DSK : Computer Hardware Buyers’ Glossary

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DSK

DSK (Dvorak Standard Keyboard) — a keyboard layout that is easier than QWERTY on the wrist muscles, and gives about 10% faster speed to good typists, considerably better for the less dexterous. Note that you must follow the off page links to Kinesis and Maltron to see this entire essay. It grew too big for one page.

Purpose Hardware or Software DSK? Conversion Learning More
Your Guide How To Get DSK in Firmware Fingering Trashing DSK
Dvorak’s Classic Layout How To Get DSK in Software Typing Tutor Bottom Line
Theory Roll Your Own DSK Letter Frequencies Links
Defense Recommendation Layouts
To Flip? Keycap Legends Feel
Hunt and Peck QWERTY Cleaning

Layout Possibilities

Adaptive das Keyboard IBM PC Microsoft Minimalist Prelco
ANSI Esperanto Keytronic FlexPro Omnikey Ultra ANSI Roll Your Own
Arensito Fitaly Keytronics Omnikey Ultra Classic SafeType
AT 101 Key Geneva Kinesis Omnikey Ultra left TrulyErgonomic
BAT GreyStone Maltron Omnikey Ultra right

Purpose

In this document I wish to convince you to try out Dvorak keyboard layout and help me convert the world away from the illogical QWERTY to the sublime DSK.

Your Guide

Your guide is Roedy Green, President of Canadian Mind Products, have pounded out over 30 MB of public domain code with my Dvorak keyboard including the BBL (Big Black Lady) Forth and Abundance Database compilers featured in Byte Oct 86. People often ask me how I manage to write so many essays and post so much on BIX (Byte Information Exchange) and on the Internet. The secret is the DSK layout that lets me type tirelessly all day long up to 100 WPM (Words Per Minute).

Previously, I had a Microsoft natural keyboard which I did not like, mainly because I kept accidentally hitting the Windows key which usually had catastrophic results, and because when I typed fast it often failed to register the release of Shift | Alt | Ctrl. I did the DSK purely with the standard software drivers in Windows 95 and NT. Unfortunately during logon or during BIOS (Basic Input Output System) tweaking, I had to revert to QWERTY.

However, now I have a Kinesis Keyboard with the DSK in the keyboard firmware, so I no longer have that problem.

Dvorak’s Classic Keyboard Layout circa 1936

 & % # ! ( ) @ $ ^ * +
7 5 3 1 9 0 2 4 6 8 =
:,. P Y F G C R L "
?,. p y f g c r l /
A O E U I D H T N S ___
a o e u i d h t n s -
Shf ; Q J K X B M W V Z Shf
' q j k x b m w v z
Space
Dvorak worked for the US Navy in the days before I was born. He devised the layout. So we got at least one Good Thing™ for those billions we pour into the Navy.

Dvorak’s original design was somewhat different from the current ANSI (American National Standards Institute) standard. He rearranged the numbers as well. He had one hand key odd digits and the other even. The idea was, that since the low numbered digits 0 1 2 are used more frequently, they should be near the center of the keyboard. Scientific American did an interesting article on why, even in random tables of numbers, the digits 0 and 1 occur more frequently than 8 and 9.

He also devised layouts for people with only one hand. These can also be used by people with two hands, but whose other hand is occupied in some way as they type. See the actual layouts further down in this essay.

The Theory of DSK

Back in 1872, Christopher Sholes designed the original QWERTY layout to slow you down as much as possible. Old mechanical typewriters would jam if you hit two keys too rapidly in succession. It was brilliantly designed to prevent you from doing this.

However, now that we have electronic keyboards, we want to do the exact opposite. We want to make it possible to hit two keystrokes in succession as quickly as possible.

Lee Merkel used this analogy to explain it: "QWERTY on today’s keyboards is like having a Maserati limited to a top speed of 40 because the early cars might break an axle over 40 on a bumpy road."

In 1934 The Andrew Carnegie Foundation gave August Dvorak (a distant cousin of the composer) two grants to design a new keyboard layout. In 1936 the new layout was ready. The US Navy ordered 4000 keyboards, then canceled.

The theory of the Dvorak Standard Keyboard (DSK ) is simple. The most commonly used keystrokes should be the ones easiest to do. The layout puts the common vowels oeui under your left fingers and the common consonants dhtns under your right. It is almost impossible to avoid touch typing.

Defense of DSK

Articles in otherwise reputable magazines have run articles trashing DSK. They purport to have computed the miles your fingers travel to type the Gettysburg address using both DSK and QWERTY and come to the conclusion that DSK is a fraud. It is only marginally better certainly not worth the effort of conversion.

What moose feces! Your fingers don’t move in straight lines anyway, and distance of finger travel is only very loosely correlated with typing speed. What determines speed has to do with the anatomy of the human nervous and muscular systems. The only way to integrate all these complex factors is to perform experiments with real people!

DSK was developed in the 1930s. It is well tested in speed trials against QWERTY. DSK was the winner hands down. All the speed typing records are held on DSK. However, the real advantage of DSK is not speed, it is ease! You can type like blazes all day long and your hands don’t get tired and your wrists don’t ache. Because of wrist pain, I could never touch type on QWERTY because it made my wrists and fingers ache after even a few minutes, though I was one of the fastest four finger typists alive. With DSK, your hands aren’t forced to continually make awkward motions like some Hannon piano fingering exercise.

It is hard to find psychologically unbiased information about DSK. Here is why. It is a bit of an ordeal flipping over, and naturally people don’t like to say to themselves, I went to all this effort for almost nothing. They then will tend to exaggerate the benefits to themselves and others. The people who go through the ordeal have to be pretty highly motivated to persist. On the other hand, people who give up part way through the flipover tend to tell themselves there would have been no point in persisting. They pretend to themselves they gave the DSK layout a fair trial when they in fact did not allow sufficient time to adjust. People vary quite a bit on how long the flipover takes. You may take considerably longer than the optimistic best case estimates.

To Flip or Not To Flip? Advantages and Disadvantages

Will it be worthwhile to flip to DSK? It is a gamble that may have only a small payoff or it may have a big payoff. The flipover may be easy or it may be a psychological nightmare. The only real way to find out is to do it. But should you even attempt it? Here are some factors to consider:
  1. If you are already a very good QWERTY typist, chances are you won’t be all that much faster when you flip to DSK. Further, the switchover period where you can’t type quickly in either scheme will be exceedingly frustrating.
  2. If wrist pain blocks you from touch typing QWERTY, you have the potential for a big payoff, the ability to type at top speed, non-stop all day without pain.
  3. If you can’t touch type at all, it is easier to memorise and use the DSK layout. There will never be an easier time to learn DSK. Once you learn QWERTY you will have two additional hurdles to flipping over to DSK, unlearning your QWERTY reflexes, and dealing with temporary loss of typing skill.
  4. Do you pick up new physical skills quickly, e.g. learning to ice skate, ski, ride a bike, play the piano… If so, you will probably have less trouble with the flipover than others.
  5. Look at golfers. They will spend thousands of dollars on equipment that promises a few extra yards. To go for DSK I think you need something of that mentality to push you over the hump. The problem is you don’t really know how much you will get till you try it. You will get something, but there is no guarantee the payoff will be huge.
  6. If you use a DSK keyboard, or other specialised keyboard such as the QWERTY Kinesis, you will thereafter likely be all thumbs at a conventional keyboard. This can be embarrassing if you visit client sites and it looks as if you can’t even touch type. W95, W98, Me, NT, W2K, XP, W2003, Vista, W2008, W7-32, W7-64, W8-32 and W8-64 have DSK drivers a few keyclicks away but these will still feel hopelessly strange if you are used to a Kinesis keyboard. The layout will never precisely match what you are used to unless you take your keyboard (and any necessary software) with you. When you get into ultra-high speed typing, the tiniest change in the keyboard layout or shape will throw your reflexes off — sort of like hydroplane racing.
  7. If you take your keyboard with you, this will almost automatically give you the reputation of eccentric genius. Deep down, this is probably the key motivator to take up DSK or avoid it. Most people avoid DSK because they don’t want to be perceived as weird. They don’t care if QWERTY is more painful and less productive. As DSK and specialised keyboards become more common, this motivator will become less important either way.
  8. Can you psychologically afford a month or two where your typing skills may make you into a Lucille Ball at the chocolate factory? Will there be people staring at you and discouraging you, bawling you out for dicking around with some flaky idea? You might want a short dry run over a weekend to try to estimate how bad and how long this will be for you. For some people, the flipover is no problem at all. If will be a lot easier to go through the conversion where no one is watching, or where the people watching are supportive. Lobsters wisely hide when they moult. If people watch me type, I choke, I start thinking about typing rather than using my reflexes and by speed slows to a crawl. I revert to the conscious strategy I used when I first learned to type, thinking about each keystroke.
  9. If a company decides to go with the Kinesis or other ergonomic keyboard, DSK or QWERTY, they might consider phasing them in, and making allowances that productivity will plummet during the flipover. Don’t expect people to switch back and forth between Kinesis and conventional, or DSK and QWERTY. However, after that stressful flipover period, I think they would be great employee lockin method. No one would ever want to work somewhere where they were not allowed to use one. It is similar to offering a high quality ergonomic chair as an employee perk. The only catch is, some may hate it at first.
  10. The DSK layout leads to a whole different set of common typos. If you read my site, you will often see by/my, be/me, that/than, not/now, is/it/in confused. One of my most common is hthl for html. One unfortunate feature is that DSK typos tend to be other real words, so a spell checker won’t catch them.
  11. Ctrl-Z Ctrl-X Ctrl-C Ctrl-V used for cut and paste are very conveniently located on a QWERTY keyboard for keying with the left hand only while your right hand uses the mouse. On a DSK keyboard, they are all over the map. You need some sort of macros so you have one-handed alternates for these commonly used key combinations. Some editors let you remap them. but Windows has not general way to remap them in all programs. To ensure these macros work in all applications, you pretty well need to implement them in the keyboard firmware. This means you need a fairly expensive keyboard, preferably with a foot pedal to make them even easier to hit with one hand, e.g. left footpedal-K for Ctrl-V which is at the same convenient spot on the keyboard in both QWERTY and DSK. There are even more convenient alternatives if you experiment a bit.

Hunt and Peck

DSK is easier for a hunt and peck typist because the layout is more logical. The layout naturally leads you into touch typing. As long as you have physically rearranged the keycaps to DSK, it is great for giving to people who cannot type.

My apprentices often used to hunt and peck on my machine. I was astonished how quick they were.

Hardware/Firmware or Software DSK ?

There are two basic methods of getting DSK on your computer:
  1. Build the DSK intelligence into the keyboard firmware.
  2. Use software.
To start, you will probably use software to get the DSK keyboard layout, then once you are committed to DSK, you may want to use firmware, putting the DSK logic into the firmware of your programmable keyboard
DSK firmware vs software
Consideration Firmware Software
Cost hundreds of dollars free or cheap
Consistency works identically for all operating systems Needs a different solution for W95, W98 and Me than for W2K, XP, W2003, Vista, W2008, W7-32, W7-64, W8-32 and W8-64 for Linux than for OS9 and OSX.
Customisability harder to customise, requires extra cost software to download the firmware should the new layout in firmware be lost. You could in a pinch recreate it from scratch. Generally you can’t remap (customise the layout) the shift and unshifted characters independently. To do that, you need a software assist. In W95, W98 and Me, DSK is hard to customise. In W2K, XP, W2003, Vista, W2008, W7-32, W7-64, W8-32 and W8-64, it is easy to customise. You can remap the shifted and unshifted characters independently.
Switching back and forth You hit a special button on the keyboard. You reserve a special sequence such as left-Alt-Shift-0 or Ctrl-Shift-~ or Ctrl-Shift-`. The sequence must start either left-Alt-Shift and end with 0..9 ~ ` to select either QWERTY or DSK.
Portability Carry your keyboard around with you and plug it into any machine you use. This gives you maximal typing speed since you don’t adjust to a different physical keyboard. However it is awkward to carry a full size keyboard with you on business trips. Some people might not let you plug your keyboard in, e.g. the local library. Carry your keyboard software you use and install it on any machine you use. Alternatively make do with the uncustomised DSK layouts that come with Windows. Many companies won’t let you install any software on their machine, even something as innocuous as a keyboard remap table. Sometimes you are forced back to QWERTY — e.g. at public terminal whether you use firmware or software.

How To Get DSK with Firmware

You can buy a DSK keyboard with both the keycaps and keyboard electronics rearranged so that you don’t need any DSK software. This approach is nice if you work a lot with virgin machines and have to format hard disks frequently, or boot from a variety of operating systems. DSK keyboards work even before you have the machine compos mentis enough to run your DSK software, e.g. when changing CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide on Silicon) settings.

I use a Kinesis Keyboard with DSK/QWERTY in hardware. This is the ultimate way to go.

To get a DSK keyboard cheaply, check out eBay.

Keytronic sells a Dvorak conversion kit on special order.

The Northgate Omnikey Ultra comes standard with switches to select one of four Dvorak layouts in addition to QWERTY. The optional matching keycaps cost about $30.00 USD extra. You can get ANSI, or the original with the 75319 02468 ordering, or the left hard only, or right hand only variants. Unfortunately Northgate went bankrupt and the keyboards are no longer manufactured. You might find one in old stock at some retailer or at a swap meet. These keyboards are much more rugged than most other brands.

The Northgate 102 keyboard has only two-handed ANSI Dvorak, with no function keys across the top. This is what I used after my beloved Omnikey Ultra passed on after many years of hard pounding.

The Omnikey design is now being manufactured under the Avant name. User Manual.

Fentek sells several models at prices comparable to QWERTY models. Some don’t have DSK in firmware. You still need remapping software.

TypeMatrix make low-cost switchable keyboards.

If you have an Apple computer, make sure you buy a keyboard designed for the Mac with an USB (Universal Serial Bus) interface instead of the PS/2 interface.

How To Get DSK with Software

Roll Your Own DSK

Unless you hop about from DSK keyboard to DSK keyboard, there is no real reason to slavishly stick with the ANSI standard. I used to have my own Omnikey Ultra DSK keyboard that I would carry round with me and plug into whatever machine I was working on. Unfortunately it finally died and went to keyboard heaven after many hours of superb service. You spend so much time at a keyboard, why not custom fit it to your typing tasks?

I fiddled about with my layout over a period of months fine tuning it to suit my work. For computer programming, especially in Java you use the { } and ( ) keys a lot. It might make sense to move the following keys to the middle of the top row, similar to DSK classic layout.

(  )  !  {  }
9  0  1  [  ]
It might also make sense to reverse the meaning of caps on the [ ] keys so they meant { } without caps.

You can gradually fine tune your layout to suit your own particular finger strengths, character frequencies, and character pair combination frequencies. You just try out various layout changes and one will feel distinctly more pleasant and easeful.

You can rearrange keycaps on an IBM (International Business Machines) keyboard but not most other brands. Just pop them off with a screwdriver and snap them back on in their new position, being careful to center the little springs. On the IBM keyboard almost all keycaps are shaped identically so you have complete freedom to rearrange them. On most other keyboards, the keys are sculpted so that each row has a different shape.

Note that moving the keycaps has no effect on the codes generated by your keyboard. You still need software to logically rearrange the keys.

Do not pull off the space bar, or you will never get it back on properly.
Similarly never open up the back of an IBM brand keyboard. You will have a room full of little springs and Hall effect flapper plates. Only nuns who work for Mother Theresa have sufficient grace to put one back together.

For W2K, XP, W2003, Vista, W2008, W7-32, W7-64, W8-32 and W8-64, Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator is much more user friendly and flexible. It creates a DLL (Dynamic Link Library) keyboard driver rather than a simple keyboard map. It lets you control which Unicode character is generated by hitting each key plain, or with any combination of Alt-Shift-Ctrl. AltGr is treated the same as Alt+Ctrl. This lets you effectively move the top and bottom letter on each key around independently. You can start with an existing keyboard driver and modify it. Unfortunately, it won’t display the plain and shifted keyboard characters simultaneously. It does not work in  W95, W98 and Me. Unless you can find an existing driver very similar to what you want, it can be quite tedious, since you have to explicitly code every combination.

For W2K, XP, W2003, Vista, W2008, W7-32, W7-64, W8-32 and W8-64, TypeMatrix offers a free remapper you can download.

For W2K, XP, W2003, Vista, W2008, W7-32, W7-64, W8-32 and W8-64, PC (Personal Computer) Magazine puts out TradeKeys that works in all versions of Windows to let you remap the keyboard any way you want. About the only thing you can’t do is move the punctuation above the digits to different digits. The utility is free, but you need a subscription to access it. The cheapest subscription for  $5.00 USD gives you three downloads and one month access. It works by creating a *.reg file to insert a table into the registry that the keyboard driver uses to remap the keyboard scan codes before it does anything else. This means the remapping works in conjunction with the remapping the keyboard driver. It is probably easiest to do both the DSK remapping and your customisations with TradeKeys, and use a standard QWERTY layout driver. If you use a DSK driver, your TradeKey remappings are done in terms of the base QWERTY keys, not as fine tunings after the DSK mapping is done.

In W2K, XP, W2003, Vista, W2008, W7-32, W7-64, W8-32 and W8-64, you can define registry entries to remap the keyboard scan codes. This is not for the faint of heart.

For the adventurous, there is the Microsoft SDK (Software Development Kit) which has instructions on how to write custom keyboard drivers. Unfortunately, they work quite differently in W95, W98 and Me and NT, W2K, XP, W2003, Vista, W2008, W7-32, W7-64, W8-32 and W8-64. You can then do whatever you want, including inventing dead keys, special shift modes, remap the plain and shifted characters on each key independently, etc.

You can get replacement coloured keycaps or key labels from Hooleon. The also sell stick on home key bumps.

keycap labels

My bottom line recommendation:

By all means experiment with software DSK to see if you like it, then once you want to get serious, get a programmable or configurable keyboard with firmware that remembers your configurations even with the power off. Then you can use it in any OS (Operating System) without special software. It will even work when editing BIOS configurations.

If you can afford it, go whole hog and get a Kinesis keyboard. A good keyboard will pay for itself quickly in terms of increased productivity. Failing that try the Windows built-in DSK, and then tweak it with the tools described under Roll Your Own.

Keycap Legends

If you can’t get DSK keycap legends, don’t worry about it. The legends are only useful for hunt-and-peck.

Not having them actually helps you learn to touch-type because it prods you to rely on feel rather than peeking. Back in the 1950’s, typing teachers used to put blank covers over the keys of mechanical typewriters.

QWERTY legends make it easier for others to use your keyboard.

DSK legends are mainly a conversation-starter. People see your unusual keyboard and get curious.

The Kinesis keyboard I use now has dual legends, with QWERTY dominant giving all three advantages:

  1. Legends do not distract you when you learn the keyboard.
  2. QWERTY typists can more easily use the keyboard.
  3. The keyboard starts conversations about DSK.
electronic product image recommend electronic⇒Dvorak Simplified Keyboard Stickersto electronic home
asin B0011FI3O8
Transparent stickers to apply to a QWERTY keyboard to help you learn the DSK layout. Don’t expect stickers to last that long. These are just training wheels.
American flag amazon.com bestbuy.ca Canadian flag
Canadian flag amazon.ca canadacomputers.com Canadian flag
Chinese flag amazon.cn ncix.ca Canadian flag
German flag amazon.de newegg.ca Canadian flag
Spanish flag amazon.es tigerdirect.ca Canadian flag
French flag amazon.fr bestbuy.com American flag
Italian flag amazon.it ncixus.com American flag
UK flag amazon.co.uk newegg.com American flag
India flag junglee.com tigerdirect.com American flag
other stores UN flag
Greyed out stores probably do not have the item in stock

It’s a QWERTY World Out There

In a pinch I hunt and peck with QWERTY. Superkey in DOS can quickly turn any keyboard into one that is roughly like my usual one. Windows drivers now deal with the problem in Windows and DOS emulation. I don’t really need the keycaps to match because I touch type anyway.

I still have to revert to QWERTY to use the electronic mail terminals in airports and when I am setting up a virgin machine when all that will run are the diagnostics.

The Conversion

I spend 8 to 16 hours a day at my keyboard. Switching to Dvorak has really paid off as you can see by my prodigious output. It is amazing how much time you spend typing and editing things.

It took maybe a month before I gained even reasonable speed at DSK. It took maybe another five months before I was faster than I was originally, but now that pain is behind, it was worth it. It was very embarrassing working in an office situation having people hear my painfully slow keystrokes. Green, why are you mucking about with that. We’ve got a job to do!;

I took so long to learn DSK, because I could not quit QWERTY cold turkey. I used an Apple Lisa on QWERTY during the day and an IBM XT on DSK at night. There was no DSK software for the Lisa. I found that using only two fingers to type when I was forced to use QWERTY did the least damage to my slowly developing DSK skills. However to get the job done I often had to revert to QWERTY even on the IBM.

Only a minority of DSK typist manage to retain the skill to touch type QWERTY. In general, you cannot be a bilingual touch typist. I get mail from time to time telling me Stuff and nonsense, I type equally well on both. However, most people find their finger reflexes have to be tuned to one system or the other. If you start young, and flip back and forth, every month or so, you have a better chance of becoming skilled in both. In general though, you just hurt yourself by trying to be bilingual. I suspect that those bilingual typists would be even better DSK typists if they let the QWERTY go. At least, any use of QWERTY while you are learning DSK will set you back.

There is a horrible in between period when your subconscious reflexes for DSK start to take over. You lose your ability to type QWERTY rapidly. There you are stuck in the middle for a while unable to type rapidly on either system.

However, as I said at the beginning, you go through the conversion once, and ever after you reap the rewards — every day for the rest of your typing life.

If I were to do it again, I’d wait till a time when I could guarantee that I could type DSK 100% of the time for at least two months without ever having to touch a QWERTY keyboard. I’d like to wait till a slack period so I wouldn’t be tempted to revert to QWERTY to get the job done. But had I done that, I’d have waited forever, and I’d still be stuck on QWERTY. There is no such thing as a slack time, so perhaps all you can hope for is a time when no one is watching you too closely.

DSK Dvorak fingering

Fingering

Top left of keyboard is pushed slightly away from you.

Keyboard is offset slightly to the left of the centre of your body.

Your arms should be almost level tilting up slightly to reach the keyboard.

Left index finger handles 4 5 6 p y u i k x
Left middle finger handles 3. e j
Left ring finger handles 2, o q
Left baby finger handles Esc 1 tab ' ctrl a ` ; shift

Right index finger handles 6 7 f g d h b m
Right middle finger handles 8 c t w
Right ring finger handles 9 r n v
Right baby finger handles 0 \ = bs l / ] s - [ Enter z shift

Generally, a finger handles keys on a back-slanting row. The exception is 6 which is sometimes handled by the left index finger.

Typing Tutor

I was once the chief instructor at a computer summer camp. I interviewed each child as he came in and assessed his typing skills. Some of these kids could type in raw hex coding with perfect accuracy at incredible speed. I asked each of these wunderkinds how he learned to type so well. They invariably answered Typing Tutor.

Such programs can be used to teach yourself either QWERTY or DSK. It automatically adjusts to drill you on your weakest letters.

I tried the Kriya Typing Tutor (now defunct) for a while and on one memorable occasion clocked 100 words per minute on the standard typing test. There is absolutely zero chance I could have attained that sort of speed with the QWERTY layout.

I have not used such tools for a long time, so those two may not be the best anymore. There are surely many you can find search engine. The trick is to find one with an addictive game. If you know of a good one to recommend for learning DSK, please email me. For candidates see Typing Tutor.

It would not be that hard to create a Typing Tutor program in Java. It might have an analog of the Letter Invaders game. It could have introductory lessons that introduce the keys gradually starting from the centre of the keyboard and working out, along the home row, along the top row, along the bottom row and finally along the numeric row. You could filter a dictionary to find words that can be typed with the current subset of letters. Finding suitable exercise words is much easier than with the QWERTY layout. There is not much point in writing one where there are scores of them out there to evaluate.

Keyboard Layouts

Here are some layouts from standards and actual keyboards:
Adaptive das Keyboard IBM PC Microsoft Minimalist Prelco
ANSI Esperanto Keytronic FlexPro Omnikey Ultra ANSI Programmer Keyboard
Arensito Fitaly Keytronics Omnikey Ultra Classic Roll Your Own
AT 101 Key Geneva Kinesis Omnikey Ultra left SafeType
BAT GreyStone Maltron Omnikey Ultra right

ANSI Standard X4.22-1983 for the ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) character set

 ~ ! @ # $ % ^ @ * ( ) \ +
` 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 | =",. P Y F G C R L ? [
',. p y f g c r l / ]
A O E U I D H T N S ___ {
a o e u i d h t n s - }
Shf > : Q J K X B M W V Z Shf
< ; q j k x b m w v z
Space

The ANSI DSK standard is the most wishy washy document I ever read. It allows almost anything to call itself standard. However, reading between the lines, this is what I think they really intended to be the standard. They watered it down so as not to offend any manufacturer.

If they published a true standard, then manufacturers might have to retool to conform, and then you could move from keyboard to keyboard and type just as fast as you did on your keyboard back home. Heaven forbid that should happen! The companion QWERTY standard is just as bad.

Approximation to ANSI Standard X4.22-1983 using IBM PC Keycaps

 Esc ! @ # $ % ^ @ * ( ) | + Bsp NmL ScL
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 \ =
Tab " < > P Y F G C R L ? } Ent 7 8 9 -
',. p y f g c r l / ]
Ctl A O E U I D H T N S ___ { 4 5 6
a o e u i d h t n s - [
~ Shf : Q J K X B M W V Z Shf Prt 1 2 3 +
` ; q j k x b m w v z
Alt Space Cpl Ins Del

This layout moves the left shift key back the position God intended for it. The keycap for it cannot be moved however.

Approximation using Keytronics Keyboard

 ~ ! @ # $ % ^ @ * ( ) | + Bsp NmL ScL
` 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 \ =
Tab " < > P Y F G C R L ? } { 7 8 9
Esc
',. p y f g c r l / ] [
Ctl A O E U I D H T N S ___ Retrn 4 5 6 +
a o e u i d h t n s -
- Shf : Q J K X B M W V Z Shf Prt 1 2 3 Ent
(Shf) ; q j k x b m w v z *
Alt Space Cpl Ins Del

This layout has two left shift keys. Some software distinguishes between the two kinds of minus key, and thus this layout will not work since the numeric minus was sacrificed to give you a second left shift key.

Approximation to ANSI Standard X4.22-1983 using 101 Key AT keyboard

Esc F1 F2 F3 F4 F5 F6 F7 F8 F9 F10 F11 F12
~ ! @ # $ % ^ @ * ( ) | + { Bsp
` 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 \ = [
Tab " < > P Y F G C R L ? }
',. p y f g c r l / ]
CapsLock A O E U I D H T N S ___ Ent
a o e u i d h t n s -
Shf : Q J K X B M W V Z Shf
; q j k x b m w v z
Ctrl Alt Space Alt Ctrl

This layout moves the left shift key back the position God intended for it. The keycap for it cannot be moved however.

Prelco 84 key layout for XT/AT — no software required

 ~ ! @ # $ % ^ @ * ( ) { } | Bsp Esc NmL ScL Sys
` 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 [ ] \
Tab " < > P Y F G C R L ? + Ent 7 8 9 -
',. p y f g c r l / =
Ctrl A O E U I D H T N S ___ 4 5 6
a o e u i d h t n s -
Shf : Q J K X B M W V Z Shf 1 2 3 +
; q j k x b m w v z
Alt Space Cpl Ins Del

This layout moves the function keys to the left. It has a large enter and shift key, though the backspace key is small.

Omnikey Ultra ANSI layout — no software required

Esc ! @ # $ % ^ @ * ( ) { } Bsp
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 [ ]
Tab " < > P Y F G C R L ? + Enter
',. p y f g c r l / =
Ctrl A O E U I D H T N S ___
a o e u i d h t n s -
Shf : Q J K X B M W V Z Shf *
; q j k x b m w v z
~ |
Alt ` Capslock Space Ctrl \ Alt

You can configure this further, swapping Ctrl and CapsLock, \ and *. This layout has a huge backspace and enter key. This keyboard also has function keys down the left and across the top.

The configuration keys work like this: All switches should be off except:
5 — swap CapsLock, Ctrl, Alt
6 — swap asterisk and backslash
7 — Dvorak Layout-1
7,8 — Dvorak Layout-2

Omnikey Ultra Classic layout — no software required

Esc { & % # ! ( ) @ $ ^ * } Bsp
[ 7 5 3 1 9 0 2 4 6 8 ]
Tab " < > P Y F G C R L ? + Enter
',. p y f g c r l / =
Ctrl A O E U I D H T N S ___
a o e u i d h t n s -
Shf : Q J K X B M W V Z Shf *
; q j k x b m w v z
~ |
Alt ` Capslock Space Ctrl \ Alt

This layout further optimizes the punctuation, placing the common parentheses, ! and @ near the centre. You can configure this further, swapping Ctrl and CapsLock, \ and *. This layout has a huge backspace and enter key. It has function keys on the left and along the top.

Omnikey Ultra left-handed layout — no software required

Esc { } ? P F M L J $ # @ ! Bsp
[ ] / p f m l j 4 3 2 1
Tab : Q B Y U R S O > ^ % + Enter
; q b y u r s o. 6 5 =
Ctrl --- K C D T H E A Z * &
- k c d t h e a z 8 7
Shf " X G V W N I < ) ( Shf *
' x g v w n i, 0 9
~ |
Alt ` Capslock Space Ctrl \ Alt

This layout is for people who are missing a right hand, or who otherwise have the right hand occupied as they type. This layout has a huge backspace and enter key.

Omnikey Ultra right-handed layout — no software required

Esc ! @ # $ J L M F P ? { } Bsp
1 2 3 4 j l m f p / [ ]
Tab % ^ Q > O R S U Y B : + Enter
5 6 q. o r s u y b ; =
Ctrl & * Z A E H T D C K ___
7 8 z a e h t d c k -
Shf ( ) X < I N W V G " Shf *
9 0 x, i n w v g '
~ |
Alt ` Capslock Space Ctrl \ Alt

This layout is for people who are missing a left hand, or who otherwise have the left hand occupied as they type. (Those skilled with this layout may improve their popularity in sex chat rooms.) You can configure this further, swapping Ctrl and CapsLock, \ and *. This layout has a huge backspace and enter key. It has function keys on the left and along the top.

Geneva’s Layout

 ~ ! @ # $ % ^ @ * ( ) _ +
` 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 - = Bsp
tab ? < F S P Y L C R Q { } |
/, f s p y l c r q [ ] \
A O E U I D H T N X "
a o e u i d h t n x ' Enter
Shf : > J K B G M W V Z Shf
;. j k b g m w v z
Space

Geneva has a damaged right pinkie. This is the modified Dvorak layout she came up with to compensate.

Greystone Big Key

Greystone big key keyboard

This keyboard is designed for children or people with motor control problems. It has big one inch square keys and comes in either QWERTY or ABC alphabetical layout. You can get them from ErgoCanada.com.

The Arensito Keyboard

Håkon Hallingstad devised the Arensito keyboard. It gets its name because ARENSITO are the most commonly used letters in English. These letters are given prime keyboard real estate. analysis of key frequency.

Arensito keyboard layout

The home row is one higher than traditional.

The frequency of use goes roughly like this: etaonhisrdlucmwgfypbkvjzxq. The Dvorak home row in contrast, is aoeui dhtns.

Dvorak did his work with mechanical and electromechanical typewriters. To avoid jamming, you need a rock steady rhythm. The last thing you want are two keys next to each other rolled quickly. In contrast, the Arensito keyboard attempts to put commonly used pairs of letters side by side so that you can quickly roll them. Further, to rapidly key a pair you must coordinate both sides of your brain, leading to transposition errors. You don’t have that problem when they are done with the same hand.

I was puzzled over the Arensito placement of the infrequently used g and b in such prime real estate and the demotion of c and h to the awkward bottom row. Hallingstad explained that he found it easier to bend the finger than to move it sideways, especially on Kinesis and Maltron keyboards. He placed keys surrounding the e so that common pairs involving e could be keyed easily with a rolling motion.

The Keytronic Flexpro

keystronic flexpro

This keyboard does not have hardware DSK ability, but it has some interesting features. First the two halves of the keyboard can be adjusted to any angle from about 20 degrees to almost vertical. Next it has adjustable wrist rests which help guide your hands to home position. Third it has re placable rubber keydomes. If you like a lighter or springier touch, you can get keydome kits to change the feel. Finally, it puts the function keys back on the left where they can be easily hit.

Unfortunately, this keyboard is no longer sold. I cannot even find it used. My room mate wants one or at least the wrist-rest from one.

The Fitaly Keyboard

Fitaly Keyboard

The Fitaly keyboard (named for its F I T A L Y top row) is optimised for one finger or pen keying. It is an on-screen software keyboard designed for use with various PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants). $35.00 USD

The BAT (Batch) Keyboard

bat_keyboard

The BAT keyboard by Infogrip is an unusual keyboard, primarily designed for people who either have no left hand or whose left hand is otherwise occupied. It is not a DSK keyboard; I mention it here because it is an option for the experimentally or ergonomically-minded sorts of people who would consider DSK. There is also a left-handed version. It has three keys for the thumb to press, and only four for the fingers. You have to hit several keys simultaneously with magic chord patterns you memorise to type the various letters and punctuation — sort of like the old comptometers. These are popular with people with various sorts of extreme wrist disability since your fingers don’t move. Most people achieve 30 to 50 WPM 2.5 to 4 CPS (Characters Per Second). They also make a version with a built-in track ball at the bottom center.

das Keyboard

daskeyboard.jpg

This is as all black keyboard, and I mean all black. The ultimate version does not even have any legends on the keys, though the professional version does. Not having legends forces you to touch type, all the keys. The touch is similar to an IBM Model M, but not quite as clicky. It uses Cherry gold-plated mechanical keyboard switches. $170.00 CAD It does not come with a DSK variant, though you could do that in software.

The Microsoft Minimalist Keyboard

ms_keyboard

Microsoft has take the BAT idea one step further in reducing the keys to the most commonly used Ctrl, Alt and Del.

Esperanto

Esperanto keyboard

Esperanto uses accented letters c g h j s u, but there is no q, w, x or y in native Esperanto words.

The TrulyErgonomic

TrulyErgonomic Keyboard

This keyboard costs about $200.00 USD The Truly Ergonomic uses a conventional QWERTY layout. It is a compact layout that reduces finger stretching and stretching to use the mouse. It uses premium brown (silent no click) gold-plated Cherry switches. It comes in a number of variations, with and without the wrist rest, with and without legends, silent or lightly clicky. You must preorder and wait several months. They collect orders, then use the money to manufacture a batch of keyboards. It is programmable. You can logically rearrange the keyboard layout in any way you please, though you cannot rearrange the keycaps since different rows have different shapes. That means you can have a DSK layout, but not DSK keycaps. The shift keys are placed one row higher than usual. What look like four tiny unmarked keys are not keys, just the keyboard surface between keys. The two long black keys are the space bars. Traditional keyboards have columns of keys hit with the same finger staggered. This makes no sense ergonomically. The Kinesis and the TrulyErogonomic have non-staggered columns. The tradition comes from the requirements of old mechanical typewriters to stagger the mechanical arms from each row to fit in limited space. Although keycaps of the same size can be interchanged and are easily removable, it is only recommended to switch keycaps within a given row as different rows have different profile shapes. This means you can’t rearrange the keycaps to DSK, but you could have a programmed DSK keyboard with QWERTY legends. They are headquartered in Vancouver, BC Canada, where I grew up.

Letter Frequency

letter frequency

Depending whom you ask, the frequency of use goes roughly like this: etaonhisrdlucmwgfypbkvjzxq. Note minor differences from the chart above. In designing your own layout keep these frequencies in mind when you place keys in the prime real estate or out in the boonies. The Dvorak home row in contrast, is aoeui dhtns. A more sophisticated layout takes the frequencies of various letter pairs into consideration as well. Different languages have different frequencies, so you need a variant layout for each language.

The Adaptive Keyboard

I know of no such smart keyboard, but here is how it would work. It has LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) keycaps to show you the layout. At the end of each week it analyses your typing speed on each key, and your frequency of use of various keys and key pairs. It then redesigns an optimal layout for the next week. You keep working like this until you decide to freeze the evolutionary adaptive feature.

Keyboard Feel

When selecting a new keyboard, not only is the layout important but the feel. You can’t judge this without taking a keyboard for an extended test drive. What should you look for? If you don’t choose a specialty keyboard, your new keyboard will be very inexpensive. There is no point in getting one that does not suit you to a T since it will so colour your experience of using your computer.

no QWERTY  Learning More

There is a Dvorak cult magazine called something like Quick Strokes that you can find in your local library. It is full of I converted to DSK and now I am in permanent bliss stories. I tease. It really contains tips on how to get DSK on all sorts of typing equipment. It also contains stories about how various businesses converted and how much it cost and what the dollar benefits were.

Marcus Brooks Dvorak Page is the most comprehensive and has links to dozens of others.

Jeff Bigler’s Dvorak Page

Kleanthes Koniaris’s Dvorak Page

Freelance Communications has published a book on Dvorak keyboards called The Dvorak Keyboard. They also put out a quarterly called Dvorak Developments.

Freelance Communications
P.O. Box 1895
Upland, CA (California)
91785

You can look up DSK Dvorak + keyboard in any of the Internet search engines.

Google

Trashing DSK

Spark on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) Radio had on an expert from Microsoft (who had never used DSK ) who claimed there was absolutely no justification to use DSK under any circumstances. His argument went like this:

I counter this way:

The Bottom Line

There really isn’t anything more you have to know about DSK than what I have told you. You simply have to decide. Is the pain of conversion worth it? Do you want everyone thinking you are weird because your keyboard looks funny? Do you have enough persistence to see it through? Are you already a great QWERTY typist so that improving your skill is not necessary? Do you spend enough time at a keyboard each day to bother with such an investment of effort? Can you afford to temporarily slow your typing speed? Is typing on a QWERTY keyboard giving you repetitive stress pain or injuries?

The one big question you want to know is, how much faster will you be? The problem is this thing called the bell shaped curve. Some people gain a lot, others a little. The only way to find out where you personally are on the curve is to do it. Once again, my bottom line recommendation: If you can afford it, go whole hog and get a Kinesis keyboard. A good keyboard will pay for itself quickly in terms of increased productivity.


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