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QWERTY-ish Layouts

  • Started by syperk
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  • From: Santa Fe, NM
  • Registered: 21-Nov-2008
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This may be familiar to many of you, but ever since I first tried out Dvorak a few months ago, and shortly afterwards discovered the whole world of non-QWERTY keyboard layouts, this whole quest for the perfect keyboard has become something of an obsession...

And yet, though I can see so many merits of Colemak and others, I've been unable to make the switch. The main obstacles:

- The painful transition from QWERTY (I could get about 30 WPM Colemak on tests, but anytime I actually tried to do real work, this dropped to about 5 WPM...)

- The rearranging of shortcut keys. Sure Colemak keeps Ctrl-X, C and V in place, but what about Ctrl-S, R, D, A, N, Q and W?

- The need to continue to deal with QWERTY keyboards (e.g. on my phone, other people's keyboards, etc)


So, right now I've decided to scale back my efforts. Rather than go to an almost fully optimized layout (like Colemak), what options are there for a keyboard that is as much like QWERTY as possible, but that fixes a few of the more egregious defects?

I've come up with several designs. So far, my most-minimally changed keyboard is:

- QWERFY: simply switch the F and T keys. T is the second most common letter, and moving it to the F position greatly reduces the number of times I have to make that slightly awkward reach.

Other keyboards in decreasing order of QWERTY-ness:

- QWiKR: As QWERFY, but also switches E with K. Puts the most common letter in a better position; eliminates the ED, DE, CE, EC, VE, EV, BE and EB awkward combos; balances keystrokes between the hands better. Has the con of creating an awkward combo for CK (though I think it's still a win).

- QWiKR+: As QWiKR, but in addition, switch J with U, and L with O. Puts four of the vowels in a nice compact inverted-T shape on the right hand (familiar from the arrow keypad); reduces right hand row jumps between the vowels and the N and M keys.

- QWiPR+: As QWiKR+, but switch K and P in order to eliminate the CK row jump.


All of these layouts preserve most common shortcut keys in their QWERTY positions. They also tend to keep QWERTY keys on the same finger of the same hand when moving them, or at least the same finger of a different hand, which some people have suggested makes it easier to learn.


Anyway, those are just what I've come up with. Anyone get any better ideas for minimally changed improved QWERTY layouts? What are the best options for just changing two keys? Three keys? Five keys?


Cheers!

Simon

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  • From: Viken, Norway
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If you're having trouble adjusting to the whole Colemak experience at once, you might try the Tarmac (transitional Colemak)? Our user Ezuk reports a successful venture.

https://forum.colemak.com/viewtopic.php?id=480&p=1
https://forum.colemak.com/viewtopic.php?id=358

In short, you do baby steps and learn them properly before proceeding - ending up with a full Colemak.
- If you have a VK_102 key, I suggest starting off by readjusting the positions of the ZXCVB keys to gain ergonomy. No fingering is changed, just the angle of your wrist. (This step is completely optional - I just like it.)
- The LUI keys are moved to their Colemak positions. Nothing else has to change.
- The rest of the right-hand keys move, apart from P. The QWERTY E key gets the semicolon temporarily (the only temp placement, which I think is good since we don't want to be learning a lot of positions that will become useless later!).
- Finally, you move to the full Colemak. You only have to learn the left-hand keys since the rest is already there.

This was made possible by Shai's decision to avoid too many keys changing hands. It's a suggestion, although the number of happy users is only one that I know of so far. At least it's greater than the number of failed attempts that I know of!  :)

Last edited by DreymaR (16-Jan-2009 00:26:17)

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Well, when I use other computers after learning Colemak I just keep AutoHotKey with me for typing. When this isn't possible then I just use QWERTY which isn't so bad, because my speed ends up being something 35-40 wpm. It seems that I am getting more used to it. I learned cold turkey, but the gradual approach also works well.

The thing with using your own layout is that it has the disadvantage that you can't just run or install it on any computer like the full version of Colemak. It might also lead to some problems that you might not have realized, but Colemak has a lot of thought and concepts incorporated into it. It is frustrating to learn at first, but I think that it wouldn't be that hard to change layouts either by taking the Tarmac approach or the Day-Qwerty/Night-Colemak approach.

Colemak typist

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Well, all I can say is that I haven't been successful in switching yet... I've oscillated back and forth numerous times between "why learn anything other than Colemak?" and "why learn anything other than QWERTY?".

I totally agree that Colemak is a great layout, but I can't help feeling that 90% of the benefit of Colemak comes from a few changes, and so there ought to be compromise layout that's much closer to QWERTY but still comfortable. It feels like after moving the E and T, and perhaps the other vowels to more sensible places, most of the rest is tweaking relatively rare keys and combinations. You can get some further improvement, but is it really worth it?

Of course, this forum probably isn't the place to find compromise-happy people... :)

Cheers,

Simon

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The main thing about short-cut keys is not so much that they're in the exact same positions, but that they're roughly as easy to reach.  The only short-cut key you mention that becomes uncomfortable to reach with Colemak is D.

I believe the following layout to be an excellent compromise for Qwerty typists.  I call it Aserth:

qwdf g   y jkl;
aser t   h uiop
zxcv b   n m,./

In this layout, all characters remain on their Qwerty fingers and characters move only between the top and home rows.  You get the main benefits of post-Qwerty layouts--greater home row usage and reduced row jumps--while not having to learn anything radically new.  I was able to pick it up pretty quickly, unlike Colemak or Dvorak; to date, it's the only alternative layout that I've successfully learned.

Were you willing to swap sides (but not fingers), swapping E and I (Asirth) would also eliminate Qwerty's notorious left-hand dominance.

As for the best Qwerty swaps, according to my algorithm, the best is J <-> N, which eliminates a ton of two-row jumps and puts the common N on the home row.  Next is ; <-> R, which improves everything my program measures.  Next is F <-> T, which you've already discovered.  So:

qwe; f   y uiop
asdt g   h nklr
zxcv b   j m,./

Six keys have been changed.  I don't imagine ; <-> R will be popular, but it really does improve things a lot.  It's noteworthy that my algorithm considers Qwe;fy superior to Aserth, even though it changes less than half as many keys.  Not sure I agree, but whatever.

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syperk said:

Anyway, those are just what I've come up with. Anyone get any better ideas for minimally changed improved QWERTY layouts? What are the best options for just changing two keys? Three keys? Five keys?

If you are interested in optimization by minimum changes, take a look at the QWK*** layouts from the carpalx project.  They swap only 5 key pairs (in steps, if wanted), according to different optimization models.

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We get far more complaints to the effect of "why didn't Shai change more?" than your type.  ;)  I think he got the balance about right.

Don't underestimate the effects of swapping. Colemak is optimized not only for letter frequencies but for digraphs which in my opinion is just as important. While transitional or incomplete improvements may be even easier to learn (and I do advocate learning Colemak in transitional steps as explained above for the people who are daunted by doing it all at once!), they don't provide the full benefits. The Tarmac is somewhat special in that it does provide almost all the digraph benefits from the Colemak's right hand, so if you were to learn that you'd maybe get a feel for what's in store.

And I've come to distrust algorithms. Seems to me that unless checked and tempered by a great deal of good sense, they spew out a multitude of layouts that "in theory should be good" but aren't really. YMMV.

Last edited by DreymaR (16-Jan-2009 15:37:54)

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From your first post, you really do sound like a prime candidate for Tarmac method. 

Why not try something that someone has already found useful and works?  It's really a good idea.

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I'm just not quite ready to make the effort to switch to a layout that's as different from QWERTY as Colemak, or even Tarmac - it just seems like too much hassle! But I'd like to do some tweaking, and my intuition is that a few small tweaks can make a lot of difference.

I like Phynnboi's analysis above, which seems to suggest similar swaps to those mentioned on the CarpalX page. In particular, I really like the idea of swapping J-N, E-K and F-T. Those seem like prime candidates to me. I might then also switch J and K to avoid the CK combo, since they're moving anyway, to end up with:

QWJR F Y UIOP
ASDT G H NEL;
ZXCV B K M,./

Agreed, it's not as good as Colemak, but it only moves 6 keys from QWERTY, rather than 16!

Sy

Last edited by syperk (16-Jan-2009 20:12:55)
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Actually, I just realized that that of the six moved keys , 4 of them move into their final Colemak positions. And with one small tweak, we can make that 5 out of 6:

QWFR J Y UIOP
ASDT G H NEL;
ZXCV B K M,./

So one could view that has some kind of transitional Colemak keyboard as well... Though I see it mainly as a tweaked QWERTY!

Ah, such fun...

Sy

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The semicolon needs to come off the home row though.

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and when you move the semicolon off the home row,  you need a few more tweaks

QWFP G J ULY;     
ASRT D H NEIO        
ZXCV B K M,./

:-)

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jammycakes said:

The semicolon needs to come off the home row though.

I actually see the little finger as a fairly weak position, so I'm not too worried about a moderately low frequency key there. Plus I do a lot of programming, so ; and : are not all that rare...

Of course if I was going for a full optimization I'd certainly shift it, (and would ultimately end up with something like Colemak) but for the purposes of this thread at least, I'm looking for something that's as close as possible to QWERTY! So, can anyone move just 6 (or thereabouts) keys and come up with a better layout?

Cheers!

Sy

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keyboard samurai said:

and when you move the semicolon off the home row,  you need a few more tweaks

QWFP G J ULY;     
ASRT D H NEIO        
ZXCV B K M,./

:-)

Exactly! :)

Sy

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QWERTY is QWERTY. You might as well use it as is, or learn something better. Really, what's the point in trying to be even more QWERTY than Colemak?

It's like looking at your old banger of a car and saying, "hmmm, if I changed the driver's seat that might make it more comfortable. And the steering could be swapped for one of those sporty ones."

You're *still* driving around in an old banger.

Why not get a new car, but keep the old banger alive by taking her out for a spin every so often?

Last edited by simonh (16-Jan-2009 22:21:08)

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I agree with simonh, I see that it makes sense to learn one layout and stick with it, because of the fact that making your own transitional layout may not be as beneficial as using either. Having both layouts and learning Colemak with a gradual layout like Tarmac should be the best or just taking half of Tarmac, and keeping it forever though still it will never be the same as having full Colemak.

Colemak typist

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No argument that if performance was the only issue, I'd be switching to Colemak in a jiffy. However, the issue I'm raising here is the difficulty of the transition, and the continued awkwardness with continuing to work in a world where QWERTY is the norm.

To abuse your analogy, switching from QWERTY to Colemak is a bit like exchanging your old banger for a shiny new foreign sports car that has the steering wheel on the wrong side. It's great fun to drive, but it takes ages before you stop trying to change gears by opening the window, and it's a real pain when you have to drive someone else's car for a while...

Tarmac is fine as a stepping stone if you're determined to go all the way to Colemak, but the first mini step doesn't really improve the keyboard over QWERTY significantly, and the second step is kind of a huge jump.

So, all I'm suggesting is that some people might actually be happy with the idea of putting a comfy seat and improved suspension into their old banger - it's still a better car at the end of the day, and in fact with a few more upgrades you can change it all the way into the shiny new foreign sports car, without having to undo anything much. Or you might just want to stick with the upgraded banger forever, for the convenience of having the steering wheel on the same side as everyone else. It makes overtaking a lot easier...

The layout I suggested only changes 6 keys from QWERTY, but improves ergonomics significantly, and as an added bonus, moves 5 of the 6 keys into their Colemak positions (the only one that's not in a Colemak position is the very rare J, which is one space away from its Colemak home). So, if you like, you can see it as a transitional keyboard towards Colemak, but it also stands in its own right as a reasonably ergonomic keyboard with high QWERTY compatibility, that's easy to transition to from QWERTY.

If you wanted to continue the progression towards Colemak though, I could imagine a sequence like:

Stage "0":

QWER T Y UIOP
ASDF G H JKL;
ZXCV B N M,./

Stage 1 (only 6 keys moved, significantly improved ergonomics, still high QWERTY compatibility):

QWFR J Y UIOP
ASDT G H NEL;
ZXCV B K M,./

Stage 2 (a further 3 keys moved on the right hand to their Colemak positions, slightly better ergonomics, slightly worse QWERTY compatibility):

QWFR J Y LUOP     
ASDT G H NEI;        
ZXCV B K M,./

Stage 3 (a further 9 keys moved to reach Colemak - or only 8 to reach Colemak with the common S<->R variation):

QWFP G J LUY;     
ARST D H NEIO        
ZXCV B K M,./

This progression moves steadily towards Colemak in three steps, and, like Tarmac, it requires only one key to be moved more than once (the rare J key). However, each of these keyboards is a reasonable endpoint layout in its own right, if you're looking for an appropriate balance between QWERTYness and pure performance, and I think stage 1 in particular is a compromise that might be attractive in some cases. To be honest, after stage 1, I'd probably jump straight to stage 3 if I was going to change at all.

Of course, this isn't the kind of forum where I'd expect compromises like this to be well-received! :) I'm still interested in anybody else's suggestions on QWERTYish alternatives however...

Thanks for the feedback,

Sy

Last edited by syperk (17-Jan-2009 01:24:01)
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Hmm, that seems like a nice gradual change in the formats but I don't like the semicolon staying there for that long. I think that there would be a lot more benefit from having another letter on the home row. But whatever you use whatever you want to. And I think that once you get used to that you could use your own step system to slowly ease yourself into Colemak.

Colemak typist

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Actually one could make an argument that the right little finger shouldn't have a high frequency letter, since that finger is also responsible for at least 11 other keys, including some rather common ones: enter, right shift, single and double quote, question mark, forward and back slashes, braces and square brackets. Why overload a weak finger even more?

Cheers!

Sy

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Interesting transitions. Maybe you should try the first step? As you say, you'd get better ergonomics already at the mere cost of six moved keys. And if you then later decide to man up and change to Colemak you'd be on your way there already.

The semicolon isn't too important I think. It's a fairly rare key after all, and yet special enough that you remember where you put it.

The S-R swap isn't common I think? It's nonstandard and breaks up designs, and the only ones I hear going on about it are newcomers; I'm supposing that most of those settle down with the full Colemak rather than much about with the S-R swap.

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Well I was certainly inspired to map out the complete transition by your Tarmac concept so thanks for showing the way there! There are quite a lot of similarities - stage 2 is lifted straight from Tarmac, for example. The main difference is the ordering of the steps and the use of J as the "loop breaking key" rather than semi-colon. The interesting thing is that I didn't set out to create a transitional layout at all. I was just trying to make as few changes as possible while fixing some of QWERTY's worst faults. Undoubtedly I was inspired by Colemak's placement of T, N and E, which are really my favorite changes. Unexpectedly this also turned out to be a reasonable transitional stage to full Colemak. And it focuses on moving some of the most common keys in the first stage. No doubt other transitional possibilities are out there...

As for S<->R well, I was mostly just trying to reduce the number of keys that move. I also note that keyboard samurai's post above has both the R-S switch and U-L as well...

Cheers,

Sy

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syperk said:

I really like the idea of swapping J-N, E-K and F-T. Those seem like prime candidates to me. I might then also switch J and K to avoid the CK combo, since they're moving anyway, to end up with:

QWJR F Y UIOP
ASDT G H NEL;
ZXCV B K M,./

The trouble with this layout is, the left middle finger is massively under-used at only ~6% of all typing.  Compare with ~20% for the right middle finger and even ~7.5% for the left pinkie.  You have to be pretty careful about moving E since it's by far the most frequently used letter.  You can correct this by swapping I/J:

QWIR F Y UJOP
ASDT G H NEL;
ZXCV B K M,./

This balances the middle fingers back out to ~13% each, which is quite good.

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"...the issue I'm raising here is the difficulty of the transition, and the continued awkwardness with continuing to work in a world where QWERTY is the norm."

I understand what you are proposing syperk, I'm just questioning the usefulness of it. If you only change the positions of six keys from QWERTY, you still have a 'new' layout. This new layout is non standard and not supported by any OS. If you're using a computer that restricts you from installing, or using the new layout portably, then it can't be used. So, you are back to QWERTY. Therefore, you may as well use a fully optimised layout on the computers that give you the option, rather than a QW*RT* that is of no use away from your desk.

I don't buy the 'Colemak is too hard to learn' idea. It really isn't. If you must retain speed in QWERTY then it is quite achievable to learn Colemak and still be fast enough with QWERTY. Many people have done it. I have worked at companies and told them at the start that if they want me to use a computer, I *will* be using Colemak (portable). None have had a problem so far. If they did, then they can get me a secretary.

The shortcut keys aren't a problem. I use 'Find' a lot in Firefox. I know to press Control-E on the keyboard. For other shortcuts, if I wanted to press Control-O, I know to hold the left Control key and my right hand knows which key to press.

Come on. You are inventing a problem that Shai has already solved...

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Actually, I completely agree that seeing the QWERTYish keyboard I suggested as a transitional layout is of questionable value - if you're intending to go all the way to Colemak, why go halfway and subject yourself to two awkward transitional phases instead of just one? I simply mapped out the progression because people were talking about Tarmac, and I noticed some similarities.

Instead I came up with the stage 1 keyboard above as an valid layout in itself - one that simply emphasizes similarity to QWERTY, and reduced transition pain more than optimal typing performance. Colemak is of course also a compromise layout, but it emphasizes typing performance much more.

I would expect that most people posting on this forum don't buy the idea that Colemak is too hard to learn. If you're here, you've probably made the transition and so by definition, it wasn't an insurmountable obstacle. But, I wonder about all those people out there who tried to make the transition, failed, and so are no longer reading this forum. Maybe they could successfully have made the transition to QWERTYish and at least got some benefit?

Anyway, I have to confess I'm not completely sold on QWERTYish either! Part of me feels that it's not a big enough improvement to justify the (albeit smaller) transitional pain. Of course I feel the same way about Colemak...

Hopefully at some point in the next month or two I'll make some kind of decision instead of oscillating endlessly. I'll be sure to post my experience here!

Cheers,

Sy

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Phynnboi said:
syperk said:

I really like the idea of swapping J-N, E-K and F-T. Those seem like prime candidates to me. I might then also switch J and K to avoid the CK combo, since they're moving anyway, to end up with:

QWJR F Y UIOP
ASDT G H NEL;
ZXCV B K M,./

The trouble with this layout is, the left middle finger is massively under-used at only ~6% of all typing.  Compare with ~20% for the right middle finger and even ~7.5% for the left pinkie.  You have to be pretty careful about moving E since it's by far the most frequently used letter.  You can correct this by swapping I/J:

In fact that's not quite the final QWERTYish layout I suggested, which is:

QWFR J Y UIOP
ASDT G H NEL;
ZXCV B K M,./

By my reckoning, that puts about 9.3% of letters on the left middle finger. Still somewhat unbalanced, I'll agree...

Last edited by syperk (20-Jan-2009 21:00:04)
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