Dvorak is an alternative keyboard layout. Most systems(like 99% of systems) are configured in the Qwerty layout. But some people(like me) have opted for a better layout – Dvorak. Unfortunately, since most people use Qwerty, the support for Dvorak in most OSes/Window Managers leaves a lot to be desired. So I decided to do a comparison of how the major window manages supports Dvorak.
Note: I am biased towards KDE – keep that in mind while going through the article.
The most biggest problem faced by anyone who switches to the Dvorak layout is the shortcuts problem. Basically, most keyboard shortcuts are created with Qwerty users in mind. Think of the most commanly used shortcuts…
- Save – Ctrl+S
- Quit – Ctrl+Q
- Refresh – Ctrl+R
- Find – Ctrl+F
- Copy – Ctrl+C
- Paste – Ctrl+V
- Cut – Ctrl+X
- Undo – Ctrl+Z
All that can be done using the left hand in the Qwerty layout – very useful because the right hand might be on the mouse. Also, after a lot of use, these shortcuts becomes muscle memory – you will be pressing the keys without any searching.
But once you move over to Dvorak, these keys are scattered all over the keyboard – most of them needs both hands to press. But a bigger problem is muscle memory – you will be pressing the Qwerty position for the shortcuts even after you have switched over to Dvorak. For example, the ‘S’ key in Qwerty becomes the ‘O’ key in Dvorak – every time you try to save a file, you will be calling the open function. Very irritating.
In KDE you can solve this problem by remapping the shortcut keys. One great feature of KDE is that you can assign shortcuts to almost anything. And an alternative shortcut is available as well. So for, say, Copy, I have assigned the shortcut ‘Ctrl+C’ and ‘Ctrl+J'(‘C’ key becomes ‘J’ in Dvorak) – so the shortcuts work in Dvorak as well. This makes it easier to switch to Dvorak – but it will take some time to make all the configurations. Another method is to relearn all shortcuts in Dvorak mode – this is what I did eventually.
Gnome has a better way of doing this – all you have to do is add the Keyboard Indicator Panel widget. When you are in Dvorak mode and you press the left Ctrl key, it remaps the keyboard to Qwerty mode. So Ctrl+S stays as save in Dvorak mode as well. You will be typing in Dvorak – but when you press the Ctrl key to save, Gnome will remap your keys before you hit the ‘S’ key – calling the save function. That’s neat.
It might be a bit disorienting at first, but I think its a better approach than KDE.
- Gnome: 1
- KDE: 0
You need an easy method to switch layouts – especially if others use your system occasionally. One easy way to do is to click on the keyboard layout indicator on the panel. This is possible in both KDE and Gnome – if you add that widget to your panel.
In KDE I used to set the shortcuts Ctrl+Alt+L and Ctrl+Alt+P to switch the layouts(P becomes L when switching from Qwerty to Dvorak). But an easier way do this may be to set both Shift key as the switch shortcut. Go to System Settings > Regional & Language > Keyboard Layout > ‘Advanced’ tab. Then find the ‘Both Shift keys together switches layout’ option(under Layout Switching). Enable that. Now if you press both shift keys, you can toggle your layout.
You can do the same thing in Gnome. Go to System > Preferences > Keyboard > ‘Layout Options’ tab. Enable the ‘Both Shift keys together switches layout’ option under Layout Switching.
Actually you can set this option in the /etc/X11/xorg.conf file – just add the line
Option "XkbOptions" "grp:shift_toggle"
Section InputDevice" section.
Both KDE and Gnome gets a cookie.
- Gnome: 2
- KDE: 1
Its important to know which layout is activated – you can do this by pressing the ‘S’ key – if the outputted char is ‘S’ then its the qwerty layout. If it is ‘O’, then you have the Dvorak layout. But it is very helpful to have a visual indicator as well. Both KDE and Gnome provides this option.
Go to System Settings > Regional & Language > Keyboard Layout. Change label of the layouts to ‘Dvo’ and ‘Qwe’ – you can see the label appear in the indicator in the system bar.
You have to add the Keyboard Layout Indicator panel widget for this. Now when you switch between layouts, they are shown as USA and USA2. Not as good as what KDE does.
- Gnome: 2
- KDE: 2
Choose System > Lock Screen. The dialog that accepts the password don’t have a layout chooser. It shows the current layout – as USA – you have to guess wether it is Dvorak or Qwerty. The password entry will not help you – you cannot see the characters being entered. If you know Dvorak, you can get in by guessing. But if you don’t know Dvorak, you will not be able to get in even if you know the password.
In KDE, this dialog is much better – it shows the current layout – and also provides you an option to switch between them.
- Gnome: 2
- KDE: 3
Dvorak user here with a slight bias to GNOME. I have two notes on the article:
1. I’m on Ubuntu with Compiz right now and the lock screen does show the keyboard indicator. This might not be the case without the CompizFusion plug-ins through.
2. I tend to use the vanilla (default) Dvorak layout and never remap it. It is an accessibility thing. This way I just have to switch the layout on computers I’m guest to and don’t have to fiddle with settings too much. Works out quite good.
Anyway, interesting article.
I’ve been typing on Dvorak for almost two years and have never looked back. Unfortunately, I often have to use QWERTY on other people’s computers, so I’m “bi-keyboard”, which also extends shortcuts. At first I’d get confused when switching, but now I can jump from one layout to the other without much fuss. Dvorak is still far superior, without a doubt.
The tip about making CTRL switch the layout when pressed is a very good idea — I would use it, but I’ll have to see whether an equivalent can be set up on Mac, which I am obliged to use about 50% of the time.
All in all, I’d say both Gnome and KDE offer great support for Dvorak, so if you’re thinking about using it on Linux (or Mac or Windows), you’ll have no troubles at all.
In OSX since at least Tiger, you have the option to use Qwerty shortcuts when pressing the command key even if you are running Dvorak. In other words the shortcuts are in the old Qwerty position. I’d advice against it. Although the muscle memory is there, you’ll end up in a world of pain, especially if you use a wide gamut of shortcuts. It’s easier to remember the letter and to just touch type the shortcut in my opinion. Sure it takes a little while to adjust but you soon get used to it. For those that are desperate to keep the shortcuts on one hand, because you might want to use the mouse with the other, you could try using the alternative CTRL+INS, CTRL+DEL shortcuts for pasting and cutting. Or even swap the mouse to the left hand, which will balance out the keyboard better. I’m a Dvorak user and I actually find the Qwerty shortcuts pretty awkward, they feel too bunched up – though easier on a Mac keyboard. using both hands for the shortcuts feels easier to me.
Other layouts have a lot of the benefits of Dvorak without the issues of the scattering all of the left-hand control keys. Colemak is pretty good, it stresses leaving the common control keys together.
I made my own alternative keyboard layout called Minimak that moves even fewer. Only e and k switch hands.
Thanks for the article.