Michael Sampson on the Dvorak Keyboard

We’ve talked about the Dvorak keyboard before when I learned Michael Sampson was making the switch. Since it has been a few months, I thought it would be interesting to checkup and see how it was going so I sent him a few questions about the change. checkout his responses below.


What promoted you to switch to the Dvorak keyboard?

There was one main reason that I switched: I was suffering from severe RSI in my left lower arm and hand, and I needed to find a better way of doing things. I knew of the Dvorak layout, and had recently read Mark Hurst’s excellent book (Bit Literacy) in which he talked about his own transition from QWERTY to Dvorak. So I did some online study on the Dvorak layout, and three “facts” stood out to me: (a) some people had been able to make the transition within 4-8 weeks, (b) if you could type 50 words per minute on QWERTY you could do double that on Dvorak, and (c) some people had found that the transition had eliminated the RSI that they were experiencing under QWERTY, due to the less intensive typing movements.

How fast did you type with QWERTY?

I actually don’t have a number to give you, and I think that a pure number is largely a theoretical measure that may not mean anything in practice. What I was able to do with my typing was:

  1. interview someone across a table, look them in the eye, and pretty much type word for word what they were saying, and the essence of our conversation;
  2. attend a conference and live blog what was being said by the speaker … and I could take notes so quickly that I could even capture the Q&A, and press “publish” while the applause was still going on; and
  3. type completely “mindlessly” … the mechanics of typing were completely ingrained that I didn’t need to think about what I was doing.

How long have you been on the Dvorak layout and what are your typical speeds?

I made the switch to Dvorak in September 2007, with the expectation that I would be fully up-to-speed within 4-8 weeks. And by “up-to-speed”, I mean according to the measures above, not a word-per-minute rating.

I am not back to where I was with QWERTY, but I think that I am getting there. Perhaps another 6 months … so a full year for the transition … and I’ll be there. I was super glad that there were no major conferences to attend in the last few months, because I wouldn’t be able to live blog them.

When I started the transition, I purchased a Dvorak keyboard overlay for my Apple keyboard. This was a rubberized overlay that fitted over the keys, and had the Dvorak letters in the right place. Now that I can fully type Dvorak, I just use a stock standard keyboard and trust my fingers to go to the right place.

Looking back would you make the change again?

I think that, on balance, I would. I wanted to get rid of the RSI, and that has cleared up completely, even though I still spend all day glued to the keyboard. It has, and is, taking a lot longer to transition that I thought it would, but I know that my fingers and hands work less now than they did before, and that’s good. One of the measures that struck me when I was researching the change was this: in a full day of typing, a QWERTY typist will move their hands 16 miles, but a Dvorak typist will only move them 1 mile. Big difference.

The other reason that I said I would still change was that I made the change with the idea that I will be typing for the next 35 years, and thus my measure wasn’t not done in the short-term.

The biggest annoyance I have is that mobile devices don’t permit Dvorak input. So I have to type QWERTY on my BlackBerry or Treo 500v, and I am pretty sure that the new iPAQ 210 Enterprise Handheld will be a no go for me because it won’t accept Dvorak input on an external keyboard.

Do you have any problem switching back when you have to use a QWERTY keyboard?

I have not tried to type QWERTY again, and don’t want to try. I have given it up for good. When I have to use a QWERTY keyboard, I watch the keys and do not touch type.

What advice would you give someone who is thinking about making the change?

  • don’t make the change for the short term
  • once you have started, stick with it. Keep going … it will eventually come.
  • know the reasons that you are changing, and when you are discouraged, pull out the list and review and recommit to those.

And finally, I don’t think of myself as a “Dvorak typist”; I just type to get my work done. Typing is again almost completely mindless, as I want it to be, and I forget that most other people do things a different way.

I really appreciate Michael taking the time to answer these questions.   Be sure to checkout his site at http://www.michaelsampson.net.


  1. Alexey says

    When I started the transition, I purchased a Dvorak keyboard overlay for my Apple keyboard.

    That was a major mistake, I think. You should not look at the keyboard AT ALL when you’re learning. I did switch myself to Dvorak around 6 years ago, and it took a week to be able to type easily and no more than a month to reach the same speed as I had before. (I do not know what’s my speed in wpm terms, but what I can do with my typing is very much like what is described.)

    I’m not sure, though, if I got any speed benefits, but tiredness and pain in my hands went away completely after my first week with Dvorak and never come back.

  2. Mark Shead says

    @Alexey – So how did you get started with the new layout if you had no way to tell where any of the keys are located? Were you using some type of typing program or did you spend a bunch of time trying to memorize the keyboard before using the new layout?

    • Alexey says

      @Mark, I’ve printed a sheet of paper with dvorak layout and put it on the wall. So I was not looking at the keyboard but was looking at the wall.

      • Alexey says

        The reason is that one cannot see the keyboard if your hands are in a right position. So if you look at the keyboard, you remove the hands from the place where they should be, so muscle memory doesn’t work when you type.

  3. Dale King says

    I’ve tried switching a couple of times and keep resorting back to qwerty.

    One of the problems I always have is cut, copy and paste or ctrl-X, ctrl-C and ctrl-V. For most people finding these control key combinations is automatic and has little to do with what the actual letters are, but with Dvorak they get moved somewhere else.

    I’d be interested to know how you worked around that.

  4. Denver says

    If you use , , and , you don’t have to worry about where the letters are.

    However, most laptops have lousy layout for Insert, Delete, Home, and End, while conveniently positioning CapsLk, Fn, Windows, Menu, and other keys I rarely use.
    I never use CapsLk. In fact, I’ve disabled it.
    I never used SysReq, even back in the days of MS-DOS.

    It would be nice to have a comprehensive look at keyboard arrangements beyond just the letters and punctuation and re-engineer it in light of modern usage.

  5. jeff says

    I switched and typed DVORAK exclusively for 3+ months. Memorizing the keys was very easy, and I used a DVORAK practice typing program every day for at least 30 minutes. After six weeks, my improvement began to slow down, and after three months, I realized that I would be making more type-o’s with DVORAK than I had with QWERTY for years to come. The fact that all the vowels are right next to each other on the left home row makes it very easy to mistype. I switched back to QWERTY and what a relief!!! DVORAK was kind of a fun experiment, but a big waste of time.

    • Alexey says

      @jeff, I suspect you was trying to remember the layout in your head and that’s why ‘aoeu’ next to each other was a problem for you. The right place to remember the layout is in your fingers. It’s really hard to mistype ‘o’ instead of ‘a’: ‘o’ is typed by ring finger and ‘a’ by little finger (or how you call them in English, I’m not sure…) ).

  6. says

    Hi, I have a question. I am seriously considering of switching from QWERTY to DVORAK keyboard as I face RSI. However, I must admit that I never really learned how to type correctly and am still doing the few fingers thing, which works fine for me. So now I wonder if I will have the same RSI relieving results by making the switch since I am not the typical blind typer… yr toughts please, d


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