- Reputation: 7
- Registered: 11-Dec-2005
- Posts: 380
(taken from TwoViews, written 2006-09-12)
Colemak Keyboard Layout
Slightly more than a month ago, I started looking for a new keyboard layout. I had accidentally stumbled across reviews about how poor the QWERTY keyboard was, and decided it was time to switch to something better. My initial choice was the Dvorak layout. However, after much consideration, I realised that the Dvorak layout had problems which I will discuss later, and given a choice I would rather suffer with QWERTY than switch to Dvorak. Then suddenly, again by complete accident, I found the Colemak layout. Since that day, the 11th of August 2006, almost exactly a month ago, I have stuck religiously to the layout that wins.
Problems With The QWERTY Layout
Let’s first look at how the QWERTY layout came to. The very first typewriters had their letters arranged in alphabetical order. A big problem arose because the mechanism which connected the keys to the actual letters often became jammed. As a result a new layout was devised which was designed to move common letter sequences further apart and also to slow down the typist, thus reducing the risk of jamming. In 1873 that layout was used on the first commercially produced typewriter, and it has stuck with us ever since as the QWERTY keyboard.
Evidently, ergonomics or speed was not an objective at all of the QWERTY layout. Your fingers move more than they should everyday. Using The Gettysburg Address (254 words) as the text for this tool which generates statistics for all 3 keyboard layouts, we have the following results.
Finger Travel Distance
QWERTY: 35.2 metres
Dvorak: 17.5 metres
Colemak: 16.0 metres
Percentage of characters on the home keys
QWERTY: 23.0 %
Dvorak: 59.0 %
Colemak: 62.8 %
So What About This Cool Layout Called Dvorak?
Dvorak has got many advantages over QWERTY. It is efficient (i.e. your fingers travel much less distance), and encourages very fast typing. You can simple google ‘Dvorak vs Qwerty’ and you’ll be able to find loads of information about how 1337 Dvorak is. However, I didn’t pick it for two main reasons:
1. The change from QWERTY is too drastic. Hence, the time taken for me to approach an acceptable typing speed would be long (a few months). They say the trick to master a new keyboard layout is to use it continuously and resist the temptation to switch back to your blazing fast old layout. During this time, I would probably have to type a couple of reports, and code a fair bit. At the pathetically slow speed everyone starts off at, I would probably be driven to the point of insanity, or have given up mastering the layout.
2. The ‘ZXCV’ keys are not in a very reachable. I would not be able to use one hand to execute the most common key commands, unless I remap them. Since I’m too lazy to do that, convenience is not going to happen for me.
There’s a very comprehensive list detailing the fallbacks of QWERTY and Dvorak found on the Colemak FAQ.
Colemak? I’ve Never Even Heard Of It…
… And I’m not surprised, since it the layout was only released on January 2006. The layout is good in that it has mercy on your fingers, yet most keys on the Colemak layout are only a key position away from the original QWERTY. The ‘ZXCV’ keys are also all in the same position. Mastering it will definitely be faster than mastering Dvorak.
However, it has it’s problems.
The Colemak layout is a brand-new (2006) alternative to Dvorak. You’ll see it scores better than Dvorak on finger travel distance and percentage of characters on the home keys, though it scores worse on percentage of characters to be typed with the same hand as the previous character and it seems that the index fingers do too much work.
Check out the Colemak FAQ which probably answers all your queries about the layout and the reasons behind it.
Installation was a breeze. I just ran the setup files downloadable off the official website, and voila! it appeared in the list of keyboards in the Regional and Language Options. You can also find some resources on that site to practice typing.
I even managed to make my Japanese and Chinese IMEs use it by modifying the registry. As to how I did it… Google, which alone should grant you the answer, or wait till I feel like writing a guide.
You’ve Lasted? OMG
Yes. 1 month ago, I was typing at roughly 14 WPM (Words per minute), and making tons of mistakes. Initially, I typed all my long reports and essays with QWERTY because I simply couldn’t bear typing them at a snail’s pace. But eventually, my typing speed improved to a reasonable speed.
Soon, I could tolerate making posts on this site. The big break came when I finished writing the report for my year-long project that was due, all without having to change back to QWERTY. This theme that you see before you was entirely designed (yes, that means Photoshop) and coded with the Colemak layout. I can also now reply quickly enough on IRC without having half a million lines fly past me as I type out my ONE line.
The crappy graph above is just a record of my speeds as I progressed through the days. Honestly, I need a better graphing software. OpenOffice’s Spreadsheet application just sucks at making graphs, and Excel probably can’t do any better.
The values were obtained using the typing test found in TypingMaster with the passage Netiquette.
So Now What?
I definitely don’t expect you who are reading this to change layouts right away. But consider it. You have been educated on the evil in that cursed QWERTY keyboard right in front of you, and can no longer give the excuse that you never knew. Now, you must choose between the layout for winners and the not so efficient one. Of course, it comes with a price, but it’s worth it all.
I certainly hope that sooner or later I’ll surpass my max typing speed for QWERTY, which averages about 85 WPM.