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Why Dvorak? Comfort

One of the big advantages of typing in the Dvorak layout is the comfort that comes with it. It is estimated that you spend nearly 70% of your time typing on the home row, with only 30% of your time stretching for letters off of the home row. If that's the case, then I should be able to type a great deal of words on the home row itself. Let's see if that's the case. Counting the number of words that I have on my Debian system, I get the following:

aaron@kratos:~$ wc -l /usr/share/dict/words

Out of those 98,569 words, how many can be typed with the home row on QWERTY? I need to search through that file using regular expressions. For that, I have the powerful grep and egrep utilities. I am using the egrep tool, passing -c to keep a count for me, and -i to ignore case sensitivity. Let's take a look:

aaron@kratos:~$ egrep -ci ^[asdfghjkl\;\']+$ /usr/share/dict/words

Out of 98-thousand words, I can only type 233 using just the home row on QWERTY?!? That blows! Let's see how that would compare to the Dvorak layout:

aaron@kratos:~$ egrep -ci ^[aoeuidhtns-]+$ /usr/share/dict/words

That's a lot better! Nearly 10x the amount of words are available typing on just the home row using Dvorak than with QWERTY! I can already see how much more enjoyable my typing class in school would have been.

{ 20 } Comments

  1. Robert Barnes | December 6, 2007 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Is there a way to display a list of the possible words? I'd like to see how many 'useful' words can be produced using 'asdfghjkl'...

  2. Asa | December 6, 2007 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Just remove the c from the command.
    egrep -i ^[asdfghjkl\;\']+$ /usr/share/dict/words

  3. Paul Fee | December 6, 2007 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Yes, simply omit the -c flag, e.g.

    egrep -i ^[aoeuidhtns-]+$ /usr/share/dict/words

    The QWERTY words aren't very interesting, however there are lots of useful entries in the Dvorak search.

    A good experiment, thanks Aaron.

  4. Jonathan Lozinski | December 6, 2007 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Paul Fee

    The QWERTY words aren’t very interesting...

    I'm from Alaska you insensitive clod.😉

  5. gus | December 6, 2007 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Hmm it dosent make sense, just open the file and you will see, the values are too low for me, in the other hand something like this makes more sense for me,

    gus@theripper:~$ egrep -ci "(a|s|d|f|g|h|j|k|l|\;)+" /usr/share/dict/words
    gus@theripper:~$ egrep -ci "(a|o|e|u|i|d|h|t|n|s\-)+" /usr/share/dict/words

  6. Asa | December 6, 2007 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    those commands just pull a list of words that contain letters from the home row. if you add --color to your command and remove the c flag you can see what you're actually matching.

  7. Wolfger | December 6, 2007 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    So what's the easiest way for somebody to change their Qwerty to a Dvorak in a non-permanent way, to try it out? And will trying it out totally ruin my at-work typing skills?

  8. John Doe | December 6, 2007 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    @gus: the problem is that you are missing the "^", "$" and "'" symbols.
    The expression would be like this: ^(a|s|d|f|g|h|j|k|l|\;|')+$

  9. bob | December 6, 2007 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    I'm not sure if it really makes sense.. :p

    the row you are using doesnt really show anything
    e.g. on my azerty keyboard here are the most accessible keys:


    but the row would be

    however the middle keys of that row are not very accessible and i need to extend my fingers to type them.

    well the azerty keyboard is actually a lil better designer than qwerty anyway ;p

    I tried dvorak for a while and the benefit wasnt worth it, especially when every other keyboard you are using are not dvorak, thus u need to change the mapping etc (and to know the keys by hearth of course - i'm typing on an italian keyboard all day with azerty mapping without any trouble tho.)

  10. Trey | December 6, 2007 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Do have a blog posting explaining what you did to switch to Dvorak? What keyboard are you using? If you are using a standard keyboard, did you change the keys around?

  11. Henrik Pauli / Ralesk | December 6, 2007 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Ah, Dvorak — for me the comfort comes from QWERTY: the comfort of the muscle memory, the comfort of things like Ctrl+[ZXCVQWAS] being where they belong (without having to fiddle around, which is, of course, very easy in KDE; though still would be a nuisance), the comfort of the programmers’ keys being in easy-to-reach places (except, say, # and $, which I never manage to hit on the first try — and I’m a Perlist. :P).

    So, yeah… QWERTY is quite comfortable 😉

  12. Jake | December 6, 2007 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    The good thing about the QWERTY keyboard is that the keyboard commands are where they need to be. For instance, Ctrl+X/C/V aren't as useful scattered about the keyboard.

  13. Alessandro Delgado | December 6, 2007 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    Apparently, my BR-Nativo keyboard, which is supposedly the best to write Brazillian Portuguese, and is the keymap I use, can write more words with the home row than the US Dvorak!

    elros@blackpearl:~$ wc -l /usr/share/dict/words
    98569 /usr/share/dict/words

    elros@blackpearl:~$ egrep -ci ^[aoeuidhtns-]+$ /usr/share/dict/words

    elros@blackpearl:~$ egrep -ci ^[ieaoumdsrn]+$ /usr/share/dict/words

    I'm doing something wrong, ain't I? I mean, I gotta be! ;D, or else this is very weird!

    By the way, to the Brazillian readers, it's important to notice that you can make on of these by just swiching the keys!


    (In pt-br)

  14. Ukubuntu | December 7, 2007 at 2:05 am | Permalink

    Very interesting Aaron. I have qwerty on desktop and dvorak on laptop. The most irritating issues I find are that initial login screen is in qwerty before changing to dvorak after login. That may just be an xorg.conf thing, not sure.

    Secondly copy and paste shortcuts are not easy as C and V are well away from the ctrl key and mak it a two handed operation

    Still the last laugh is that no one borrows my laptop for long 😀

  15. Fintan | December 7, 2007 at 3:59 am | Permalink

    I tried switching to dvorak... but gave up after a few days... I did really try!! 🙁

  16. Ben2K | December 7, 2007 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    The Dvorak keyboard is great! I doubled my typing speed when using one. Unfortunately, having to switch between multiple keyboards on various systems in the course of a day, only one of which was Dvorak, was driving me nuts. Sadly conformity won 🙁

  17. Aaron | December 8, 2007 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    Wow! What great feedback! Let's see if I can address the majority of these comments:

    @Robert Barnes- As mentioned, just remove the -c to keep from counting the results, passing just -i instead.

    @Paul Fee- Not a problem. Glad to be of service. 🙂

    @gus- As mentioned, use ^ and $ to place the pattern match between the beginning and end of each word.

    @Wolfger- That depends on your operating system. If you're running Ubuntu, so 'setxbkmap dvorak' will get you temporarily into the Dvorak layout, while 'setxkbmap us' will put you temporarily in QWERTY. Running Windows XP, I don't know off of the top of my head, but it's where you would change languages and regional settings I would imagine.

    @bob- The azerty keyboard is a whole different beast, but not much different from QWERTY, I would expect. I should test...


    @Henrik Pauli / Ralesk- You're referring to muscle memory. That's the whole point of learning a new layout- retraining muscle memory. As far as the statement "where they belong" referring to cut, copy, paste, undo, etc, that is merely opinion.

    @Jake- Ctrl-Insert, Shift-Insert and Shift-Delete are all you ever need, regardless of layout.

    @Alessandro Delgado- Dvorak is not the *most* optimal layout. I'm more than sure that others can be/have been designed. What is worth noting, is Dvorak is supported by all operating systems, and definitely superior to the broken QWERTY layout.

    @Ukubuntu- Yeah, you need to change it in X with dpkg actually, if you want it system-wide. Also, see my comment directed to Jake.

    @Fintan- Keep at it! You'll only get better through practice, not giving up. 🙂

  18. JODEO | December 8, 2007 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    Read more here.

  19. Aaron | December 8, 2007 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    @JODEO- And don't forget Great PDF covering it's history, advantages and more.

  20. Ed Hou | April 26, 2008 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    I use Dvorak, and I have a simple solution for the shortcut keys. I just set the left Windows key to change layout when pressed; then Ctrl-Z is just Ctrl+Windows+Z. This is in the gnome keyboard options, but I'm sure it would be possible in KDE as well.

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  1. [...] de vos avis, chers lecteurs. Bien qu’il est généralement reconnu que le Dvorak est plus confortable et plus rapide d’utilisation, il est évidemment notoire que très peu de gens, spécialement [...]

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