Ever looked at the bizarre arrangement of the keys on a standard keyboard and wondered why it has to take both hands and two stretches to type several of the most common words in the English language? Get tired of typing 'teh'? Fumbling for the stupid period and comma? Ever think "Man, there has got to be a better way..." ?

Well, a long time ago, a certain Dvorak invented a more logical ("better") way. He analyzed the frequencies of the various letters in English and studied the motion of the fingers in typing, eventually devising a layout that is more systematic. He also invented several one-handed layouts to assist the disabled or ambitious.

It seems logical, at first, that such an improved layout would improve your typing speed if you switched to it, rather than the fingers-flying, ring-finger-wasting QWERTY layout. However, this probably isn't the case. Studies conducted on speed differences between Dvorak typists and QWERTY typists haven't shown much of a speed increase, if any. This varies slightly among individuals. Some hopeless QWERTY typists have been saved from a life of pecking by learning Dvorak. But the major advantage of learning Dvorak that typing becomes more comfortable. The word "the" can be typed entirely on the home row, in a rolling finger movement from the right hand to the left. The right pinky sits on the 's' key rather than on the ';' key. The right index rests on the 'h' key, which is much more common than 'j' in English. Nice.

If this new typing system is so much better, then why isn't it widely used? Some people will answer that by the time Dvorak came along, the QWERTY layout was already so prolific that no one wanted to re-train all their typists to a new layout. In effect, the old layout was "locked in" because it had become a "standard". This analysis, though it seems to make sense, is wrong, just like all other attempts to explain the continued use of an apparently inferior product due to it being "standard". It is wrong because, generally speaking, people will not put up with inefficiency for long, especially where profit is concerned. Since typing plays a major role in modern business, and many hours of labor could be saved by a faster method of typing, we can conclude that the cost of retraining typists to use the Dvorak layout (which is significant) is higher than the savings a firm would gain.

Studies on the relative speeds of typists trained in either or both methods have been inconclusive, or have concluded that the gains in speed are very small.

My own experience learning the Dvorak layout has been typical. After about three weeks of typing in Dvorak for several hours per day, I can type about 60% as fast as I can with the usual layout. Further practice may lead to increases in performance. I find that typing in Dvorak "feels" better, though, and many typographical errors that plague me in the QWERTY layout vanish when I switch to Dvorak. I have not yet tried to apply the gains in accuracy to the speed ("adjusted WPM").

If you are interested in learning to type in the Dvorak layout, you should have two keyboards (or two computers). One keyboard should always be set to QWERTY and theotheralways set to Dvorak.I recommend against rearranging the keycaps, because the idea is to learn touch-typing anyways. The reason for having two keyboards is to help reinforce a Dvorak mindset when your fingers touch the keys. I learned by typing Dvorak on the iMac computers at school and QWERTY in all other places -- the totally different feel of the iMac keyboard helped to remind me to type Dvorak.

Switching keyboard layouts was not a problem for me, as it probably won't be for you, because I have learned the QWERTY method so well that it comes through without any real mental effort. Oddly, I do not usually find myself attempting to use QWERTY keystrokes while in Dvorak.

So, to sum up, typing in Dvorak is not necessarily faster, and the rest of the English-speaking countries already know this, regardless of what the "studies" have shown or have failed to show. And beware of attributing the people's choice of a product to ignorance or a "locked-in standard", because that's usually not the case. Remind yourself that if people can make more money choosing X over Y, they will usually do so.