Tomorrow, I'm going to introduce the keyboard model for the Office 12 user interface.

But before I do that, I would feel remiss starting the conversation about keyboards without introducing my unappreciated friend, the Dvorak keyboard.

I'm a Dvorak typist.  Nearly every word I've typed over the last seven years has been on a Dvorak keyboard.  These very words were typed on a keyboard in Dvorak layout.  That might make me a complete freak, but then again you're the one typing on the keyboard layout designed to keep typewriter keys from sticking together!

The Dvorak keyboard layout was developed by Dr. August Dvorak between 1925 and 1932.  Frustrated by the pathetic inefficiency of the QWERTY layout, Dvorak did extensive research into common letter patterns and digraphs, including data about relative letter frequency and hand patterns used for typing.  The result, called the Dvorak layout (or American Simplified Keyboard) was designed to be the most efficiency layout possible for English typing.  (Later he used the same data to develop left-hand only and right-hand only layouts for disabled typists.)


(Click to enlarge)

The most common letters and letter combinations can be typed on the home row.  The vowels are all on the left side of the keyboard, the most common consonants are on the right side.  This takes advantage of the common consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel-consonant form of English words, allowing many of them to be typed with alternating hands.  This improves speed and reduces stress on the fingers.

Dvorak typists consistently win world speed-typing competitions.  A U.S. Navy study showed that Dvorak typists were 68% more accurate and 74% speedier than QWERTY typists.  Overall hand and finger motion are reduced by 80%.

My Dvorak adventure started with the Apple //c computer I had as a kid.  Right on the top of the keyboard was a button to switch from QWERTY to Dvorak (next to the button the changed the display from 40 to 80 columns.)  I dabbled with trying to learn Dvorak at that time, but I always eventually gave up and went back to the tried-and-true system.

Flash forward to my first year working at Microsoft.  I had never done so much typing, and my wrists and fingers ached.  Before going to the doctor to receive the expected carpal tunnel diagnosis, I thought back to my //c days and decided I would give Dvorak another shot.  That night, I reconfigured every computer I had to Dvorak; I was going to go cold turkey.  I also downloaded some dorky "Letter Shooter"-type freeware typing tutors.  (Pow!  Pow!  I'm shooting letters and learning to type them all at the same time!)

The first week was misery.  I felt like my brain was going to explode.  Most of my e-mails were no longer than "OK" or "no."  Like I set up years later on my cell phone, I programmed a set of preset messages into Outlook that I could insert into e-mail with a single mouse click.

By the second week, I could slowly pick my way through most typing without looking down and without making too many errors.  By the end of the third week, I was as fast and fluent with Dvorak as QWERTY and I've only picked up speed since then.

But the best news was that my wrist and finger pain disappeared and have never returned.  I'm sure it wouldn't work for everyone, but the significantly reduced motion required to type in Dvorak did the trick for me.

Where do you get your own Dvorak keyboard because you can't wait to start converting yourself?  DvortyBoards used to make this wonderful, dual-labeled, hardware switchable split keyboard--the 2001 QBE.  It's what I use for my main keyboard at work, and it's fantastic because when someone wants to come in and type on my computer, I can hit the QWERTY button and they're in business.  Unfortunately, the 2001 QBE doesn't seem to be made anymore, so I guess I'm stuck with only the one I have.

For my home computer and laptop, it's keytop sticker labels.  This lets me use any keyboard I like, and the Dvorak switching happens in software.  It's not quite as good because when I'm outside of Windows (such as tweaking the BIOS), I have to type QWERTY, but it's still a good system.

I do consider myself a bilingual typist--when I have to sit down at a QWERTY keyboard, I can still do so at a pretty good clip once I'm adjusted.  I don't like doing it, but hey, it's a QWERTY world.

Only downsides of the Dvorak keyboard: CTRL+X, CTRL+C, and CTRL+V are not only not next to one another, C and V are typed with the right hand!

Which leads me back to keyboard shortcuts... which I'll talk about tomorrow.  Thank you Dr. Dvorak for your wacky wicked wonderful keyboard layout!