QWERTY keyboard dumped for low-pain Colemak

I can type simple lower-case words at over 100 words per minute on a QWERTY keyboard, slowing
down for more complex texts with lots of numbers and punctuations or if the writing takes a lot of thought.  However typing all day is causing finger strain, so I sought a keyboard layout to minimises finger motion.   Colemak is that layout.


QWERTY is a pain

The QWERTY layout has two design goals (1) to be able to type "typewriter" on the top row for demonstrations, and (2) prevent typewriter keys from jamming.   Goal (1) puts frequent keys like t,e,r and i on the top row, and goal (2) results in a lot of "same-finger jumping" where the same finger has to jump rows to type common pairs of letters - for example ed, ce, ju, im, mu, nu, mi, um, ol, lo, ki.

Colemak to the rescue

For a while I've looked at buying some sort of fancy ergonomic keyboard from a manufacturer that doesn't realise how broken QWERTY is. Then via some iPhone app news mentioning it I came across the Colemak website. Colemak is a keyboard layout designed in 2006, partially computer-optimised. According to its model, more than halves typing effort versus QWERTY, about the same as Dvorak but with features that make it easier to learn:
  • Home row keys (arstdhneio) put the 10 most frequent letters in English under your fingertips
  • Pinky finger is used only rarely
  • Loads of "hand-roll combos" where you type 2, 3 or even 4 keys in one smooth motion.
  • 10 keys stay where they are in QWERTY (namely Q,A,Z,X,C,V,B,H,M)
  • Most windows keyboard shortcuts stay the same (see above)
  • All keys except E and P are typed with the same finger or same hand as on QWERTY.
Learning Colemak

Colemak can be learnt using TypeFaster on Windows or KTouch on Linux or the Keybr Flash applet, and download lessons from the www.colemak.com. In Windows you install the custom Colemak layout and switch between QWERTY and Colemak with shortcut keys. Colemak is for touch-typing, so you are not supposed to go to the effort of physically re-labelling your keyboard and may not even need to print a cheat sheet if you do a few hours of lessons first.

I started on Monday with GTypist lessons, and also used KTouch. On Windows, TypeFaster has an awesome feature where it generates personalised lessons that drill you on your slowest or least accurate keys. On Thursday, I switched my keyboards to Colemak, which was annoying for a while as my speed was under 20 words per minute and accuracy was low and I had to relearn some shortcuts.
It's now Saturday and I've hit 30 words per minute, though more like 20 right now but with better accuracy.  I don't seem to have forgotten QWERTY. Given a minute to adjust, I can switch between QWERTY and Colemak as I please. I just need to remember to keep practising a few minutes a day.

Masochists may instead be interested in the TNWCLR, which increases typing effort 112% over QWERTY.

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