The Dvorak Keyboard Layout

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The Dvorak Keyboard Layout

Xah Lee, 2010-05-20

This page shows you what Dvorak keyboard layout is, its advantages, and my personal experience in using it since 1994.

The QWERTY Layout

qwerty keyboard layout

The QWERTY layout.

The keyboard layout on our keyboard is called QWERTY, because that's the letters showing on the top row. This layout was designed together with the invention of typewriter, by Christopher Latham Sholes, in 1874.

You might wonder why the letters are arrange that way, why not alphabetical? Originally, it was alphabetical. However, it was discovered that the keys would jam when people type too fast. So, the typewriter inventor re-arranged the letters, effectively slow down typing, so that typewriter wouldn't jam.

typewriter typebar jam

Early typewriter key jam.

The Dvorak Layout

In 1936, Dr August Dvorak and Dr William Dealey studied and invented the Dvorak layout, designed for efficient typing.

Dvorak keyboard layout

The Dvorak keyboard layout.

Here's some major features why it is much better:

  • Most frequently used letters are placed on the home row. So, you don't have to move fingers to type them.
  • All vows are on the home row of left hand. So, typing usually means alternating hands.
  • The top row has letters that are more often used than the bottom row, because moving fingers up is easier than moving them down.

Here's a comparison table:

Key stroke distribution

So, overall, touch typing on the Dvorak keyboard is more comfortable, less error, and faster.

How to Switch to Dvorak Layout


Here's how to switch your layout on Windows Vista. It should be similar for Windows 7 or Windows XP.

Press the Start key to open the Start Menu.

Click on Control Panel.

Click on “Clock, Language, and Region”.

Click on “Regional and Language Options”. A dialog window will pop up.

Regional and Language Options window

Regional and Language Options window

Click on the “Keyboards and Languages” tab.

Add Input Language window

Add Input Language window

Click the “Change keyboards...” button.

Click “Add...” button, then select “English‣Keyboard‣United States-Dvorak”.

Mac OS X

On Mac OS X, just go to the menu “Apple‣System Preferences...”, then click the “International”, then the Input Menu tab. Check box the “Dvorak” there.

Dvorak Mac OS X dialog

The “International” dialog.

Learn Touch-Type on Dvorak

There are several websites that teach touch-typing on Dvorak. Here's a few i recommend:

My Experiences with Dvorak

I learned touch-typing on a typewriter in about 1985. For some reason, i am fascinated by typewriter. (at the time, personal computers are not around) The first typewriter i had is one from the brand name Brother.

I started to use a computer in 1990, using the QWERTY keyboard. In ~1992, i worked for over a year at Graebel Van Lines, as a secretary with typing duties, including taking dictation from sales people or managers. My typing speed, is about 400 keystrokes perm minute (80 WPM) with about 99% accuracy, as tested on a typewriter in temp agencies back then.

In ~1994 i switched to Dvorak. It took me about a month to re-learn touch typing, and 2 months to become really fluent. My profession changed from secretary to programer, so i have not had any heavy typing needs as before. Due to lack of intensive typing needs, i recall that my typing speed have not reached my previous speed for many years. Though, one thing i noticed is that Dvorak is much more comfortable, with less typing errors. I recall this vividly, because occasionally i tried to type on QWERTY on other's keyboards or at library, the first thing that jumped to me was that my fingers has to do acrobatics.

When working as a unix system administrator starting in 1998, occasionally i have to type on other people's keyboards. So, i kinda picked up qwerty touch-typing a bit. But the speed is more or less 30 wpm, due to lack of practice or need. I've heard that some Dvorak users can touch type both Dvorak and QWERTY fast, but i just never needed to.


Some references and other interesting sites about typing:

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