Five Reasons to Switch Keyboard Layouts

My New Layout
My Old Layout (QGMLWY)

I used to be unaware  that there were other English keyboard layouts that people used. But two years ago, I ran into an article about the Dvorak keyboard layout.

I switched my layout and started learning it. I enjoyed it, but my appetite was whetted. I researched other layouts, and I switched to the Colemak layout. Then, my restlessness got the best of me, and I switched to an optimized layout from the Carpalx site. (I switched to their “QGMLWY” layout, to be specific. Those are the first six letters from the left on the top row of the keyboard. It’s a shorthand way of referring to keyboard layouts.)

I used the QGMLWJ layout for almost two years. I liked it, but I didn’t like the rarity of it. If I want to use it on a computer, I had to generate a customized keyboard layout file and load it. t recently decided to return to the Colemak layout. It comes as a standard option in most Macs and Windows computers. Switching to the Colemak layout is as easy as going to the System Preference or Control Panel and changing layouts.

Colemak Keyboard Layout
My Current Layout (Colemak)

The new layouts are designed to make typing more comfortable, more ergonomical, and faster. But is that enough to justify changing? I thought I would write a short post to give a few reasons to switch.

  1. Geekiness. Okay…this is the main reason to switch to an optimized keyboard layout. There is a geeky interest in increased productivity, as the endless number of personal productivity blogs shows. And the promise of increased productivity is too much of a lure to pass up. Plus, there is just something about learning and using a keyboard layout of which no one has ever heard.
  2. Ergonomical benefits. Alternative layouts reduce the amount your fingers have to move when typing. Some people with carpal tunnel syndrome claim that their symptoms have been reduced by switching to a different keyboard layout. Some websites will calculate the distance your fingers travel when typing. They show you how much less your fingers will move typing the same texts with different layouts. (See this site, for example.) My experience is that typing in an alternative, optimized keyboard is more comfortable that the traditional QWERTY layout.
  3. Computer security. If you change your keyboard layout, almost no one will be able to use your computer easily. (This is especially true if you do not relabel your keys with the appropriate letters. In this case, looking at the keyboard is no help.) This adds an added level of security to your computer. This played no role in my decision to change keyboard layouts, but it seems to be a factor for some of the people I’ve read about online. If you want to keep people from using your computer without your permission, you might try this, though password protection seems to be a better option.
  4. Faster typing. If typing effort is reduced with an alternative layout, then you should be able to type faster. But if you’re proficient with the standard QWERTY layout, then it will take you a while to reach those speeds again. I typed around 80 WPM (Words Per Minute) on the standard QWERTY layout, and after a week of practice I reached 40 WPM on the new layout. So I initially slowed down a lot, which was frustrating. But everyday is noticeably better. Whenever I switch to a new layout, I reach my old speed of 80 WPM within a month or two.
  5. To challenge your mind. Whenever I see articles telling the elderly how to avoid the loss of cognitive abilities as they age, they always said that you should learn a new skill. This certainly counts. Learning a new keyboard layout is a challenge and mentally straining. I suppose it would be helpful in keeping your mind sharp.

I know that few of you are even remotely interested in changing your layout. That’s fine. QWERTY is sufficient, as its widespread usage shows. That doesn’t mean, though, that a few eccentric people shouldn’t toy around with new layouts. And who knows, maybe a few of you are eccentric enough to try a different layout.

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