Saturday, February 9, 2002

Note: See the update posted

Note: See the update posted on February 12 that addresses the Dvorak keyboard “hoax”. Make Mine Dvorak – One writer’s love affair with the other keyboard layout. Twenty years ago my parents bought an Apple ][+ (in an odd way, typing those matched brackets still looks cool to me), and my infatuation with computers began. Though I was young, my mom refused to let me play any violent games (“violent” in those days is laughable compared to what’s out today) – so my first computer “game” was Typing Tutor.

Since I loved spending time on the computer, I learned to type. Fast. (It wasn’t a glamorous life, but it was mine.) Consequently, I could type better than 80 words per minute before I entered junior high. (I just wandered over to and found out I’m now over 150 words per minute.)

I bring all of this up because it turns out there’s a “better” keyboard than the QWERTY keyboard. Patented by August Dvorak in 1936, it was based on research and linguistics analysis done by Dvorak that analyzed frequency of letters and sought to maximize left hand/right hand alternates. The Slate article linked to above suggests that it works “rapturously” – for long-time QWERTY users, as the writer states, it’s like “removing a tiny pebble from your shoe.”

I won’t hold the fact that Ralph Nader is a supporter against the Dvorak keyboard, but I have to wonder whether making the switch would be ultimately self-defeating: what about every other time you’re at a different computer with a QWERTY keyboard? Would it be like switching between languages in which you’re fluent? Or like trying to speak a different dialect of English? (It appears that I have my answer: this post in Slate’s The Fray indicates that for at least one user, it was “back to hunt and peck” on a QWERTY keyboard after converting.)

Despite this, I admit to being a bit intrigued. Regardless of the ultimate viability of a Dvorak keyboard, it’s certainly an interesting case study in why inferior technologies often trump superior technologies. (As if we needed any more examples.) Coolest anecdote in the piece? The original reason for the QWERTY keyboard:

Christopher Sholes, [the QWERTY inventor,] chose the layout mainly to keep frequently used letter pairs—E and D or T and H for example—relatively far apart so that typists wouldn’t hit them in quick succession, jamming primitive machines.

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