OT: keyboard layouts

Henry Spencer henry-lqW1N6Cllo0sV2N9l4h3zg at public.gmane.org
Sat Dec 13 22:24:20 UTC 2003

On Sat, 13 Dec 2003, Taavi Burns wrote:
> > Mainly, the very high costs of conversion, including a lengthy period of
> > operating both...
> Agreed.  But at what point do the long-term benefits of that marginal
> improvement overcome the initial cost of switching?

Possibly never, if the long-term benefits are small, the assumptions they
rest on are uncertain (will we still be using keyboards at all in 100
years?), and current users would get little benefit in return for the pain.

We routinely live with *many* decisions that are known to be suboptimal
but for which it just isn't worth switching.  For example, there is
general agreement that a somewhat wider railroad gauge (spacing between
the two rails) would be superior... but it's not going to happen, given
how many railyards, bridges, tunnels, etc. would have to be rebuilt. 

Note that if a keyboard switch *was* undertaken, something like the
Maltron keyboard almost certainly would be the new keyboard of choice. 
Dvorak's only virtue, in comparison, is physical compatibility with
Qwerty, and physical compatibility isn't that important in such a major
change:  retraining costs totally dominate equipment costs, most keyboards
have a limited working life anyway, Maltron keyboards would not be
expensive if made in really large numbers, and if we're going through the
pain of switching, we should go all the way to the optimal solution rather
than settling for a halfway point.  Almost all the "we should switch"
arguments also support "switch to Maltron, not Dvorak". 

> > You might perhaps be able to come up with a vaguely Maltron-ish remapping
> > of the standard layout.  The thumb areas would be tricky.
> It's still a qwerty, though.  I don't see how a logical remapping of
> a standard keyboard to some approximation of that would be of any use.

If it's of no use, then Dvorak is of no use.  The Maltron key layout was
designed with far more complete knowledge of typing ergonomics etc. than
the Dvorak layout; if you could shoehorn some approximation of it into a
Qwerty-based physical layout (which I'm unsure of), the result is quite
likely to be better than Dvorak. 

> > The cost of conversion, however, suggests that at most one switchover is
> > acceptable.
> You're saying that no switchover (to Dvoark) is acceptable.  How much
> better does something have to be for it to be worth it?

Preferably a factor of ten.  It has to be at least a factor of two to get
people excited.  10% just isn't enough when there are major compatibility

> The beautiful thing about the Dvorak is that you DON'T need to go out
> and buy anything special.  Windows can be configured to switch between
> qwerty and Dvorak using ALT-LEFTSHIFT.  Does it get any simpler than that?

That's not "simple", not if you have to configure every machine in a
company to do that.  There's a big difference between what's reasonable
for an organized conversion campaign, and what's reasonable for one person
with unusual needs/preferences. 

                                                          Henry Spencer
                                                       henry-lqW1N6Cllo0sV2N9l4h3zg at public.gmane.org

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