Inspired by an article on how to reduce typing-induced RSI in my hands, I switched keyboard layouts to the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard. Designed to be more comfortable than the common QWERTY layout, the Dvorak layout encourages alternating hands when typing words and reduces the distance fingers have to travel.
More commonly typed letters are found where the fingers most naturally sit on the keyboard, the right hand does most of the work and the punctuation is kept over on the left, by the weaker hand for most people.
What I found really interesting about Dvorak is the way common keystrokes are designed to flow from the outside to the middle of the keyboard. It allows for a very natural hand movement similar to idly tapping on a table.
I made the change to Dvorak on my laptop because the keyboard I have for my desktop has curved keys that don’t lend themselves well to rearrangement. My laptop, an older Toshiba Satellite A135-S2276, has a keyboard that can be easily rearranged to Dvorak. I run Ubuntu Linux and changing the keyboard layout on the software side was no trouble at all. In GNOME, the layout dialog can be found in the System menu, under Preferences and Keyboard. Google will turn up instructions for other operating systems.
I’ve been touch-typing QWERTY for many years and there was a significant learning curve with Dvorak. After a week, however, I really could see how it would be more comfortable for typing long sentences. Typing emails was fine, but typing PHP code, something I spend most of my time doing, wasn’t as easy.
Writing code uses a lot of punctuation symbols and with all the punctuation keys in new positions, the flow I previously had while programming was gone. Mistyping and having to locate keys was damaging my productivity.
I found Dvorak difficult for programming because it was designed to making typing sentences easier. The punctuation keys I need to use often have been pushed off into awkward places to make way for letters, making the chances of reducing my risk of RSI little to none.
I switched back to QWERTY and have been happily touch-typing since. I like the idea of an alternative keyboard, and Dvorak might be an excellent choice for anybody writing a novel, but I’ve decided against it for programming.