Pros and Cons for different layouts

Hi everyone,

I’m planning to learn a different layout when I receive my Model 01. I’ve been doing research on this topic for a while now but there doesn’t seem to be many strong feelings other than QWERTY is not optimal.

What I would like to know is what has your experience been with different layouts?
What have you tried?
What were the pros and cons?
What have you stuck with?

I’ve read through the corresponding layout threads but they all seemed to focus on the unique adjustments the user made compared to the stock layout so I think that justifies making a new thread.

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I started typing on Dvorak a bit over ten years ago. I love it.

I found it surprisingly intuitive. I used ABCD to get started, and could just about manage to type all letters without looking after only a day or so. I was amazed when I found how many English words I can type with only the home row, so early in the learning process. It’s a whole lot better than qwerty’s “a sad dad’s lad had a fad” or whatever!

After a few weeks I went almost-full-immersion, switching back to qwerty only when I needed to type something really fast. As my Dvorak speed increased that became less and less frequent, but I could touchtype both layouts by muscle memory for quite some time. Eventually I didn’t use qwerty at all any more, and a lot of time went by – I can now no longer touchtype qwerty at any speed, though I can still type it slowly without looking with some concentration, and can hunt-and-peck it with a couple of fingers on each hand while looking at a good enough speed for when I’m at someone else’s desk.

I was pretty fast on qwerty – sustained 120-130 words per minute with peaks of 150-160 or so. It took me probably three months or so to get back to over 100 words per minute on Dvorak, and maybe a year to get back up to my old qwerty speed. I’ll point out that though my typing speed now is similar to my old qwerty speed, I do not now type faster than I did on qwerty, or at least not noticeably. By the way, these amounts of time I’m mentioning are admittedly foggy guesses – it’s a long time ago now. But I never looked back as I was learning.

I get strain a whole lot less often than I did with qwerty, and it’s easy to see that my fingers and hands move a whole lot less than they used to.

I never felt the need to try other alternative layouts, happy as I am with Dvorak.

A few annoyances about Dvorak:

  • ls -al is all the right hand pinky
  • Control-x/c/v are no longer next to each other. Some people remap them but honestly I have just gotten used to it. I use the “X selection” more than the clipboard anyway (a common Linux thing: just select text to copy, then middle click to paste).
  • This one is actually not an annoyance to me, but I know it is to some: the movement keys for vim (hjkl) are no longer next to each other. Again, some people remap these, but my opinion is that it’s better not to, because the spots you’d remap them to already do other useful things (with useful mnemonics). They’re actually not in bad places: j and k are still next to each other in the same order for down and up, and h and l are both on the right hand, and h is left of l (though different columns, with space in between). This means they’re intuitive enough to get fluent with. A little annoying they’re on separate hands, but I’m totally used to it.
  • It’s a pain if a game doesn’t let you rebind its keys. This was common with old online Flash games, for example, and probably with more modern HTML5 games. Trying to play a game with WASD for movement in the Dvorak positions is a headache! Anyone remember the game QWOP? Controlling that guy with those keys was also a massive challenge, as if the game itself wasn’t already…

Hope this is useful.

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I tried Colemak briefly but decided I didn’t like it. TH and HE are the most common bigrams in English, and THE is the most common trigram – I want them to be very easy to type. Workman does a better job there.

But I decided to create a layout of my own which facilitates typing common character sequences. I need to code it up, but if you are curious you can read about it here:

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Like @bjn, I started using Dvorak a long time ago (1997ish IIRC) and I too used ABCD over a long weekend to train myself. It took me a week of frustration to get used to typing a completely alien layout but it was well worth it. I’ve looked at the newer alternatives (Colemak, Workman etc) and if they had been around in the 90s I may well have gone with one of them - but I don’t think any of them improves over Dvorak sufficiently that it’s worth going through the pain a second time. :wink: Each one seems to improve one thing at the cost of worsening something else. I don’t think there can ever be a perfect layout, but at some point the cost of making further changes outweighs any small advantage you are likely to gain.

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After trying out workman for a while last year, I have now switched to the non-staggered (matrix-keyboard-ready) version of colemak-mod-dh: https://colemakmods.github.io/mod-dh/

As for why I went with this variation on colemak: I liked the gdhm placement better (I type in dutch+english). I can’t really tell you whether it makes an RSI-related difference, because I don’t suffer from it.

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I’ve been on Colemak for nearly 3 years now. Started because I don’t want my kids to learn Qwerty, but I don’t want to be a hypocrite about it. I started learning it by making my phone use Colemak until I had it memorized (that’s the keyboard one looks at anyways)

Pros:

  • only 17 keys move
  • super common keyshorts don’t change from qwerty (select all, quit, close window, undo, cut, copy, paste)
    punctuation keys don’t move (qwerty doesn’t seem completely avoidable in life)
  • the most used keys of the language are on the home row! Seems super logical to me (“notaries” is a great word that uses each home row key once)
  • the arrangement seems to be base on the rolling finger motion (the one you may do impatiently on a table) like the S-T motion, or I-E
  • I have heard just moving backspace to caps lock will be a 10% improvement on ergonomics (pronation specifically)

I have heard that Dvorak arrangement was more about each finder being used equally and that Workman is arranged into useful columns. Everyone has different hands, some layouts may be more optimal for some. Pretty sure Qwerty is never the optimal though.

I used this Layout Analyzer tool a lot. When I saw the close scores I thought it was basically negligible: patorjk.com/keyboard-layout-analyzer/ - this Layout Analyzer will tell you about efficiency and which fingers are used the most.

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I’m currently using Dvorak, but while it was the best of the bunch at the time I decided to switch form QWERTY in earnest, there are a number of annoyances I have with it that prompted me to devise my own layout. I haven’t switched to my own yet, though.

The reason for Dvorak was that I liked hand alteration, and didn’t mind many keys moving, not even ZXCV, because I wasn’t using those shortcuts anyway. I found that my hands feel a lot more comfortable when using both to type most words, and they’re not good at finger rolling some of the other, popular layouts seem to emphasize. My accuracy is better when alternating. I did make a few small changes to Dvorak: for example, I use a Programmer Dvorak-inspired number row, where the top row has symbols instead of numbers. I have the numbers on a keypad layer instead.

My own layout, which I dubbed ADORE fixes most of the issues I had with Dvorak: no alphas on the pinky above the home row, L and R in better positions, and a few other things. The goal with ADORE is to have better finger & hand balance, and put symbols I use more often to more convenient places. It’s a very personal layout, mostly based on feelings (with a little backing up by heatmaps and statistics).

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I had expected to switch layouts when I got my Model 01. I did a lot of research and can’t come up with a compelling reason to switch. I have found no evidence that alternative layouts improve either RSI’s or typing speed.

Heresy, I know. This surprised me, and was so contrary to the opinions of people I trusted to have their facts straight that I still have a hard time accepting it. The methodology of the articles I found seemed sound, though, and I trust science over instinct.

Nevertheless I feel like QWERTY could be made better. It just seems obvious that there should be better layouts.

I will look at ADORE and think about what feels right to me. I could easily believe there might be no one size fits all best layout, but rather a best fit for each individual.

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I’ve also had a hard time figuring out what to switch to, part of the reason I created this thread. I’ve found these links interesting (thanks @Foppe and @arley) from a statistical point of view. If the majority of layouts are very similar in terms of efficient improvements over QWERTY then it seems it comes down to personal preference over the minor typing differences: whether you prefer to alternate hands or roll with one, etc.

Feeling pretty good about giving Colemak a try based on what I’ve read so far. Thanks everyone for sharing your stories so far; they’ve been incredibly helpful. Can’t wait to see what else other people will post.

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After a bit of research into different layouts a few years ago I decided to stay with QWERT(Y/Z) (with regards to the letter, number and symbol keys where possible) and instead try and use proper ergonomic keyboards.

Here are my reasons:

1/ I type in Hungarian, English and a few different programming languages. Each one of these would benefit differently from different non-standard layouts, so if I wanted to optimize all of them, I’d need to be switching between at least 2 or 3 that might be a lot different. If I wanted to have a shared layout it would either become sub-optimal or would need to be updated as the time I spend in the above modes changes.

2/ I want to retain the ability to effectively type on a normal keyboard as those are all over the world and they are mostly some variation on qwerty.

3/ Considering the above and that I expect learning a completely new layout a significant time investment, I don’t think it’s worth for me.

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So, for myself, I haven’t yet pulled the trigger in switching from QWERTY. Even though QWERTY seems horribly inefficient and other layouts seem much more logical and elegant, I’m just not quite sure it’s worth the steep learning curve. Learning another layout seems like it would be a lot of pain, for fairly little objective reward - in almost all anecdotal evidence I’ve seen, after switching layouts it takes you a while to get back up to your old QWERTY speed, and you never actually exceed your old QWERTY speed (assuming you were touch-typing QWERTY to begin with). Also, switching to non-QWERTY makes it at least a little harder to e.g. use someone else’s keyboard for a sec.

All that said, if I were to switch, I’m pretty sure it would be Colemak. Rather than list reasons here, I’ll point everyone to the Colemak website’s FAQ (a very biased source, sure, but a concise presentation of the advantages of Colemak, particularly over QWERTY and Dvorak).

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This spring is switched to Norman layout. It took me about three months to get back to full typing speed. Although I am German I always used US QWERTY keymap before because it is way more comfortable for programming (braces, etc.).

Initially I just wanted to get rid of some annoying fingering errors that I acquired when I toughed myself QWERTY touch typing in school (long ago…) . However, those errors seemed absolutely hard coded in my muscle memory. So after a while I figured that is probably more efficient to learn a new layout than to correct the problems I had with the old. I experienced the same when I learned new musical instruments. It can be easier to learn a new one than it is to correct fingering errors that one got used to over many years.

I chose Norman because it appears more efficient than QWERTY, distributes the work more equally on both hands and also claims to be more easy to learn than other layouts because of some similarities to QWERTY.

Norman is neither a standard layout on Windows nor on Linux. In both system it is easy to install, though. But in the age of programmable keyboards, this is not too much a problem, except for the rare occasions where I find myself sitting at a colleagues screen, typing with two fingers like a five year old on a QWERTY keyboard I once was really fast with.

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Getting a Model 01 (aka switching to columnar layout) actually helped me fix some ingrained QWERTY fingering errors.

This is part of the reason typing on the Model 01 was a little bit of a learning curve for me (but nothing compared to learning an entirely new layout, I’m sure).

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Good point. I experienced the same, although on an ErgoDox EZ. Columnar layout in general makes memorizing new keymaps way more easy.

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Interesting idea!

I briefly set my Android on-screen keyboard to Dvorak. I liked it for a very short time but then realized that swipe-typing became incredibly difficult, because just so many words are mostly in the home row! So my phone is back to qwerty.

I remember reading an article about a layout optimized for swipe-typing but at the time coludn’t find a way to use that layout on my phone. Short of that optimized one I wouldn’t mind a plain alphabetical layout on my phone, I think. Maybe that’d be decent for swipe.

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I know I don’t speak for everyone (demonstrably – more than one in this thread alone has said switching was a painful process) but I found the learning curve amazingly gentle. It was a fun experience and I was able to switch back to qwerty easily whenever I wanted to type quickly. If you’re interested at all, try an hour on the ABCD lessons (or whatever the equivalent for Colemak is) and see how it feels. Like I said before, once you have the home row down there’s so much you can type already.

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It’s actually not that bad. It took me a few weeks to learn Dvorak back then when I still went to school, so kinda had a few hours to practice every day. Yes, it was frustrating at times, especially at the beginning. I was already able to touch type in QWERTY when I made the switch, and the old habits kept getting in the way. Still, typing games etc. made it especially fun.

I understand why people with jobs would be hesitant though. Gotta be efficient at typing at all times, for ones own sanity too.

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This site (https://colemakmods.github.io/mod-dh/learn.html) compares how easy each layout is to learn coming from QWERTY. Minimak, for example, has a version that only changes 4 keys from QWERTY that they claim provides a 66% increase in efficiency iirc. You’d only need to adjust to 4 keys relocating which makes it easy.

http://mkweb.bcgsc.ca/carpalx/ is also a fascinating resource, though it’s more statistical and less…I guess I’d say ‘less personal’

I switched to Dvorak in 1999, and haven’t looked back. There was a definite learning curve, and I used both a touch typing tutor with Dvorak lessons and a little app that showed an onscreen keyboard (in Dvorak) and indicated which key was being pressed. At the time, my now-husband and I were courting long-distance, and were on ICQ every night, so I got lots of practice typing. :slight_smile:

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