Keyboard Layouts

Bye Bye QWERTY

Everyone knows that QWERTY (urgh, that’s difficult to type) was originally designed mainly for mechanical concerns rather than ergonomic ones. Given that, its astonishing that people can use it so well, and also that it’s outlasted the concerns that led to it by such a long time.

Anyway, it seemed crazy to me, so I’ve just finished the goodtyping basic course but with a twist; I did all the lessons with my keyboard set to Capewell (0.9.1) (there is a newer version available from his main page). I’m writing this with it as well, and although it’s slow going compared to the speed I type on QWERTY, I’ve been quite surprised that it has made no discernable difference to my ability to type in QWERTY. I expect I’ll pick up speed as I keep using it.

Capewell Layout

Alternative layouts

  • My choice was a Capewell layout because he takes the very sensible point of view that you’ll still need to be able to hit control-C, control-V, control-X and control-Z easily. He also doesn’t have the bias against running letters in the same hand, and what could be better than using a keyboard layout that evolved?
  • Another evolved layout comes from Peter Klausler, although he doesn’t rate it as highly as Dvorak.
  • Arensito is an interesting layout, particularly because he’s put some thought into designing it for programmers, perhaps more sensible than using a keyboard layout designed for typists. He’s also taken a slightly more radical approach and moved the hands position from the QWERTY to give those thumbs more options. Nice.
  • The asset layout is a nice layout, designed to be easy for the QWERTY typist to learn, but with a much better home row.
  • Maltron, mentioned below have their own layout. Check out their comparison of the home row frequencies. Yes, QWERTY really is that bad.
  • Compare different layouts here. You’ll find that the Capewell layouts perform quite well.
  • Fitaly is an input system designed for one finger or pen input.
  • Create your own with microsoft keyboard layout creator (warning: Microsoft.com link).

Alternative input devices

See also Hongkiats blog post.

  • SHARK a very cool gesture based system for tablet input
  • Touchstream LP a brilliant looking touch board that supports gestures and is a keyboard and mouse at the same time. Sadly they don’t make them anymore and they’re still pretty expensive on eBay.
  • A proper, no gimmicks single handed chordic keyboard is the Infogrip BAT keyboard, but it looks plasticy and cheap. Don’t they realise that the future is all chrome and black and OLEDs?
  • No one could deny that the Data Hand looks very cool and it has Zero hand movement! I’m not surprised that NASA use them.
  • The Orbitouch is a cool idea, but aimed more at disabled people rather than geeks looking for the future of input.
  • The tactapad has cameras, two handed interaction (that’s really cool), and a tactile feedback system. Not available for sale yet, probably quite expensive, and not really a keyboard either, although I like their idea of putting one in the split of a split keyboard.
  • The alphagrip is a game controller like keyboard and mouse. I like this idea, since moving the hands between keyboard and mouse is a very annoying context switch. I also like the ability to lean back that it would give you. Sadly, people don’t seem to get enormous speeds with it, and it’s really designed for more mobile devices. Maybe good for a tablet pc when you need a keyboard.
  • Like the accordian? Perhaps you want a vertical keyboard.
  • The Twiddler2 (yes I’m thinking friends and Claw) is a really neat chordal single handed keyboard and mouse, perfect for adding to your wearable computer cyborg get up. Again, not really designed for replacing a normal keyboard and mouse though.
  • I really like the Ergodex DX, a moveable custom keys system but it really needs to suport chordal behaviour.
  • Maltron make a large number of cool different keyboards, including one handed ones, and hyper ergonomic ones. Not cheap though.

Ideas

Try to implement a chordal system using a normal keyboard and perhaps turning it sideways. Get a mouse with buttons on it that can be programmed to Cut, Copy, Paste, Escape, Return. Ideally include Undo, Redo, Space, Alt, Home, End, Arrow keys, Delete, PgUp, PgDown, Tab, actually, why not the whole keyboard? A chordic mouse-keyboard, marvellous.

Jumping off links

One handed keyboarding in general, aimed at disabled people, but one hand on the mouse and the other on the keyboard might be pretty good.

The pretty Optimus keyboard might be good for learning new layouts on (if it were available).

Cornell unversity page on keyboard design.

Rahel pointed out that I really should include the new microsoft chordal layout that’s been designed from the ground up to take account of the frequency of key usage. You may have seen it before, but I think it’s innovative enough to deserve a link.