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Keyboard Layout: Dvorak vs Colemak: is it Worthwhile to Improve theDvorak Layout?

 
 
Xah Lee
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      06-11-2011
(a lil weekend distraction from comp lang!)

in recent years, there came this Colemak layout. The guy who created
it, Colemak, has a site, and aggressively market his layout. It's in
linuxes distro by default, and has become somewhat popular.

I remember first discovering it perhaps in 2007. Me, being a Dvorak
typist since 1994, am curious on what he has to say about comparison.
I recall, i was offended seeing how he paints a bias in peddling his
creation.

So, here, let me repaint his bias. Here it is, and judge for yourself.

〈Keyboard Layout: Dvorak vs Colemak: is it Worthwhile to Improve the
Dvorak Layout?〉
http://xahlee.org/kbd/dvorak_vs_colemak.html

here's a interesting excerpt:
--------------------------------------------

Just How Much Do You Type?

Many programers all claim to type 8 or 10 hours a day. They may be
sitting in front of the computer all day, but the time their fingers
actually dance on keyboard is probably less than 1 hour per day.

Contrast data-entry clerks. They are the real typists. Their fingers
actually type, continuously, for perhaps 6 hours per day.

It is important get a sense of how much you actually type. This you
can do by logging you keystrokes using a software.

Let's assume a pro typist sustain at 60 wpm. 60 wpm is 300 strokes per
min, or 18k per hour. Suppose she works 8 hours a day, and assume just
3 hours actually typing. 18k × 3 = 54k chars per day. With this
figure, you can get a sense of how many “hours” you actually type per
day.

I sit in front of computer on average 13 hours per day for the past
several years. I program and write several blogs. My actual typing is
probably double or triple of average day-job programers. From my emacs
command frequency log for 6 months in 2008, it seems i only type 17k
strokes per day. That's 31% of the data-entry clerk scenario above.
Or, i only type ONE hour a day!

I was quite surprised how low my own figure is. But thinking about it…
it make sense. Even we sit in front of computer all day, but the
actual typing is probably some miniscule percentage of that. Most of
the time, you have to chat, lunch, run errands, browse web, read docs,
run to the bathroom. Perhaps only half of your work time is active
coding or writing (emails; docs). Of that duration, perhaps majority
of time you are digesting the info on screen. Your whole day's typing
probably can be done in less than 20 minutes if you just type
continuously.

If your typing doesn't come anywhere close to a data-entry clerk, then
any layout “more efficient” than Dvorak is practically meaningless.

Xah
 
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Elena
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      06-13-2011
On 13 Giu, 06:30, Tim Roberts <(E-Mail Removed)> wrote:
> Studies have shown that even a
> strictly alphabetical layout works perfectly well, once the typist is
> acclimated.


Once the user is acclimated to move her hands much more (about 40%
more for Qwerty versus Dvorak), that is.
 
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Yang Ha Nguyen
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      06-13-2011
On Jun 13, 11:30*am, Tim Roberts <(E-Mail Removed)> wrote:
> Xah Lee <(E-Mail Removed)> wrote:
>
> >(a lil weekend distraction from comp lang!)

>
> >in recent years, there came this Colemak layout. The guy who created
> >it, Colemak, has a site, and aggressively market his layout. It's in
> >linuxes distro by default, and has become somewhat popular.
> >...
> >If your typing doesn't come anywhere close to a data-entry clerk, then
> >any layout more efficient than Dvorak is practically meaningless.

>
> More than that, any layout "more efficient" than QWERTY is practically
> meaningless. *The whole "intentional inefficiency" thing in the design of
> the QWERTY layout is an urban legend. *Once your fingers have the mapping
> memorized, the actual order is irrelevent. *Studies have shown that even a
> strictly alphabetical layout works perfectly well, once the typist is
> acclimated.
> --
> Tim Roberts, (E-Mail Removed)
> Providenza & Boekelheide, Inc.


Could you show which studies? Do they do research just about habit or
other elements (e.g. movement rates, comfortablility, ...) as well?
Have they ever heard of RSI because of repetitive movements?
 
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Chris Angelico
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      06-13-2011
On Mon, Jun 13, 2011 at 6:42 PM, Yang Ha Nguyen <(E-Mail Removed)> wrote:
> Could you show which studies? *Do they do research just about habit or
> other elements (e.g. movement rates, comfortablility, ...) as well?
> Have they ever heard of RSI because of repetitive movements?


And did any of the studies take into account the fact that a lot of
computer users - in all but the purest data entry tasks - will use a
mouse as well as a keyboard? The classic "grasp mouse" sitting to the
right of the keyboard mandates either a one-handed typing style (left
hand on keyboard, right hand on mouse) or constant re-aiming and
re-grasping. Or you can use a touchpad; what are the consequences of
that on typing speed? And my personal favorite, the IBM TrackPoint - a
stick mouse between the G/H/B keys, a design which other manufacturers
have since copied (although IMHO the IBM/Lenovo type still beats the
others hands down) - keep your hands where you want them and just
reach out to grab the mouse with your index finger, or slide your
fingers one key over (works fine if you're used to it).

Typing speed depends on a lot more than just your layout, and it's
going to be nearly impossible to narrow it down viably.

Chris Angelico
 
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Steven D'Aprano
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      06-13-2011
On Mon, 13 Jun 2011 00:21:53 -0700, Elena wrote:

> On 13 Giu, 06:30, Tim Roberts <(E-Mail Removed)> wrote:
>> Studies have shown that even a
>> strictly alphabetical layout works perfectly well, once the typist is
>> acclimated.

>
> Once the user is acclimated to move her hands much more (about 40% more
> for Qwerty versus Dvorak), that is.


The actual physical cost of typing is a small part of coding.
Productivity-wise, optimizing the distance your hands move is worthwhile
for typists who do nothing but type, e.g. if you spend their day
mechanically copying text or doing data entry, then increasing your
typing speed from 30 words per minute (the average for untrained computer
users) to 90 wpm (the average for typists) means your productivity
increases by 200% (three times more work done).

I don't know if there are any studies that indicate how much of a
programmer's work is actual mechanical typing but I'd be surprised if it
were as much as 20% of the work day. The rest of the time being thinking,
planning, debugging, communicating with customers or managers, reading
documentation, testing, committing code, sketching data schemas on the
whiteboard ... to say nothing of the dreaded strategy meetings.

And even in that 20% of the time when you are actively typing code,
you're not merely transcribing written text but writing new code, and
active composition is well known to slow down typing speed compared to
transcribing. You might hit 90 wpm in the typing test, but when writing
code you're probably typing at 50 wpm with the occasional full speed
burst.

So going from a top speed (measured when transcribing text) of 30 wpm to
90 wpm sounds good on your CV, but in practice the difference in
productivity is probably tiny. Oh, and if typing faster just means you
make more typos in less time, then the productivity increase is
*negative*.

Keyboard optimizations, I believe, are almost certainly a conceit. If
they really were that good an optimization, they would be used when
typing speed is a premium. The difference between an average data entry
operator at 90 wpm and a fast one at 150 wpm is worth real money. If
Dvorak and other optimized keyboards were really that much better, they
would be in far more common use. Where speed really is vital, such as for
court stenographers, special mechanical shorthand machines such as
stenotypes are used, costing thousands of dollars but allowing the typist
to reach speeds of over 300 wpm.

Even if we accept that Dvorak is an optimization, it's a micro-
optimization. And like most optimizations, there is a very real risk that
it is actually a pessimation: if it takes you three months to get back up
to speed on a new keyboard layout, you potentially may never make back
that lost time in your entire programming career.



--
Steven
 
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Pascal J. Bourguignon
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      06-13-2011
Steven D'Aprano <(E-Mail Removed)> writes:

> The actual physical cost of typing is a small part of coding.
> Productivity-wise, optimizing the distance your hands move is worthwhile
> for typists who do nothing but type, e.g. if you spend their day
> mechanically copying text or doing data entry, then increasing your
> typing speed from 30 words per minute (the average for untrained computer
> users) to 90 wpm (the average for typists) means your productivity
> increases by 200% (three times more work done).
>
> I don't know if there are any studies that indicate how much of a
> programmer's work is actual mechanical typing but I'd be surprised if it
> were as much as 20% of the work day.


I'd agree that while programming, typing speed is not usually a problem
(but it has been reported that some star programmers could issue bug
free code faster than they could type, and they could type fast!).


Now, where the gain lies, is in typing flames on IRC or usenet.

If they can do it faster, then it's more time left for programming.

--
__Pascal Bourguignon__ http://www.informatimago.com/
A bad day in () is better than a good day in {}.
 
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Dennis Lee Bieber
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      06-13-2011
On Sun, 12 Jun 2011 21:30:43 -0700, Tim Roberts <(E-Mail Removed)>
declaimed the following in gmane.comp.python.general:


> More than that, any layout "more efficient" than QWERTY is practically
> meaningless. The whole "intentional inefficiency" thing in the design of
> the QWERTY layout is an urban legend. Once your fingers have the mapping


Oh, there was an "inefficiency" in QWERTY -- but it only applies to
fully manual typewriters, in which some of the more common letters were
placed under the weakest fingers -- to slow down key strokes enough to
reduce jamming multiple type blocks (didn't help for my last name -- I
and E are on opposing hands, same fingers, making for a fast parallel
reach).

Low pressure electronic keys don't have the strength feedback
slowing down the outer fingers.
--
Wulfraed Dennis Lee Bieber AF6VN
http://www.velocityreviews.com/forums/(E-Mail Removed) HTTP://wlfraed.home.netcom.com/

 
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Ethan Furman
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      06-13-2011
Steven D'Aprano wrote:
> On Mon, 13 Jun 2011 00:21:53 -0700, Elena wrote:
>
>> On 13 Giu, 06:30, Tim Roberts <(E-Mail Removed)> wrote:
>>> Studies have shown that even a
>>> strictly alphabetical layout works perfectly well, once the typist is
>>> acclimated.

>> Once the user is acclimated to move her hands much more (about 40% more
>> for Qwerty versus Dvorak), that is.

>
> The actual physical cost of typing is


more than dollars and cents.

The difference for me is not typing speed, but my wrists. The Dvorak
layout is much easier on me than the QWERTY one was.

~Ethan~
 
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Gregory Ewing
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      06-14-2011
Chris Angelico wrote:

> And did any of the studies take into account the fact that a lot of
> computer users - in all but the purest data entry tasks - will use a
> mouse as well as a keyboard?


What I think's really stupid is designing keyboards with two
big blocks of keys between the alphabetic keys and the mouse.
Back when standard-grade keyboards didn't usually have a
built-in numeric keypad, it was much easier to move one's
right hand back and forth between the keyboard and mouse.

Nowadays I find myself perpetually prone to off-by-one errors
when moving back to the keyboard.

--
Greg
 
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Chris Angelico
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      06-14-2011
On Tue, Jun 14, 2011 at 11:45 AM, Gregory Ewing
<(E-Mail Removed)> wrote:
> Chris Angelico wrote:
>
>> And did any of the studies take into account the fact that a lot of
>> computer users - in all but the purest data entry tasks - will use a
>> mouse as well as a keyboard?

>
> What I think's really stupid is designing keyboards with two
> big blocks of keys between the alphabetic keys and the mouse.
>
> Nowadays I find myself perpetually prone to off-by-one errors
> when moving back to the keyboard.


That's one of the reasons I like my laptop keyboard so much. Hands
don't have to leave to grab the mouse. Although if you lay out your
desk right (assuming you have one - the other advantage of the laptop
is the ability to type at the same speed on a bus) you can change that
"two big blocks of keys" issue. For instance, I have a computer at
work where the mouse is in front of the keyboard (between me and it).
It looks odd, but it works in practice. The actual distance my hand
moves to get from home keys to mouse is about the same as swinging to
the right past the numpad, but since I'm aiming in the opposite
direction, it's easier to not hit the off-by-one.

But as an old jester Pointed out, you can come in time to like
anything that you get used to.

ChrisA
PS. "Pointed" is not a mistake, but I doubt anyone on this list will
know why I did it.
 
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