What Are Dvorak Keyboards (And Do You Need One?)

Image: Getty Images

You're probably as familiar with the QWERTY keyboard as you are with breathing, but if you've never been a fan, there's an alternative that offers you a fresh layout — the Dvorak keyboard. Here's how it's different.

Before we delve into QWERTY's alternative, let's begin with the keyboard that's become a part of our everyday lives. An early version of the QWERTY keyboard was first devised in the 1870s by a newspaper editor called Christopher Latham Sholes. After the manufacturing rights were sold off to E. Remington and Sons, a typewriter and firearms company, the QWERTY layout was tweaked from Sholes' original plans and the layout we all now know was popularised. The Latin alphabet-based world hasn't really looked back since.

In the 1930s, however, a US inventor, August Dvorak, patented a new layout arguing the QWERTY was not efficient nor ergonomic. He created the Dvorak keyboard in 1936 and despite his best hopes, it failed to capture the hearts of QWERTY fans around the world. But while it's not the default on many keyboards around the world, many PCs will still allow you to switch the layout if you so desire.

The QWERTY layout. Image: Getty Images

How is the Dvorak keyboard different from QWERTY?

While the majority of the non-letter keys remain the same, it's the positioning of the keys that make the Dvorak unique. He argued that QWERTY required awkward finger positions and relied too heavily on the left hand — most people are right-hand dominant — and because of this, typing speed was limited and discomfort was caused.

Instead, he suggested a tweak of the letter layout would help improve a lot of the errors and fatigue. The layout was based on logic — letters with the least usage would be on the bottom, the tough part to reach while the most frequent letters would be near the top and within reach of the right hand. His studies showed once users became familiarised with the layout, the frequency of errors and fatigue had been reduced when compared to QWERTY usage.

The problem with this is that this layout would only apply to English speakers as other Latin alphabet-based languages had different letter consistencies and would have to have custom layouts. Adding to the, the horse had already bolted from the gate — he would have to convince manufacturers as well as consumers against 60 years of QWERTY production.

QWERTY continued to reign supreme over keyboard layouts and now, 150 years after the first QWERTY layouts were manufactured, it's a tough sell getting anyone to swap over to Dvorak. While his studies suggested it was a superior offering, they were his studies after all and some long-time users, like The Verge's Jon Porter, say the differences aren't that impressive.

How do I swap my PC or Mac to Dvorak?

If you're willing to test it out, you can change to Dvorak in Windows 10 by heading to Settings, Time & Language and then Language. Once you're there, under Preferred languages, select the language and hit Options. Under the Keyboards title, hit Add a keyboard and choose Dvorak there.

For Apple users, head to System Preferences and find Keyboard. Under the English option, there will be a number of keyboard layouts with Dvorak included.

Needless to say, if you're using a physical keyboard (as opposed to a touch screen) you will need a model with removable keys so you can customise it to match the new layout. Happy Dvoraking.

Why You Need A Scissor-Switch Keyboard

As with most things tactile, one's choice of computing peripherals is a deeply personal decision, opinion and feel eclipsing evidence and logic. If there's any gadget this applies to more than others, it's the keyboard — specifically the type of switch. Mechanical dominates, while membrane gets a bad rap. I'm here to remind everyone about the long-forgotten, One True Switch — the scissor.

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    Been a Dvorak user now for almost 21 years. Have dedicated Dvorak keyboards, labelled keyboards, and QWERTy keyboards with the keys moved around. Unfortunately, sculptured keyboards present a problem to keycap relocations as keys such as N, R, and a few others protrude & catch this non-touch typist's fingers randomly. Could never go back to a QWERTY keyboard. I also use a trackball instead of a mouse. Both choices are for ergonomic & rational ideas reasons. Regards, Lew (Sydney)

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