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Why Use Dvorak?
We are talking about the Dvorak keyboard layout. However, there is no point in installing a different keyboard layout if you are not going to use it. If you have already made up your mind and want to get straight on with installing feel free to skip to the relevant section. The standard reasons cited for using Dvorak are:

  • Dvorak was designed with speed in mind.
  • Qwerty was designed to slow typists down to avoid collisions.
  • You get less RSI using Dvorak.

As far as I can tell, it is an urban legend that Qwerty was designed to slow typists. Dvorak was definitely designed however with the idea of minimising finger motion when typing English text. There have been studies done on this (potentially biased as it is a site for the Dvorak keyboard, but it looks fair). The most commonly used letters are all on the home row.

Personally I use Dvorak for the following reasons:

  • Less ache after typing, this is purely anecdotal as I have not been measuring it and I’m only one person who has never had actual RSI from typing.
  • More Geeky, I like doing things just because they are geeky / hard or both.
  • Other people can’t easily use my computer (this may be a good or bad thing depending on your situation.
  • Re-learning to type (or re-programming my fingers) for interest about the learning process.

I can also see that people may use it to teach themselves to touch type if they just use two fingers. These people may find it hard to learn as it’s faster to type as they normally would. Using Dvorak would force them to touch type as they wouldn’t be able to type as they normally do.

There are also other versions based on the Dvorak concepts, for example both a right-handed and left-handed version designed for typing efficiently with only one hand. Other variants are mostly rearranging positioning of punctuation and numbers, personally I use the UK punctuation variant as I am from the UK and need to use the pound sign quite a lot.

People do disagree about Dvorak vs. Qwerty so I say make up your mind which you want to use, and go for it. If the keyboard you want to use is Dvorak, read on.

How to install under Linux, desktop settings
In Linux it is possible to set the keyboard layout to Dvorak when you first install Linux, but I am going to assume you already have Linux installed. These were written for the KDE desktop environment but the others should be very similar.

  1. Go into your system settings.
  2. In the input devices section, go to keyboard, and layout.
  3. Make sure the configure layouts tick-box is checked, and click the add a layout button.
  4. Use the drop down menus to find the appropriate Dvorak keyboard.
  5. If the Dvorak keyboards do not show up, you may need to install them, see instructions for your distribution or use the config files.

How to install under Linux, config files
These instructions were written for Arch Linux, following these articles on the Arch Wiki on Xorg and configuring keyboard layouts. This is the method I used because I set it when I installed Arch for the first time.

If you set it up in Xorg config files, it means anything that runs inside Xorg will use that keyboard layout. This includes graphical command line terminals like Konsole or GNOME Terminal. It does not include the text consoles (tty1 – tty6) accessed by ctrl-alt-F1 etc. as these are truly command line interface and do not use Xorg.

  1. Edit (as root, or using sudo) /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/10-evdev.conf in your favourite text editor.
  2. Under the keyboard section, add the following lines:
    • Option “XkbLayout” “gb”
    • Option “XkbVariant” “dvorak”
  3. Then you need to restart x, either by logging out and logging in again, or rebooting.

This will give you the GB variant of the Dvorak keyboard. If you want a different variant, there will be an equivalent layout and variant.

Alternatively, there is another way to set the keyboard layout system-wide (including tty terminals):

  1. Edit (as root, or using sudo) /etc/rc.conf in your favourite text editor.
  2. Find the localisation section.
  3. Either change, or add the KEYMAP variable to:
    • KEYMAP=”dvorak”

This will start next time your rc.conf file is loaded, which is on reboot (generally rc.conf is not reloaded without a reboot). It has fewer options for variants here, so if you want the GB variant, it is better to set it under Xorg. If you set both, the Xorg layout takes precedence when running programs under Xorg.

How to install under Windows
These instructions were written for Windows 7 but I’m sure the process will be similar for Vista and Windows XP.

  1. Firstly in the control panel, go into the Region and Language settings.
  2. In the Keyboards and Languages tab, click the change keyboards button.
  3. Add an installed service.
  4. Choose United States – Dvorak (last time I looked they didn’t have a variant for UK punctuation).
  5. Under advanced key settings choose the key combination to toggle between keyboard layouts.