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Colemak Keyboard – Still Better Than Dvorak?


Image by vivified via Flickr

It’s four months since I began using the Colemak keyboard layout, what was supposedly better than either QWERTY (no contest there) as well as Dvorak, which was where the real question lay.

Well I’m still using Colemak. There have been some real positives I’ve experienced while using this keyboard, and still some questions and concerns I have about it. I’ll explain my experiences here, hopefully other people looking for reasons to switch from QWERTY to Dvorark, or from Dvorak to Colemak will find this useful.

It took me a while to move from Dvorak to Colemak, longer than it would have from QWERTY, which I found out to be really because of the switch from an alternating hand layout (typing left hand, right, left, right) to one that put less effort on alternating keys and more on these keyboard roles. What a pain they were to learn. Because that’s just it, while alternating hands isn’t something you have to learn to do efficiently (as long as you know the key placements) even if you know where the key roll keys are on Colemak, you still have to remember to key role them.

On Colemak you might spell the word “cars” (“casd” on QWERTY), but typing ‘ars’ is different than rolling it. After enough repetition and practice, it clicks in with the muscle memory and the roles do start to come naturally. But, I have sometimes made typos because those role came naturally to me and I made them when I shouldn’t have. This might be a fault of rolling versus alternating.

There are some words in Colemak which are horrendously lopsided in Colemak, and while they don’t happen often in Colemak, it’s hard to think of when they ever happen. Which makes me wonder if there aren’t some real advantages that Dvorak’s quality of having all of the vowels on the left side of the keyboard. Even if the entire layout isn’t optimized for alternating keystrokes, might not it work at least for vowels?

Also on the topic of balance, since we know that the right hand is generally stronger than the left, I really grew to like the fact that Dvorak moved the punctuation keys ( “,”,  “.”, and “/”), to the top row of the left hand, which makes sense given that it’s a less power hand.

The shifting of the backspace key to the Caps Lock key in Colemak is sheer genius. No questions about it. After you stop yourself from reaching for the Backspace key each time, it’s very easy to notice how much smoother and easier it is to delete characters with the Caps Lock key.

One of the non-keyboard layout issues I wasn’t sure was going to be an issue or not, was that Colemak wasn’t a default layout option on Windows machines. I’ve found though that the install process to get Colemak working on both XP and Vista were flawless, and in neither case did I have to more than install a single executable. On Linux though, even though Colemak is included as a layout option, the auto-repeat of the backspace key is disabled by default. Not a hard fix though, as their are other people who have discovered the same problem and provided good walkthroughs to fix it.

So clearly there were somethings about Dvorak I sound more appealing, and at the same time, Colemak has really helped me out in a lot of ways as well. One thing I wish I did do though, was during my transition period not take the cold turkey approach, because I’ve now lost basically all of my Dvorak abilities, which I could have easy avoided by taking a more balanced approach.

It’s also been hard to find a really good tool for measuring and comparing the effort involved with each layout, but by doing some googling you’ll find a lot of info out there that should leave you with the conclusion to give Colemak a serious try.

Go and try it out now at www.colemak.com

I’d love to hear your experiences of using Colemak, the things you’ve liked or disliked.


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