keyboards/RSI/switching costs (was Looking for a secondhand Datahand Pro II)

Chris Jack chris_jack at
Wed Oct 21 12:31:20 BST 2009

Jacqui wrote:
> James Laver wrote:
> > On 21 Oct 2009, at 01:24, Paul Makepeace wrote:
> >> PS for the real layout nerds, is a better choice
> >> than Dvorak if you're going to start from scratch
> > is worth a mention too. I got 
> > myself up to about one-quarter-speed on that last time I tried.
> OK I'll bite which is best for perl? :-)
> Or perhaps what would be the ideal tag layout for perl on a standard UK/US
> keyboard layout?

Before you switch keyboards, I think there is an important question about how often you are obliged to use a standard qwerty keyboard. I worked all over Europe for a bit using a large number of the European variations on qwerty (y and z switched for instance and punctuation in unusual places). I found the constant switching meant I was slower on all keyboards - but maybe it was worse because the keyboards were kind of the same. Maybe it's not such a problem if you switch between, say, qwerty and colemak.


However... My understanding is that, despite a lot of the top results on google for comparisons between dvorak and qwerty significantly favouring the latter, there is actually very little to choose between the two of them in terms of speed. This is a quote from


Liebowitz and Margolis have expanded their earlier discussion on the supposed 'network effect' of the two types of keyboard in their 1999 book, Winners, Losers & Microsoft (ISBN 0-945-99980-1 ). Chapter 2 is titled "The Fable of the Keys". In it, they refer to some ergonomic studies (pages 31 to 33) in which the theoretical performance benefit of Dvorak over QWERTY has been calculated. A study by A. Miller and J. C. Thomas concludes that "no alternative has shown a realistically significant advantage over the QWERTY for general purpose typing." R.F. Nickells, Jr, found that Dvorak was possibly 6.2 percent faster than QWERTY, while R. Kinkhead found a 2.3% advantage in favour of Dvorak. 


Ok - even taking the top number without question: 6.2% is obviously better, but, for me, it's not enough to overcome the switching/convenience problem - and also the problem of being able to find a top quality ergonomic keyboard. Can anyone point me towards a Goldtouch style keyboard for dvorak or colemak? It's basically got a ball and socket joint joining two halves of a split keyboard allowing you to control both yaw and roll. It also has the advantage of no numeric keypad - so there's significantly less travel between keyboard and mouse. I haven't had significant RSI since I started using it, and I was in significant pain pre-adoption.


I had been seeing an osteopath who pointed out that the natural position for the hand is in "shaking hands" position - so constantly rotating it flat (as for "normal" cheap flat keyboards) - and worse, then yawing it to point forward, places a lot of strain on your hands. He also got me to use a "shaking hands" position mouse. We're kind of switching into public service/health announcement territory here: but if anyone is interested, a good link to buy this sort of stuff is under Products->Accessories. I also use a specialist mouse wrist rest from Fellowes that moves with my wrist.


I would be very interested to know if there are any truly independent studies on colemak versus qwerty keyboards - but I would be surprised if the difference came out at more than 10%.


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