If you’ve been using a computer for some time, you’d be familiar with the term ‘qwerty’ – That’s the first six letters on the most popular format of the keyboard layout in use.
The qwerty keyboard layout was introduced more than a century ago and while almost all other forms of technology have improved drastically since then, the same can’t be said for the keyboard arrangement we use.
Introduction of Qwerty
Contrary to popular belief, the Qwerty layout was NOT introduced for either typing efficiency or comfort. In the early days of typewriters, typing very fast would jam the keys. So, the Qwerty form was used to reduce the typing speed and hence prevent the typewriter from getting jammed. Unfortunately, the convention has continued till date and we still follow the age old layout on our computers and touch screens in spite of the presence of newer and better keyboard layouts.
Why is Qwerty Inefficient?
If you are a qwerty user and very satisfied with your keyboard format, consider this fact. Ideally, when we rest our hands on our keyboard, our fingers are placed on the a,s,d,f and j,k,l,; keys. Now take a look at the chart (source: Wikipedia) below which shows the alphabets most frequently used in the English language.
Comparing this chart with the home row of a qwerty layout, one can easily observe that only 2 alphabets – a and s, are the most frequently used on the home row while the rest of the keys do not function as much. It is quite evident that finger movement is more while using other alphabets on the top and bottom rows and more the finger movement; less is the speed and typing efficiency.
The above may seem only good for theory purposes, but tools such as keyboard layout analyzer can give you detailed statistics and a practical insight about keyboard layouts and their efficiency. To compare, all you need to do is enter the text which you want to compare against various keyboard layouts. Text can either be entered by you or chosen from pre-defined options like Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland, Most Common English Words or Most Common SAT Words. Then various factors such as the distance travelled by our fingers while typing, use of a particular finger and the how often we switch our fingers and hands are taken into consideration to generate an overall score.
We performed several test including the text of this post and in almost all the cases the Qwerty layout scored the least. Another interesting aspect of the test was that the Colemak and Dvorak keyboard layouts performed much better and were pretty close in terms of performance.
Given the choice between Colemak and Dvorak, either of them can be an efficient alternative to Qwerty. However, we recommend using the Colemak layout particularly because of its easy to adapt nature along with many others.
Are you satisfied with the current layout of your keyboard ? Would you like to switch if that’d lead to greater efficiency and faster typing speed, not to mentioned, increased productivity?
Gourav Mittal is a Computer Science Engineer who loves to blog in his free time. He blogs primarily at Techrav and also maintains Sanjay Tea Company