18 Oct

New Keyboard Layout Progress Update

Back in June I decided to change my keyboard layout with the hopes of increasing my typing speed. I have touch typed for 20 years on a QWERTY keyboard and was getting about 54 words per minute. First I tries Dvorak layout, but had a tough time even learning the keyboard never mind typing with any speed. Then I switched to the Colemak layout which I was able to get some speed on very quickly.

I’m currently typing at 60 words a minute. That’s a 10% improvement, and I’m sure there is still some speed left to be gained, but I’m not sure I’ll ever make it to my original goal of doubling my typing speed. That would be 108 WPM, and at this point I’d be thrilled with 80 WPM.

If I could go back, I’m not sure if I would switch again. More speed was my original goal, and I think I could have increased my speed faster if I had done as much practice with QWERTY as I have done with Colemak. But here I am, I have switched and I don’t think I’ll be going back.

The Colemak layout is noticeably easier to type on. Much less reaching for common letters (I’m looking at you E, R and T). My typing hasn’t suffered too terribly on QWERTY keyboards, but I can no longer touch type, I have to watch the keyboard.

Up next on my experiments with typing, mechanical keyboards. I have noticed in my practicing that there are times when I’m not sure whether I have typed a letter or not because of the mushy keys. I’ll monitor my WPM before and after that switch when I finally fork over the money for a >$100 keyboard.

17 Jul

Keyboard Layout Comparison

For the past few weeks I’ve experimented with alternate keyboard layouts with the long-term goal of increasing my typing speed.

At first I tried Dvorak, which is the most popular alternative layout.  I found it cumbersome to learn.  Almost every key is in a new position.  After a couple of weeks of practice I had mostly memorized the layout, but was still only typing at 16 WPM.

Then, while clearing out some bookmarks I found a link to the Colemak layout.  I’ve considered switching layouts for some time, so I wasn’t surprised to find the bookmark.  Like Dvorak, Colemak is designed for efficient and ergonomic touch typing in English.  Unlike Dvorak, it is based somewhat on the QWERTY keyboard.  Only 17 keys have moved.  The transition was easy.  I memorized the new layout in just a couple of days and was typing at 30+ WPM within a week.  I seem to have stalled, but I think the issue now is learning to type words (or letter combos) instead of typing letter by letter.  That’s something I expect will come with time.

Here are my observation of the learning process:

  • There is a noticeable difference in how much finger movement is required compared with QWERTY.  I hope this difference will result in more speed and comfort in the long run.
  • I had no problems switching between layouts until I was above 25 WPM on Colemak, then I started to get confused when on QWERTY.  I switched to Colemak completely after I hit 30 WPM 2 days later.
  • My speed at a typing test seemed slower than regular typing when I tested on QWERTY, but I definitely copy text faster in Colemak than I type my own thoughts.  This has improved since switching to Colemak full-time.
  • TypeRacer is a great place to practice.  You race others in short (<2 minute) races, and the quotes you type are at least somewhat interesting.  It also tracks and graphs your progress.
  • Slow and accurate beats fast and inaccurate.  If you mistype, it takes 3 strokes to make a letter.  At 30 WPM you type 2.5 characters per second.  You are better off spending the time to type the right letter the first time.
  • I don’t type as much as I thought.  With Visual Studio’s Intellisense I only type 1 or 2 letter then press Tab to complete for most things.  I honestly thought I typed more.

A really cool tool for comparing keyboard layouts.  It calculates the distance traveled, percentage home row and some other stats to help illuminate the differences between layouts.

Stats for this post (except the grid):

  QWERTY Colemak Dvorak
Distance 74.50m 38.16m 44.29m
Same Hand 38.25% 32.45% 22.16%
Same Finger 5.0% 1.333% 3.291%
Top Row 52.70% 18.45% 24.95%
Home Row 28.86% 65.20% 61.07%
Bottom Row 15.87% 11.91% 9.666%

QWERTY is a clear loser here, its primary advantage is its monopoly.  The relative merits of Dvorak vs Colemak are debatable.  Are Colemak’s higher home row percentage and lower same finger percentage worth the trade for higher same hand and bottom row percentage?  Colemaks biggest advantage over Dvorak is the ease of learning if you are already proficient with QWERTY.

12 Jun

Changing Keyboard Layouts

In my last post I set a goal to switch to the Dvorak layout over the next few months and I’m looking to double my typing speed.  To do that, I am practicing typing on the Dvorak layout for a 10-15 minutes a day for a while and as my speed improves I’ll add time.  I’ve found that switching layouts is startlingly easy, so I thought I’d share how to do it (instructions are for Windows 7 and may vary for other versions).

Click Start and type “intl.cpl” into the search box.  This will bring up the Region and Language control panel.  Click on the Keyboards and Languages tab.


Click Change Keyboards


Click Add and select the keyboards you want to add.  I just added United States-Dvorak.

Go to the Advanced Key Settings


From here you can assign Hot Keys to switch between layouts.  If you highlight the “Between input languages” and click the Change Key Sequence, you alter what key combinations cycle between languages and keyboard layouts.  I removed the cycle between languages because I only use US-English, and I assigned the Left Alt-Shift to cycle between keyboard layouts.


The last thing I did is back on the General tab, I went to the properties of the Dvorak keyboard and I changed the icon to a keyboard with a red border so that when my keyboard is in Dvorak mode the little Language Bar icon on the right side of the task bar is a read keyboard instead of the standard one.





No for the best part, or worst part, I’m not entirely sure yet.  When you switch layouts, the switch only affects the app you were in when you switched layouts.  So, I can keep my browser in Dvorak for typing practice, but Outlook and Visual Studio stay in QWERTY.  I think this will come in handy in the long run as I can keep a say Outlook in Dvorak, and Visual Studio in QWERTY or vice versa depending on productivity.  Eventually I’ll switch the default…