Thoughts on web programming and the world of technology

April 28, 2017, reading time: 2 minutes

Should I finally drop QWERTY?

For years now, I have wanted to switch my keyboard layout from QWERTY to something more ergonomic. QWERTY was designed to prevent typewriters from jamming. Modern computers don’t have this problem. So, why are we still using QWERTY?

So, for me, it’s a given that I should switch to something else. But what? The Dvorak layout is the obvious choice. Most people who switch from QWERTY end up using Dvorak. Then there is Programmer Dvorak, and Colemak, and Programmer Colemak, and hosts of others.

There are websites that allow you analyze some text, and help you determine which layout is best for you. This is of limited utility because the text you past in won’t be representative of your actually habits.

Getting down to business

So, how can I hack this? I installed a keylogger on my laptop, and collected data for many days. Then, I wrote a little script to analyze the data. This is mostly because analysis websites won’t let you paste in more than a few kilobytes of text. The most basic measure of how good a keyboard layout is is the percentage of keystrokes that are on the home row. The idea is that if you have to move your fingers less, you will be faster, less tired, and experience less pain.

The script takes the output of the keylogger and gives you percentages of keystrokes that are on the home row for each layout. Here is what I got:

qwerty: 38.69149%
colemak: 35.601215%
dvorak-programmer: 34.441067%
dvorak: 34.441067%

Wait, what? QWERTY is the most optimal keyboard layout for me? That can’t be right. Surely, there must be a bug in my code somewhere. I went over everything several times, tested my functions with dummy data, and so on. Everything seems to be correct. You can head over to GitHub and prove me wrong.

I have been thinking about why I got this bizarre result. I think it’s because most of my regular typing isn’t necessarily writing prose. There is a lot of vim-style navigation (in Spacemacs, in the browser, etc), I use i3 as my window manager, … A lot of it is running commands, tab-completing things, keyboard shortcuts. Other layouts, like Colemak, are probably optimized for long-form writing. In those cases, it would probably win. But for programmer-centric typing, QWERTY is likely to be king because everything is optimized for it.

What do you think?