Dvorak Keyboard Layout Makes Comeback 60 Years Later Computer Age Is Catapulting a Speedier Typing Method to Compete with Mainstream 'QWERTY'

Article excerpt

DO you know why typing seems awkward and slow, even after you've left the hunt-and-peck method behind?

The answer is "QWERTY."

For the uninitiated, the name comes from the six letters that begin the top left row of today's standard keyboard. Unfortunately, the QWERTY keyboard was designed to be just as confounding as it sounds.

Developed in the days of the manual typewriter - invented in 1867 by Christopher Latham Sholes - the keys were specifically laid out to slow down typing so the machine could keep up.

But the computer age is catapulting a keyboard layout with its own quirky name into the spotlight - the Dvorak.

Developed by August Dvorak and William Dealey at the University of Washington at Seattle, the Dvorak layout actually debuted in the 1930s.

A statistics professor, Mr. Dvorak found that by placing the vowels on the left-hand side of the "home" (middle) row and the most-used consonants on the right-hand side, the typist can frequently alternate keystrokes between hands. With QWERTY, many words must be typed with one hand only.

But, like most traditions, the QWERTY habit was hard to break. And no one wanted to shell out more money to buy a new manual typewriter with a different layout.

A keyboard revolution

But Dvorak converts say the time may now be ripe for a keyboard revolution.

The reason: Typing is increasingly done on computers with keyboards that can be switched from QWERTY to Dvorak at the click of a mouse or the push of a button. So there is no cost, and QWERTYites can still use the machine.

"I think it has a shot at being mainstream," says Randy Cassingham, author of "The Dvorak Keyboard" (Freelance Communications, 1986). The Pasadena, Calif., resident says he saw his speed jump from 55 words a minute to more than 100 after switching from QWERTY to Dvorak.

According to keyboard experts, about 70 percent of a user's keystrokes are made on the home row with Dvorak versus 32 percent with QWERTY.

Currently, less than 1 percent of typists use the Dvorak, according to Steve Ingram, who heads Dvorak International, an association of users based in Poultney, Vt. …