Dvorak Keyboard Layout
The benefits and drawbacks of a more efficient layout
Amazingly, many people don't realize that the Qwerty keyboard layout is not the only choice available. There are other options out there and "Dvorak" is the favorite.
Invented by Dr. August Dvorak in 1936, the Dvorak keyboard layout improves typing efficiency by putting the most commonly used keys on the home row and placing less frequently used keys in harder to reach positions. For a great example of this, head on over to the Dvorak Zine's Typing Analyzer and try it out yourself, or try out our own Dvorak vs. Qwerty page. This page is meant as a "how to," so check out Wikipedia for more fun Dvorak history if you're interested.
Why Should You Use Dvorak?
- For greater efficiency.
- You're a speed freak; you like to type fast.
- It bothers you that Qwerty became the standard.
- It's easy to switch any modern operating system to use Dvorak without physically changing the keyboard.
- To be different; you are a Mac user, aren't you?
- To amaze and astonish your friends.
- You like to support the underdog.
- For fun; you like challenges.
- Just because!
Why Shouldn't You Use Dvorak?
- It's not a widely adopted standard.
- You'll find it harder to type on Qwerty only keyboards such as those fixed on some portable devices like cell phones or other hardware.
- It takes a while to become efficient with it.
- Some applications have small issues with Dvorak - usually key shortcuts.
- Everyone will know what a geek you are!
Changing your Mac to Dvorak in Software
These instructions apply to Mac OS X version 10.4 a.k.a. "Tiger"
Earlier versions (and likely later versions) of Mac OS X are similar; you can also change layouts in Mac OS 9 via the Keyboard control panel.
Open your System Preferences under the Apple menu and click on International. Click on the Input Menu tab, scroll down, and put a check mark next to Dvorak. You may also want to try Dvorak - Qwerty which uses Dvorak for typing but Qwerty for keyboard shortcuts like ⌘ (command) A. This can be handy if you've memorized common command combinations like ⌘X,C,V (for cut, copy, paste), etc by location on your keyboard, however, in the long run it's easier to use Dvorak for key shortcuts as well.
Make sure to choose the Use one input source in all documents option which is off by default. If you don't do this, each application tracks separately whether you're using Dvorak or Qwerty which can be very confusing! Of course, if you really want to use separate sources in each application, go right ahead - you've been warned!
It is also highly recommended that you check the Show input menu in menu bar option which provides an easy way to flip back and forth between Dvorak and Qwerty. Note that a keyboard shortcut for switching between layouts can also be selected if you like.
If you share your computer with multiple people you'll run into an issue entering your login name and password with the correct layout. To fix this, open the Accounts pane of your System Preferences and check the "Show input menu in login window" box. This will allow the person logging in to select the desired keyboard layout from the login window.
Learning the Dvorak Layout
If you just want to play with the Dvorak layout a bit to see if you like it, try ABCD: A Basic Course in Dvorak which has free online typing drills.
For a more comprehensive learning solution, try Master Key which is a shareware typing tutor program for Mac OS X and Windows. The graphic to the left indicates the author's words per minute (WPM) over nearly a year while learning the Dvorak layout.
Modifying a PowerBook G4 or MacBook Pro Keyboard for Dvorak Entry
Probably works on iBook or MacBook although not guaranteed
Most keyboards can be easily modified to show the Dvorak layout by popping off the keys and re-arranging them. This is known to work on 15" Apple PowerBook G4 titanium and aluminum models, MacBook Pros, and probably also works on iBooks. The cheaper MacBooks have a very different looking keyboard and may be more difficult to modify. However, according to this story, at least one person has had success.
Regular Apple desktop keyboards are even easier to rearrange; just use a paperclip to pop off the existing keys and reposition them.
Modify your keyboard at your own risk! Be especially careful with recent Apple laptops since the keyboards no longer detach easily like they did with the titanium and earlier models; if you break it, you'll probably have to send your computer in for repair. Note also that this modification may void your warranty.
The "Caps Off Keycap Removal Tool" from the Design Marketing Group can be purchased for about $5. This little tool makes it much easier to pop the keys off of a PowerBook keyboard. The same thing could probably be accomplished with homemade tools or even by hand, but for only $5 it is recommended that you get one of these. Some people say that you can actually remove the PowerBook keys without a tool by lifting up on the top part of the key while holding the bottom part down.
The keys have two little plastic pieces under them (see images) which could easily break, so try not to touch them with the key puller tool - go around the edges as much as possible and try to pop the top part off before the bottom (although this may not be necessary). Proceed slowly, use a good light, and look carefully at what you're pulling on before you pull!
When you have all the keys off, just align each one properly (in the new layout) and push down with your fingers until you hear two little snapping sounds and the key feels secure.
Rishi wrote in to say:
I found the paper clip method of popping MacBook Pro's key caps really easy. You basically bend open the paperclip one bend. You then slide half the paperclip under the right edge of a key near the center. It should be slid under the center of the key because that is where there is the most space between the keycap and the plastic piece underneath the keycap. The paperclip has to go in between the key and piece of plastic. Then slide the paper clip up toward the top of the key and wiggle the paper clip a little bit and the key pops out with hardly any force. Just thought I'd let you know my method because it sounds like the key removal tool on MacBooks would require more force and be harder to do than the paper clip method.
The procedure mentioned above has been tested on an Apple PowerBook G4 Titanium 667 MHz (with DVI output) and on a Aluminum 1.5 GHz with backlit keyboard. A website reader wrote in and said that he has modified his MacBook Pro keyboard successfully by using a paperclip.
Other Dvorak Musings
With the recent introduction of the Apple iPhone running a modified version of OS X, many Dvorak enthusiasts are probably wondering whether or not it will offer the Dvorak keyboard layout as an option instead of the Qwerty keyboard shown in all the demos. One would hope that Apple will provide this option in the settings, but since the initial release of the phone is in U.S. markets only, it's unlikely that the equivalent of "international" settings will be present, so the Dvorak option may not be added until the phone goes international. Send in your requests to Apple now and maybe they'll add it.
Update: as expected, the initial release of the iPhone is Qwerty only. Doh. It turns out that it's still pretty easy to type on the iPhone's Qwerty keyboard even though I use Dvorak all day long. However, I'd still like to see Apple support it in a software update - that's one of the great things about the iPhone - with no physical keyboard, these kinds of changes are easy to make. If you want to submit feedback about this to Apple, here's the link.
- Wikipedia Article
- The DVORAK Zine
- ABCD: A Basic Course in Dvorak
- Mensa Dvorak
- Master Key
- Key Puller
- Joe's Dvorak Page
- Jeff Bigler's Dvorak Page
Mac Programs with Dvorak "Issues"
If you have had any dvorak issues with programs not listed here, contact us.
The following problems using Dvorak on Mac OS X have been encountered. Even though there are problems, keep in mind that most programs for Mac OS X function flawlessly and are not listed here.
- Aperture 1.5 (review)
- re-assign each keyboard shortcut by hand. Aside from being time consuming, this doesn't let you use single letter shortcuts, so you must replace shortcuts like "H" with something like "⌥H". This has been fixed in Aperture 2.0!
- Apple Remote Desktop 2.2
- Logging into a remote computer which is set to Qwerty is tricky unless you temporarily set your local computer to Qwerty as well. The keyboard viewer can help this process if you've physically remapped your keyboard.
- Apple Speakable Items (Speech Recognition) 10.4.x
- Many of the built in speakable items don't work with the Dvorak layout by default - they are hard coded to expect a Qwerty layout. The only way to get them to work is to re-create each one by hand which is doable but time consuming.
- Booting Mac OS X With Modifier Keys
- During system boot, holding down modifier keys such as "C" to boot off of CD, "T" to boot in firewire target disk mode, etc. appear to be hard coded to their Qwerty positions on your keyboard. Some reports suggest that choosing Dvorak as your default layout at system install time may remedy this situation.