OT: keyboard layouts

Henry Spencer henry-lqW1N6Cllo0sV2N9l4h3zg at public.gmane.org
Sat Dec 13 06:03:05 UTC 2003

On Sat, 13 Dec 2003, Anton Markov wrote:
> I think the best test for Dvorak vs. Qwerty would be to have two people 
> who have never used a keyboard (yes, there are such people) of about the 
> same age, background, command of the english language, etc. to learn 
> touch-typing (in say 1 month) and have periodic speed contests 
> throughout the period.  That would be a real un-bias (if there is such a 
> thing) test.

More or less this test was done, with careful controls, in the 1950s by
the US government's General Services Administration.  They retrained
existing typists rather than picking keyboard-naive people, but they were
careful to keep it an equal competition -- for example, when the Dvorak
typists got up to their previous speed level, all further training they
got was matched by extra training for the non-retrained Qwerty control
group.  (Training and practice will improve typing speed, so you have to
make sure both groups get similar levels of it.  And you have to control
carefully for individual differences in ability, which is one reason why
it's convenient to choose people whose performance as typists is already
somewhat calibrated.  This test was generally much more carefully and
fairly run than Dvorak's badly-slanted tests.)

The Dvorak typists never did substantially better than the Qwerty group.

That test largely ended interest in the Dvorak layout.

Similar tests, on a smaller scale, have been done by modern ergonomics
researchers.  Same uninspiring results -- at most, a small advantage.

Folks, this is not some unexplored mystery; such careful, fair trials have
been done a number of times in the last 50 years.  The only reason the
issue keeps coming up is that True Believers in the Dvorak layout insist
that all those negative results must be wrong.

By the way, although the early typewriter layouts were not done with the
benefit of modern human-factors knowledge, there *were* quite a variety of
them -- Qwerty was far from the only choice -- and organized speed
competitions were common and got serious attention from customers.  One
reason why Qwerty survived is that it consistently did fairly well in
those.  It *is* a reasonably good layout, if far from perfect.

> Any other keyboard layouts out there?

The Maltron keyboard really is what the Dvorak keyboard pretends to be --
a new keyboard layout designed for electronic keyboards and based on
modern ergonomics.  It is, alas, hard to find and expensive; it's mostly
marketed to people with RSI and similar medical problems. 

                                                          Henry Spencer
                                                       henry-lqW1N6Cllo0sV2N9l4h3zg at public.gmane.org

The Toronto Linux Users Group.      Meetings: http://tlug.ss.org
TLUG requests: Linux topics, No HTML, wrap text below 80 columns
How to UNSUBSCRIBE: http://tlug.ss.org/subscribe.shtml

More information about the Legacy mailing list