What is a Dvorak Keyboard?

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Simply put, the Simplified Dvorak Keyboard is a standard keyboard that has the keys arranged in a manner that reduces finger and wrist movement. This layout has several proven benefits: faster typing speed (by up to 20%, sometimes more); increased accuracy (by up to 50%) - and long-term health benefits that go with a design that is optimised with the human user in mind. It's simply more comfortable to use than a QWERTY. And it's easier to learn!

  • Tests have shown that the QWERTY layout is no better than any other random key layout as a text input tool for the English language.
  • In contrast, the DVORAK layout is specifically designed for the human user of an electronic keyboard.
  • Several hundred thousand Dvorak users agree that the Dvorak feels more comfortable to use.
  • The Dvorak layout can increase your typing speed, as well as your typing accuracy.
  • The true ergonomic design of the Dvorak reduces the distance your fingers travel and ensures that the work is shared more equally between the two hands.
  • If you currently suffer from pain due to Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) - including Carpal Tunnel Syndrome - it is possible that by using the Dvorak layout this pain will diminish, or even disappear entirely.

The Dvorak layout has been around for 75 years this year (2007). And yet, relatively few computer users today have even heard of it.

Three-quarters of a century of blindness to an obvious 'upgrade' in an era dominated by constant upgrades... what is it about Dvorak that makes it unappealing? Is it considered passé to adopt something new that wasn't invented last week?

Although there are several hundred thousand Dvorak users, it isn't really that surprising that most other people have never even heard of the Dvorak Keyboard. When you go to buy a computer, you are not offered a choice of  keyboards - any more than you are offered a choice of operating systems. You're sold a machine that comes with Windows, and the keyboard is rarely even mentioned - it, like the mouse and monitor, are normally part of the package. And the package includes a QWERTY by default. Even if you ask in the shop for a Dvorak, you'll probably just get a blank look because, chances are, the guy selling you your system hasn't heard of a Dvorak Keyboard either.

I sense you're not convinced. Bear with me: it's time for a short history lesson.

In the 1860s, an inventor named Christopher Sholes developed the QWERTY layout. His aim was to ensure that successive typewriter keystrokes would alternate between sides of the keyboard, to reduce collisions of the keyboard's mechanical arms. His design was for a MANUAL TYPEWRITER.

QWERTY was designed for a machine - that became obsolete decades ago! - not for the human user!

75 years ago, in 1932, an American Professor of Education named Dr. August Dvorak (a relative of the famous composer Antonin Dvorak), finished a ten-year investigation into the problems of inefficiency and fatigue that - even then! - were recognised to plague the standard QWERTY layout. The culmination of his work was a redesigned layout - Classic Dvorak - optimised to make typing more comfortable.

25 years ago, in 1982, The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) designated a modification of the Classic Dvorak layout - the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard Layout - as an alternate standard (X3.207:1991).

The net effect is a highly-optimised ergonomic design - just waiting to be used. All current major operating systems have it built-in, waiting patiently for you to enable it. Only, you probably don't even know it's there.

OK, history lesson over :)

Now, most Dvorak users will tell you that the physical keyboard is irrelevant. I do agree that if your objective is to touch-type then it is Good Advice, capital 'G', capital 'A', to ignore the labels on the keys: you shouldn't be looking at them - IF you're learning how to touch-type.

But most people (me included) don't touch-type: rightly or wrongly, we hunt-and-peck. If you're hunting-and-pecking, using Dvorak on a QWERTY keyboard... pretty soon you're going to get fed up with trying to deal with the confusing information your eyes are feeding you, and you're going to say to yourself: 'buggrit I have to get this essay / report / letter FINISHED before I flunk / get sacked / starve to death,' and then you'll hit the easy toggle back to QWERTY and possibly never bother with Dvorak ever again.

If on the other hand you have a Dvorak layout sitting in front of you in the first place, before you know it (three to four weeks) you'll be typing faster than you could on a QWERTY, and - especially if you do a LOT of typing - your fingers and wrists will thank you for it.

If you have children, you will be doing them a favour by introducing them to Dvorak from the outset, in place of QWERTY. Considering that children these days are using computers earlier than ever before, why subject them to an outmoded, obsolete design when a far better one is available?

Dvorak is broadband for the fingers. It's time to upgrade.

Look for Dvorak Keyboards on eBay!

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© Colin Reynolds / Typocheck 2007

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