The Wild, Wonderful Dvorak Keyboard

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

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
.  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!

Comments (28)
  1. joe says:

    Do you write code with the Dvorak keyboard? If so, do you still find the benefit to be as great? I wonder if anyone has ever restudied the key relationships in relation to how keyboards are used with computers in general versus just in relation to the english language. I wonder if the key layout would change.

  2. Mike Swaim says:

    Aaaahhhh!!! It’s another split keyboard. I type with my left hand and right thumb/pinky. (My other fingers are effectively nonexistant.) I’ve had to occasionally use MS "Natural" keyboards, and it went badly. Guess I’ll give DvortyBoards a pass, too.

  3. Aldo says:

    I don’t mean to rain on your parade, but there are dissenting opinions about the history and benefits of the DVORAK keyboard. I encourage you to read "The Fable of the Keys" (linked below) which was published in the Journal of Law and Economics. In the least, it’s something to think about:

  4. Ron McMahon says:

    It is ironic that a company like Microsoft, which manufactures keyboards, hasn’t pushed ‘innovation’ to the point of something so simple as a Querty/Dvorak switch. It is rather trivial to do at the hardware level and therefore avoid any inoperable situations like BIOS work. Such a key doesn’t have to crowd out any of the other custom keys. Why not place it on the underside of the keyboard or on the front vertical area facing the monitor? Just so you know, the Microsoft Office Keyboard (RIP) was the only keyboard in 20 years that has been able to swoon me away from my trusty IBM 5150-era click-top keyboard.

  5. Dennis Jackson says:

    I sent this to my friend Cameron who is Dvorak Devotee.. this was his response..

    I love Dvorak. I’ve used it for a while now. At first I found it difficult to switch back and forth between Dvorak on my desktop and QWERTY in the server room, etc. But I’ve found that eased with time. Currently my laptop is QWERTY and work desktop and boxen at home are Dvorak.

    > 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!

    One thing I really appreciate about Mac OS X is the Dvorak-QWERTY keymap. It is Dvorak for most things, but switches back to QWERTY automagically when any metakey is pressed (such as Command). This keeps all the copy/paste stuff together. The major exception to this is, interestingly, MS Office Mac, which for some reason refuses to switch back and forth. They use totally non-standard keyboard shortcuts, differing from both the Windows-based office suite as well as standard Apple shortcuts. I hate Office Mac. Here’s hoping 2.0 works well in OS X so that Office 12 becomes irrelevant. 🙂

    I personally don’t believe any of the myth surrounding the origins of the QWERTY keyboard intending to slow the hammers down nor that Dvorak is really significantly faster today. I learned it purely for the geek factor as a conversation piece in geek social settings. I will say that I feel my fingers have to do less travelling during normal typing, and I find Dvorak *much* better suited to HTML-style coding with lots of <TAG>s.

    — Cameron

  6. James Schend says:

    Apple puts a keyboard mode in OS X called "Dvorak (Qwerty shortcuts)" which does pretty much exactly what it says… the keyboard is Dvorak except when the Command key is pressed, so that the keyboard shortcuts are still Qwerty.

    I typed Dvorak for a few months, but to be honest, I really didn’t notice any difference between the two. I haven’t seen any studies about typing recently, it would be nice if somebody would come up with a well-controlled experiment to tell us if there really was an advantage to Dvorak and, if so, if the advantage is for everybody or just certain people. Like I said, I didn’t notice a difference in speed or stress whatsoever.

  7. Damien Guard says:

    Windows ships with a couple of Dvorak keymaps that will make any QWERTY keyboard behave as if it were Dvorak.

    If your keyboard allows the key tops to be pulled off and moved around (like my Apple Pro keyboard) then that’s all you need.


  8. Fox Cutter says:

    I’ve been using Dvorak for a couple of years now, and it’s been a benefit in both the short and the long run. Yes I ever write code with Dvorak and it works just as well.

    I don’t have a hardware keyboard, when I switched no one sold split Dvorak KBs anymore, so I had to relabeled. Luckily my boss had no problem with letting me do the switch.

    For me the keyboard is an important thing, I type a lot more then most people normally do so the stress gets to me. I don’t know if it’s faster. I think it is, but that’s an anecdote and as we all know the plural of anecdote is not data.

    Lastly, a rebuttal to the "The Fable of the Keys"

  9. jensenh says:


    Yep, there are people who defend qwerty as well. It’s fine, I’m not zealous about it. That’s why I kept the article light-hearted. 😉

  10. jensenh says:


    I do write code, and the placement of the curly braces is one of the things that I hate (but have gotten used to.) I think you’re right that if you had a keyboard designed for, say C the same way Dvorak was designed for English, it would be interesting.

  11. jensenh says:


    I would love a hard-switchable split keyboard. But there’s no market for it… if one specialty store in the whole world couldn’t make money on one keyboard, there’s no way Microsoft would go into it. (Not that I know the hardware people at all… and if they’re reading, start by getting rid of the F Lock thing so that I can use F keys and PrintScreen at the same time and then tackle the hard code switch.)


    There are some hardwire Dvorak non-split keyboards. I can’t type on a non-split anymore though, I hate it. TypeMatrix makes a hardwired Dvorak keyboard that has a very compact, strange design. I haven’t tried it, it doesn’t look as if it would work that well for large fingers.

  12. jensenh says:

    The Dvorak (QWERTY Shortcuts) keymap sounds great. I wish I found that back when I was working on shipping Mac software and spent 99% of my time on the Mac. I wish Windows had something like that…

  13. John C. Kirk says:

    I’m all in favour of Dvorak – I had a similar experience, where it was incredibly frustrating for the first couple of weeks, then wound up being much better. As for hardware, I keep my keyboard labelled as QWERTY (in case other people need to use it), and just touch type the Dvorak layout (I do this when coding too).

    As others have said, shortcut keys are a slight problem. The main irritation is when I’m filling out a form in IE (like this one), go to paste something in, and hit Ctrl-W (close) rather than Ctrl-V (paste), at which point the comment I spent 15 minutes on just vanishes. I don’t think I’d want the letter keys to move around, but I could get used to a different set of shortcuts, e.g. Ctrl+J/K/X.

  14. Step says:

    What a cool, grounded post. I’ve been considering (planning even) to try the switch to Dvorak. Originally scheduled for last Christmas season, I wonder how much it will interrupt my work if I switch now. Thanks for letting us know that’s how you type – I’m interested to know how this plays into Office 12’s keyboard shortcuts! 🙂

  15. Jonathan says:

    I’m one of the Office 12 developers (I work on the Access team), and I’ve been reading your blog with interest. It warms my heart to know that one of the guys behind the new O12 UI is a fellow Dvorak typist.

    I use Dvorak to write code, and though I’d agree that it offers no serious advantage over Qwerty in that domain, I think that the issue is a red herring. I’m a developer, so I write a lot of code, but when I think about all the things I type over the course of the day at work, much less than half of them are actual program source code. E-mail, source code comments, specs and documentation, messaging co-workers, etc.–I’d wager there are very few programmers who actually write more code than English. Why optimize for the minority case? Besides, the bottleneck for programmers is generally thinking speed, not typing speed (whereas many people can think English sentences faster than they can type them).

    For the curious, there’s a layout called Programmer Dvorak that attempts to make programming more comfortable without sacrificing English efficiency, but I’ve never tried it, for the reasons above and because it’s nowhere near as available as Dvorak.

  16. jensenh says:

    A kindered Dvorak spirit in Access! Nice to know there’s at least a few of us in the building using Dvorak.

    I suspect you’re right about the English vs. code ratio, even at Microsoft.

  17. Jim H. says:

    There’s an interesting new layout called Asetion which is supposed to be easier to learn than Dvorak, and Ctrl-C/V/X still work.

  18. BlueJay says:

    I’ve used the Dvorak keyboard for over fifteen years! I’m a fellow UI/UX enthusiast/professional, and I do lots of programming in C#.

    I switched when I was in college for all the same reasons and found the same benefits. I was a really fast QWERTY typist, and it was a tough transition to go s-l-o-w in DVORAK for a while. After changing to DVORAK I’m a much faster typist, and without the strain. I use the MS Natural keyboard for even more comfortable typing.

    I’ve never regretted the change, although anyone who tries to use my computer is really confused. I’ve always used software-based Dvorak — even from my days in DOS. I tried popping the keys on my laptop years ago, but yeesh that got confusing — I never look at the keyboard anyway, and it was strange to look at the keyboard with the letters all out of place. I think of it the same way as speaking another language like Spanish or French…

    Windows makes it easy to switch between QWERTY and DVORAK. The default switch is the left ALT-Shift combination — but that kept getting switched in MS Word when I would be moving things around in outlines or general text with ALT-Shift-arrow combos. So I changed the settings to CTRL-Shift 1 for QWERTY and CTRL-Shift-2 for DVORAK. That was much easier for my wife to remember — I don’t hear "Who’s been using my computer?" anymore… 🙂

    I figured someone at Microsoft must have been a fellow DVORAK typist since I’ve seen improvements over they years in the way Windows supports it. Great to hear a fellow UI/UX person is a crazy mixed up typist too!

  19. Chris Morris says:

    When I switched to Dvorak, I wanted to learn to touch-type it on any QWERTY board. I tried the labels thing, but my fingers were naturally always in the way of the labels and it was a pain. Plus the toggler in Windows itself (which since then I think has improved) stunk.

    I wrote a free tray utility that’ll toggle the layouts for you and comes with an optional stay-on-top window showing the current layout, so you can keep your eyes up and remind yourself where the Dvorak keys are.

    You can grab it here:

  20. Max Palmer says:

    I am a fellow programmer who made the switch to DVORAK a couple of years ago and much prefer it. Like Jesen, I did the switch because of typing strain and felt I had to do something. However, at the same time I changed layout I switched to a touchstream zero-force keyboard (sadly no longer made), and attempted to learn to touch type – difficult when there are no physical keys!

    I really love this keyboard and would find it very difficult to go back to a normal one full time. It has some excellent additional features, such as gesture sets and a mode for easily accessing programming characters. I wouldn’t say I’m any faster than I was at typing, but that has probably has much to do with the switch to the touchstream as the switch to DVORAK. I also still make quite a few mistakes and need to look at the keys reasonably frequently (so not quite fully touch typing).

    The main problem I have is with the DVORAK l, (same as QWERTY p). Interestingly, Fingerworks were looking at an improved layout called QWERAK – not tried it myself though.

  21. Karan Mavai says:

    Jensen, thanks for the great blog. I found this post interesting as I’ve been considering using DVORAK lately.

    Something you may all find interesting is "Das Keyboard". I’ve never used it, but I’ve seen a lot of posts and comments made about it in other keyboard discussions. It’s totally blank so you are forced to learn touch typing really well. 🙂 The reviews I’ve seen give that and the weighted keys as being the top benefits of using it. If anyone uses it, please drop a line about how you like it as I’m thinking about ordering one (I just wish they had Natural too!).

    Check it out at

  22. jensenh says:

    Oh man, this is the first I heard of Asetion. I want to try that out now!

  23. ericgu says:

    Reason magazine did an article on this subject in the mid-90s. Here it is:

  24. gregger says:

    Hi there,

    I’m testing Office 12 and also using a Dvorak keyboard. I hau to file a bug recently for Word because when I make a comment in a document in Outline Mode, and then switch back to the main outline of the document, my keyboard maps switches back to QWERTY. You can find it in the Word bugs.

    For those wondering about switching keyboard maps, you can configure Windows with a hotkey to toggle between keyboard maps. I have to be fluent in both QWERTY and Dvorak, amd I’m not going to change my Tablet’s keyboard…

    So my hotkeys are Alt+Shift+1 and Alt+Shift+2. This works pretty well, but the only complaint I have is that I have to do it in each appliaction I start… and what’s worse, each Communicator IM session I start (I guess each conversation is its own process?).


  25. gregger says:

    Oh… I almost forgot about the Copy/Paste problem:

    There are alternatives to the CTRL-C/V/X keys and I find them easier to use in Dvorak land. They date back (at least to where I learned them) to somewhere near OS/2.

    CTRL-Insert for Copy

    Shift-Insert for Paste

    Shift-Delete for Cut

    Since I do a lot of keyboard shortcuts like:

    CTRL-End, CTLR-Shift-<cursor keys> to select words and to generally move around a document, these keys are great because I’m already in the neighborhood.


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