In 1998, John A. Maxwell developed a Java applet that compares the QWERTY and Dvorak keyboard layouts.
From this image of an example run, we can see that, using Dvorak:
The Dvorak keyboard is simply a better arrangement of the keys on the standard keyboard. Surprisingly, the layout is not a new idea: it was developed in 1932 by Dr. August Dvorak, an educational psychologist and Professor of Education, in order to address the problems of inefficiency and fatigue which characterize the standard QWERTY layout. In 1982, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) designated the Dvorak layout as an alternate standard.
Until fairly recently, most computers were hard-coded with the QWERTY layout, the de facto standard, and it wasn't easy to make the switch. Nowadays, however, that's all changed. All personal computers now support Dvorak: you can easily switch between the two layouts.
Apart from feeling more comfortable, the Dvorak keyboard can increase your typing speed and accuracy. As the strain is shared more equally between the two hands, and since your fingers and wrists don't have to move as far nor work as hard, using the Dvorak layout will probably reduce repetitive stress injury / carpal tunnel syndrome in the long term.
Anybody who can use a keyboard can learn to type using the Dvorak layout. Most people find that they can become familiar with Dvorak within just 3-4 weeks. There are software tutors available, many of them free. Here, for instance, is a list of free open source typing tutor software; and here's a DVORAK tutor with a web interface: Dan Wood's "ABCD: A Basic Course in Dvorak".
In addition to the standard Dvorak layout - intended for two hands, there are also left-hand-only and right-hand-only layouts for those who cannot (or choose not to) use both hands. These are also appropriate for those who use a wand.
Actually rearranging the keys on your keyboard is completely optional. If you are a touch-typist, you probably won't need to. If on the other hand (excuse the pun) you're a 'hunt-and-peck' typist like me, you may find that trying to type using Dvorak on a QWERTY keyboard too confusing.
Changing the layout of the keys on a standard keyboard isn't that difficult, and the risk of damaging the keyboard is small, if you're careful. Ideally, though, you want to have two keyboards so that you can switch between the two layouts quickly and easily while you're learning Dvorak. Once you're familiar with Dvorak, it's unlikely that you'll want to go back to QWERTY at all!
Custom-made Dvorak keyboards tend to be rather expensive. One alternative is to buy a modified standard keyboard.
For further information on the Dvorak layout, read the Dvorak Zine, check out Introducing the Dvorak Keyboard by Marcus Brooks or google for 'dvorak keyboard'.
Copyright © 2007 Colin Reynolds / Typocheck. All rights reserved.
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