someone like me to try Dvorak? If with Dvorak I could eventually get up to, say, 80 words per minute, what benefit would I see?

One reason that may make sense is to save yourself from RepetitiveStrainInjury [such as CarpalTunnelSyndrome]. Of course, this is only a justification to the extent that you suffer from RSI.

It might be an interesting and enlightening experience; like learning assembler.

If qwerty slows you down, I'd say it's probably better for avoiding RSI.

It's true that Qwerty slows down your key-presses, but the reason your key-presses are slower is that your fingers have to do much more work to travel from one key to another. Your fingers actually have to move faster to get to where they need to be. Compare that to Dvorak, where your fingers are often already where they need to be, you just have to press them down in the right order. It's like gently twiddling your fingers instead of having them fly all over the place, so you can increase the speed of your keypresses without increasing your strain.

After using Dvorak for over 5 years, I can now type fluently in either keyboard but my fingers start to complain after just a few minutes of Qwerty. And I never even had acute RSI! Dvorak really reduces the muscle set you have to use, and is much more comfortable whether or not you have pain from typing. --RickSamuels
Is Dvorak really better for programmers? What I'm typing when programming doesn't have much to do with English text (Not if you use COBOL.), aside from a few long variable names, and there I just type the first few letters and press the completion key anyway. And since some software like vi has commands based on the position of the letters on the QWERTY keyboard, it seems like switching would be a royal pain...

The reason I switched is that I could envision myself at a keyboard for the next several years/decades. So I figured it'd be worth the "royal pain." Concerning whether Dvorak is better for programmers, I'd say it's neither better nor worse. One good thing is that the underscore is on the home row, one bad thing is that the semi-colon isn't. -- WyattGreene

I've found that it's slightly worse for C-family languages, because { and } are way up where - and = used to be. There are certain redeeming values - like the underscore, and presumably faster variable and comment typing - but those are also offset because " and ' are now off in a corner instead of on home row. However, I've found that most of my typing as a programmer is in things like design documents, communicating with other developers, etc, where the general increase in typing speed more than makes up for it. This may not hold for all folks (particularly if you're doing ExtremeProgramming), but most of my projects are completely Internet-based, where all communication between developers requires written media. -- JonathanTang

If { and }, ( and ) are getting in the way, you can always remap them too! I've brought ( and ) down to the square bracket keys for myself (since in c++ I use arrays much less often than functions), and switched {} back to where they are in the Qwerty layout. On Mac OS 9 and before, this is really easy to do using ResEdit, and if you use xmodmap on Unix you just have to edit the map file. I have no ideas on how to do this in Windows, though. --RickSamuels

If the vast majority of your typing is punctuation marks anyway, no, it's not much of an advantage. To me, the Qwerty/Dvorak split is comparable to the block-letter/cursive split: I favor the first for brief incidental use (scribbled memory-joggers, URLs) and the second for extended composing (a good email, an essay, a letter). That said, I can and do use Perl and the shell in Dvorak.

Oh, and on OS X, you can use user-defined (in XML) keyboards. There is a generator at http://wordherd.com/keyboards/ -- NathanERasmussen

You have a good point. If it ain't broke, why fix it? Two things to consider, though:

--Wyatt Greene

With the rise of graphical tools -- GUI development and UML, I'd expect less typing, not more. Many development IDEs rely pretty heavily on mouse usage, and few developers use the keyboard shortcuts.

Being a contractor, I often switch from machine to machine. So I stick with the qwerty keyboard and the vi editor, because they're always available, even if they're not the best tools possible. -- JeffGrigg

If you worked for my father, you'd have to use qwertz and SimpleText?. -- ManuelSimoni

assuming you can touch type Dvorak, win32 and linux both have dvorak support. in linux it's: for Xwindows, for the standard prompt. In win95 it's start, settings, control panel, keyboard, properties, us-dvorak, and usually, be ready to stick in the win95 cdrom

I've also discovered that emacs multi-lingual support (aka MULE) has an english-dvorak input mode that appears to remap us-qwerty to us-dvorak.

I'd like to learn this, but I so often change keyboards when I go places. How do you deal with this?

I have forgot how to type QWERTY. But this is entirely a learned thing: When my eyes are on the screen I can do Dvorak and when they're on the keyboard I can still do QWERTY. Don't learn that. I guess.

I can switch between the two layouts in about a minute. If you work in development then you'll have get used to typing both as its not feasible to switch every board you come across. The weirdest thing for me is that my brain has associated the presence of other people as 'type in QWERTY' and so whenever anyone walks over to where I'm typing I start hitting the QWERTY layout keys even though I'm still in Dvorak. They end up watching me type endless typos and go away thinking that Dvorak is poor. -- PaulRuane

I have a fulltime job as a contractor, and I can't afford to drop back from 50 to 2 wpm while learning dvorak, ofcourse. Is it feasable to learn dvorak while switching between qwerty and dvorak all the time ? -- AnonymousDonor

In my experience, no. I tried to switch several times when I was about 12-13, and it never "took", despite being young and intelligent and having stickers on the keys. I only managed to switchover when I started using it for everything - AIM, web browsing, school papers, and programming - and just ate the increased time it took to do everything. And I forgot how to touch-type qwerty for a good 4-6 months afterwards. It came back after some time at public computer labs, but this might be inconvenient if you have a pending job that needs to get done fast.

Switching is a good between-jobs activity. It's probably not a good thing if you have upcoming deadlines that you need to meet. Like any other human-capital activity, it requires an up-front investment that'll hopefully pay off later. -- JonathanTang

I switched to Dvorak yesterday -- mostly for fun -- and I'm already up to 10 WPM or so. I'm not using stickers, and I type about 60 WPM on QWERTY. I really like how comfortable it is, and I expect that I'm going to stick with it. Plus now I can type my first name on just the home row. -- SeanLavelle? (2005-04-19)

Amen, brother. I have never used stickers; Dvorak, and Dvorak alone, has introduced me to the pleasures of true touch typing. Seems like the first 12 hours of Dvorak typing are as mind-bending as it gets (assuming you went cold turkey), and then it seems to flow in easier and easier. And you can return to Qwerty as soon as you're satisfied with your Dvorak proficiency. (Disclaimer: These conclusions are based on two people's experience, one of whom listened to them before making the switch.) I am to the point where I will go to a Dvorak keyboard, switching computers if necessary, to type anything longer than a paragraph. -- NathanERasmussen

Alternating Layout Usage?

If one's job requires visiting different offices, machines, and servers fairly often such that carrying around a keyboard or changing OS settings is not practical; then sometimes one is stuck using QWERTY some of the time. Is it easy to switch one's brain as needed if such is the case?


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