On Dvorak, keyboard shortcuts, and TextExpander


I was reading a very interesting post on Daring Fireball this morning, about Tog's controversial opinion on the relative speed of using the keyboard and the mouse. I knew about this study, but John Gruber quoted something that I found really interesting:

By using Command X, C, and V, the user can select with one hand and act with the other. Two-handed input. Two-handed input can result in solid productivity gains (Buxton 1986).

Reading this, I realized that these keyboard shortcuts are very smartly placed on a qwerty (or azerty) keyboard, very close to the Command key, and all on the left-hand side of the keyboard. Unfortunately (for me), I'm used to Dvorak keyboard layouts, where the X is at the place of the B, where the C is at the place of the I, and where the V is at the place of the :. If you look at your keyboard, you'll see that they (B, I, :) are mostly on the center or right-hand side of the keyboard, right where the mouse-hand would not be ready.

But there is still hope for us, right-handed Dvorak lovers (more on why I'm using the Dvorak layout below): OS X ships with a Dvorak - Qwerty Command layout that is the usual Dvorak layout, but when one hits Command, the keyboard becomes a Qwerty layout, with keys now nicely placed. So I decided to try this, and retrain my muscle memory for Command-W, X, C, V, and Q. (Among many others...)

This story would be of no interest for the following point. I use TextExpander quite a bit. This small bit of software let you assign abbreviations to some text, like "aan" for "Alan Schmitt", "aaw" for "http://alan.petitepomme.net/", and "ddate" for the current date. This may sound very trivial, but I use it constantly (in fact I rely on this quite a bit when I'm browsing). Unfortunately, it seems that using the Dvorak - Qwerty Command layout break TextExpander: abbreviations expand to nothing. Searching for this, I found a post on the subject, which seemed to suggest that the situation is not so hopeful. I've contacted SmileOnMyMac tech support, highlighting that this problem is supposed to have been solved in version 1.3. I'm still waiting for an answer. But not all was lost, I discovered there than an improved Dvorak - Qwerty Command layout is available!

I guess the bottom line of all this is that there may be too much diversity to support in keyboard layouts, and everyone should just switch to Dvorak. ;-)

Speaking of which, here is a quick note as to why I use it. I started 4 or 5 years ago. It was a very interesting process: I got to know the layout in about one day, but it took at least a month before I could start to type, that is, before I would need to use my brain to know where the next key is. If you're a (not too good) piano player, you definitely know the feeling: you see the chords, but somehow the brain has to be involved and it takes one second to be able to play it. After practicing some, the brain can be short cut and playing is fluid, with no thinking involved. In other words, there is much more to doing than knowing.

Anyway, this does not explain why I switched to Dvorak. A stupid answer could be that my password would be more difficult to type. A smart answer would be provided by this comics. But the honest answer would be that I've liked change. I used to switch my watch from one wrist to the other every few months, just for the challenge of the physical learning. When I seriously started using computers, I used Windows, OS/2, then Linux. Staying on Linux I tried several WM, including Enlightenment (in which I contributed a tiny bit) and even ion. At one point I switched from Emacs to Vim. And in the maelstrom I did try the Dvorak layout, because I was a little worried about RSI, and also because it was a challenge. This is however how I learned to touch type, which is very useful!

Now it's several years later, all my computers are Macs, running OS X. But there are remains of this period: I wear my watch on the right wrist, I use TextMate as a text editor, and my keyboard layout is still Dvorak (on a physical Azerty keyboard, and I really don't want to use Azerty on a Mac). But I'm still up for a small challenge, like using shortcut keys the way they were meant to be, even if I have to relearn some things ;-)

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This page contains a single entry by Alan Schmitt published on January 4, 2008 11:17 PM.

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