The QWERTY keyboard is an interesting relic from the age of typewriters. In spite of what you may have been taught in high school, the QWERTY keyboard layout wasn’t designed for speed—in fact, it was designed to slow typists down. That’s because type bars had a tendency to jam up if two keys were pressed simultaneously. As such, the designers of the QWERTY keyboard purposefully placed common digraphs (two-letter sequences) as far away as possible.
As keyboard technology improved, typewriters jammed less. However, the QWERTY keyboard had already gained critical mass. And even though type bar jamming is a non-issue with today’s computer keyboards, we still use this wilfully awkward and efficient keyboard layout.
In the 1930s, Dr. August Dvorak, a professor at the University of Washington, devised an alternate keyboard layout that makes more sense for modern typists. Dr. Dvorak, and those who have switched to Dvorak typing, claim that Dvorak keyboards allow greater comfort, faster typing speeds and less typos. That’s because the keys are arranged more logically, with the most commonly used letters on the home row. Also, the keys are laid out so that you end up alternating hands between key presses more often. This is contrast to the QWERTY keyboard, where the left hand does about 56 percent of the typing. Because there is less “finger travel,” you may also be at less risk for carpal tunnel syndrome and other long term finger injuries when using Dvorak.
Learning Dvorak Typing
The first step to learning how to type on a Dvorak keyboard is to obtain a Dvorak keyboard. Of course, the only difference between a Dvorak keyboard and a QWERTY keyboard is how the letters are printed on the keys. If you plan on touch typing, buying a Dvorak keyboard may not be necessary, as you can convert any QWERTY keyboard to a Dvorak keyboard by changing your keymap.
In Windows Vista or Windows 7, you can do so by clicking Start > Control Panel > Change keyboards and other input methods. Under the Keyboards and Languages tab, click “Change keyboards…” Click the “Add” button and scroll down until you find “United States-Dvorak.” Check it and press OK. Next, click the drop-down menu beneath “Default input language” and choose “United States-Dvorak.” Click Apply. You’ll have to reboot or log off in order to activate the changes.
Once you’ve changed your keyboard layout with Windows, you can relabel your keys, or, depending on how your keyboard is designed, simply pop the keys off with a screwdriver and rearrange them. If you share your computer with family members who aren’t interested in making the switch, it’s a good idea to convert a spare keyboard into a Dvorak keyboard or simply purchase a new one.
Now, it’s time to practice. Studies show that it takes about 52 hours of practice to match your typing speed with QWERTY. There are a few free Dvorak typing tutors available on the web that can help you along your way. Check out http://www.theworldofstuff.com/dvorak/, http://learn.dvorak.nl/ and http://www.powertyping.com/ for some free Dvorak typing lessons.