Alternative keyboard layouts

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Layouts for typewriters were numerous and varied before the introduction of QWERTY on Remington & Sons typewriters in 1874. The introduction of new technologies that remove some of the limitations of early typewriters as well as the introduction of electronic keyboards came with the ability to make new key layouts.

English

Blick DHIATENSOR

Blick DHIATENSOR
Blick-Layout.PNG
Creator George C. Blickensderfer
Introduced

1893 (Typewriter)

2005? (ANSI)
'PWFU LCMY/
DHIAT ENSOR
ZXKGB VQJ,.

DHIATENSOR, also known as the Blickensderfer Scientific Key-Board layout by its creator was the primary keyboard layout available for the Blickensderfer typewriter, designed by George Canfield Blickensderfer in 1892. (The other typewriter layout was QWERTY, called "Universal") The moniker "DHIATENSOR" refers to the keys of the home row from left to right.

The typewriter keyboard has three rows and a symmetric stagger. The "home row" is the bottom row, where also digits are available through a shift key.

The layout was based on a study of the English language that had showed that 70% written text and about 85% of all words used the letters D,H,I,A,T,E,N,S,O and R. The middle row contains letters that occur 24% (13%) of the time and the top row in about 6% (2%) of all text (words).

Dvorak

Dvorak
Dvorak-Caps-BS-Swap-Layout.PNG
Creator August Dvorak and William L Dealey
Introduced 1936 (Typewriter)
1982 (ANSI)
',.PY FGCRL
AOEUI DHTNS
;QJKX BMWVZ
Patents US2040248 (1936)

Dvorak was created by Dr. August Dvorak in the early 1930's as an alternative to the QWERTY layout. Data was gathered in the form of closeup films of a typist fingers to create a primitive heat-map of key use and hand position.

  • The most common letters were roughly placed in the rows typists were thought to like best: home-row, top-row and last bottom-row.
  • Hand-alternation: To avoid occasional long strings of one-handed-operation, emphasis was placed on hand-alternation. All vowels were moved to the left side of the keyboard, and onto the home-row, including the rare U.
  • The right-hand is favored and receives 14% more usage than the lefty, which is 33% more than QWERTY because it favors the left hand with a similar percentage.

Criticisms of the Dvorak design:

  • Extreme dissimilarity from QWERTY. System and application hotkeys that are designed around QWERTY will need to be relearned or remapped
  • Hand-alternation. Poor single handed typing speed
  • Poor placement of common letters. L is a case-example of this


Evolved

Evolved (Second Experiment)
Klausler-Evolved.PNG
Creator Peter M. Klausler
License None
Introduced 2002 [1]
Website Evolved (archive)
K,UYP WLMFC
OAEID RNTHS
Q.';Z XVGBJ

Evolved was released around 2002 on Peter Klausler's own website. During his use of Dvorak he wondered how a better modern layout could be created with the aid of computers. A metric of "work" needed when touch typing with each layout was developed. The factors of what constituted work were as follows:

  • All 8 fingers start on the home row.
  • An index finger stretch to the center costs 1 unit.
  • Fingers of the same hand can't be on both the top and bottom row. When a top-row or bottom-row key is to be hit, each finger on the bottom or top row (respectively) moves to the home row, and that costs 1 unit each.
  • After that, if a finger has to move up or down to hit the key, it costs 1 unit. An additional unit is charged to move to the bottom row (except for the index finger in its natural column) or to move an index finger to the top row in its unnatural center column. Furthermore, moving a pinky up or down costs an additional unit. I have weak pinkies.
  • Hitting two distinct keys in succession with the same finger is really bad; 3 more units are charged.
  • An extra unit is assessed when nonadjacent fingers of the same hand are used in succession and they are not both on the home row.
  • But adjacent fingers are charged a unit to hit keys on distinct rows, and one more if there's adjacent movement between the top and bottom rows.
  • When a shift key is used, the fingers of the shifting hand move to the home row for free afterwards.

These rules were applied to a corpus of 20mb of English text from books, the bodies of all the authors emails, and about 100k lines of C code. This was to best reflect the authors typing habits. Along with the text samples there was the layouts which were generated programmatically. Additional considerations were added to the layout generation program for alternating hands and adjacent key hits (rolling) after real world testing. Klausler ended up switching back to Dvorak layout. [2]

Programmer Dvorak

Programmer Dvorak
Programmer-Dvorak-Layout.PNG
Creator Roland Kaufmann
License "Roland Kaufmann License"
Introduced 2003 [3]
Website kaufmann.no
;,.PY FGCRL
AOEUI DHTNS
'QJKX BMWVZ

Programmer Dvorak was released by Roland Kaufmann in about 2003 to his own website. The stated goal of the layout is to eliminate RSI in the way Dvorak does for copy typist with optimizations for programmers. Symbol placement in Dvorak is seen as just as bad as QWERTY to writing source code in C, C#, Java, Pascal, Lisp, CSS, XML and alikes. Thus the changes to symbol placement is meant to reduce the distance to commonly used symbols in the most common programming languages of the time. This leads to number being scrambled, though in a meaningful way. The numbers hit by the left hand are odd and in descending order starting with 7 and wrapping back around to 9. The numbers hit by the right hand are ascending even numbers starting with zero. Symbols that are regularly under the number row are on the unshifted/lower case layer while the numbers are on the shifted/upper case layer. This is because symbols are more common in source code then numbers as having pre-defined numbers in source code is an anti-pattern. For languages other then English a "Compose Key" is used to create accented characters.[4]

Capewell Family

Capewell-Dvorak

Capewell-Dvorak
Creator Michael Capewell
License None
Introduced 2004
Website michaelcapewell.com
',.PY QFGRK
OAEIU DHTNS
ZXCVJ LMWB;

Capewell-Dvorak is a modified version of Dvorak created in 2004 by Michael Capewell. The layout came about through issues Michael found with Dvorak and how he tried to reconcile them. The perceived issues are as follows:

  • Common shortcuts such as Ctrl+C are difficult to reach
  • The "I" key is much more common then the "U" key which is not accounted for
  • "GH" is a common digraph which are on the same finger
  • "F" and "X", "Y" and "B" on QWERTY, are more difficult to hit then accounted for
  • Hitting the upper row with the pinky finger, specifically for the "L" key, is more difficult then accounted for


The Capewell Layout

The Capewell Layout
Capewell-Layout.PNG
Creator Michael Capewell
License None
Introduced 2005
Website michaelcapewell.com
.YWDF JPLUQ
AERSG BTNIO
XZCV; KWH,'

The Capewell Layout was created in 2005 by Michael Capewell and released to his own site as a work in progress. Inspiration for creating the layout was drawn from Peter M. Klausler's Evolve layout generation program. Thus the layout is generated through a script along with some restrictions on how the key layout can be changed. Goals of the layout are as follows:

  • Significant reduction in movement over QWERTY (IE: 48% or 49%)
  • Maximize trigrams and bigrams on the same hand but different finger (IE: AS, WE, REA)
  • Minimize unconformable combos that exist on QWERTY (IE: DR, DT, CF, CS)
  • Keep ZXCF in the lower left to maintain system shortcuts
  • If a key in one of the center columns is used, have the keys typed before and after the key be typed by the other hand
  • Minimize use of certain positions on the keyboard (On QWERTY: Q, Z, P, /, J, B, X, .)


QWERF

QWERF
QWERF-Layout.PNG
Creator Michael Capewell
License None
Introduced 2006
Website michaelcapewell.com
QWERF JYLK;
ASDTG HUOIP
ZXCVB NM,./

QWERF was released in 2006 by Michael Capewell on his own site. It is a modification on QWERTY thus should be easy for users to learn. More common keys were moved to the home row for a finger movement reduction of 28% over QWERTY. The author claims that within one week a user of his layout could be back at their original typing speed.

Colemak

Colemak
Colemak-Layout.PNG
Creator Shai Coleman
License "Public domain"
Introduced 2006
Website colemak.com
QWFPG JLUY;
ARSTD HNEIO
ZXCVB KM,./

Colemak is an alternative keyboard created by Shai Coleman, named as a portmanteau of Dvorak and Coleman. Its design goals consist of easy transition from QWERTY due to repositioning only 17 letter keys. Additionally the AZXCV shortcuts are in the same location perhaps allowing an easier time switching from QWERTY.

It also claims greater efficiency than Dvorak. Furthermore it places complete emphasis on the home-row: the ten most-common characters in English are on the ten home-row keys.

Carpalx Family

The Carpalx project was created around 2005-06 by Martin Krzywinski as a project to find the best keyboard layout to minimize typing effort. This was to be achieved through measuring then optimizing the following in respect to QWERTY:

  • Hand-alternation or hand-balancing
  • Same-finger typing reduction
  • Finger flow such as rolling
  • Stronger typing finger use and index finger/pinky finger reduction
  • Difficult stroke path limiting (IE upward row progressions such as "nse")

Many layouts were measured through these methods and optimized derivatives were made off these existing layouts. Completely optimized layouts generated by the computer not using existing layouts as a reference were also created. The original primary focus of this project is for English language optimization but other languages, such as Dutch[5], were measured and optimized in recent years.[6]

QFMLWY (Full Optimization QWERTY-like)

Carpalx QFMLWY
Creator Martin Krzywinski
License GPL
Introduced 2010[7]
Website mkweb.bcgsc.ca
QFMLW YUOBJ
DSTNR IAEH;
ZVGCX PK,./

A computer optimized layout in which the restriction is that only the letter keys are allowed to move from their original QWERTY positions, symbols and numbers must stay in place.

QGMLWY (Full Optimization preserve shortcuts)

Carpalx QGMLWY
QGMLWY-Layout.PNG
Creator Martin Krzywinski
License GPL
Introduced 2010[7]
Website mkweb.bcgsc.ca
QGMLW YFUB;
DSTNR IAEOH
ZXCVJ KP,./

A computer optimized layout in which the restriction is that the letter keys can move from their original QWERTY positions, the semicolon can be moved to the top row, and the ZXCV keys must stay in their original places. The movement of the semicolon creates a Colemak-like character layout.

QGMLWB (Full Optimization Colemak-like)

Carpalx QGMLWB
Creator Martin Krzywinski
License GPL
Introduced 2010[7]
Website mkweb.bcgsc.ca
QGMLW BYUV;
DSTNR IAEOH
ZXCFJ KP,./

A computer optimized layout in which the restriction is that the letter keys can move from their original QWERTY positions and the semicolon can be moved to the top row. The movement of the semicolon creates a Colemak-like character layout. This layout is considered a "full optimization", as it is a sane re arrangement of all punctuation and alpha keys to achieve the lowest "total effort".


Norman

Norman
Norman-Layout.PNG
Creator David Norman
License CC0
Introduced 2008
Website normanlayout.info
QWDFK JURL;
ASETG YNIOH
ZXCVB PM,./

Norman was created in 2008 by David Norman.

Workman

Workman
Workman.PNG
Creator OJ Bucao
License "OJ Bucao License"
Introduced 2010
Website workmanlayout.com (archive)
QDRWB JFUP;
ASHTG YNEOI
ZXMCV KL,./

Workman was created in 2010 in a blog post by OJ Bucao. It is designed around the use of a non-staggered layout or ortho-linear layout but works just fine on standard staggered layout keyboards. The main design goal is to keep the fingers to their main 4 columns per hand and de-prioritizing columns in the middle and sides. This minimizes diagonal and lateral movement.

Norwegian

Arensito

Arensito (Simplified)
Arensito-Simplified-Layout.PNG
Creator Håkon Hallingstad
License None
Introduced 2001 [8]
Website pvv.org (archive)
QL.P' ;FUDK
ARENB GSITO
ZW,HJ VCYMX

Arensito was released in 2001 by Håkon Hallingstad and is also known as the Hallingstad layout. It was originally made to suit the Kinesis Contoured and two-handed Maltron, though an adaptation for usage on standard keyboard was developed later. The named comes from its home-row as apposed to QWERTY which named from its top row. The design intentions are as follows:

  • Places the eight most used characters under your fingertips
  • Is the layout that minimizes the probability that you use the same finger twice (in succession)
  • Is the layout that maximizes the probability for using neighbor fingers in succession (and keeps the probability of sequences like y-d or z-l diminishingly low). This lets the fingers strike diagraphs and trigraphs extremely fast
  • Keep the workload off the pinkies. Both pinkies press a button about 40% less than the other fingers

Some punctuation and programming symbols are placed under the AltGr layer, where they are closer to the fingers' home position.

German

Neo

Neo
Neo-2-Layout.PNG
Creator Multiple?
License GPLv3
Introduced 2004 [9]
Website neo-layout.org
XVLCW KHGFQß
UIAEO SNRTDY
ÜÖÄPZ BM,.J

Neo was released in 2004 and open sourced to allow multiple users to contribute to. It was developed with the experiences of other ergonomic layouts like Dvorak in mind. It is mainly targeted at German users, but supports nearly all characters of Latin-based alphabets, as well as the Vietnamese and some African alphabets. It consists of six layers, available by combinations of multiple modifier keys. Using these layers there are special characters available which are not easily available in QWERTY-based layouts, like mathematical symbols and Greek letters. The layers are as follows:

Layer Usage
1 Lowercase characters
2 Uppercase characters, typographical characters
3 Special characters, especially for programming, etc.
4 Navigation keys, Numberblock, etc.
5 Greek lowercase characters
6 Mathematical symbols and Greek uppercase characters


AdNW (Aus der Neo-Welt)

AdNW (Aus der Neo-Welt)
AdNW-Layout.PNG
Creator Multiple
License "Public Domain"
Introduced abt 2012 [10]
Website adnw.de
KUÜ.Ä VGCLJF
HIEAO DTRNSß
XYÖ,Q BPWMZ

AdNW is a Dvorak-like layout which appeared around 2012 for the German and English languages.

History

AdNW is a layout that emerged from online discussions about Neo, a layout that was made for the German language. The discussion focused on whether Neo layout which was new at the time was an improvement over Dvorak for German and English typist. AdNW was created in response to this converation, from the idea that a layout could be made that was better then Dvorak or Neo for typist who write in both German and English. To do this, Dvorak's usability criteria were coded in a newly programmed layout optimizer. Since the group formed itself during the Neo discussions, they called their layout "From the Neo World", which in German is Aus der Neo-Welt, abbreviated to AdNW.

Philosophy and Performance

AdNW is based on roughly the same ideas as "Dvorak" keyboard. Being in the Dvorak tradition, the following aspects are important:

  • Same finger use (low)
  • Adjacent finger use(*)(low)
  • Inward motions versus Outward motions (high)
  • Home row use (high)
  • Row jumps (low)
  • Finger balance (less on pinkies, more on middle and index)

(*)On QWERTY AS and SD which are right next together is a negative mark against the layout. The AD and SF positions are seen as better. The idea is that adjacent fingers, especially the pinky and ring finger are not completely independent. Making "rolls" with adjacent finger less pleasant and therefore to be avoided. "Rolls" on index and middle finger (e.g. ER on QWERTY) are less problematic and get a lower penalty for that reason.

As a result of these criteria, the AdNW layouts also have a balanced Left/Right distribution (roughly 50% of effort on each hand, compared to QWERTY that puts most work on the right hand) and a high hand alternation. Alternation means that common letter combinations like ER or IN are not typed on one hand (like in QWERTY) but on two hands. In AdNW, E and I are on the left side, R and N on the right.

To make the differences between QWERTZ and AdNW clear, they are compared both visually and statistically. The graphs and data are produced by the AdNW optimizer. In the graphs, the letter 'flow' is shown. The more common a digraph is (e.g. ER), the fatter the line that is drawn between these two letters.

AdNW and QWERTZ compared.

Looking at the graphs, one sees that QWERTY uses the left hand a lot, especially the top row. Some of the most frequent bigrams are on the left top row (WE, ER, ET, RT). On the right hand the frequent IN bigram includes an home row jump, which is seen as highly unwanted. Compared to QWERTY, AdNW is more balanced, has more home row use, and much less one handed bigrams. Frequent bigrams (like WE, ER and so on) are not typed with one hand, but alternate between hands.

Even though AdNW was optimized for 50/50 English/German, it performs quite well for English solely. Comparison Below:

AdNW and QWERTY compared.

Compared to QWERTY:

  • AdNW is more balanced left/right (52.7 versus 59.0)
  • AdNW is more home row oriented (72% typed on homerow, versus 32.6% in QWERTZ)
  • AdNW is more balanced over fingers (less use of right hand index and middle finger; more of other fingers)
  • AdNW has more hand alternation (70.8% versus 52.2%)
  • AdNW has less adjacent finger bigrams
  • AdNW has less same finger use
  • AdNW has higher home row usage

Variations

From its inception AdNW has had several variations apart from the standard community release version. The other versions place slightly different weight to Dvorak's criteria (e.g. even lower adjacent finger use, at the expense of other criteria). Some of these variations are designed for different keyboards (matrix/orthogonal layouts, Ergodox, TEK etc.) or for other languages. A user can also calculate a custom layout.

Reasons for calculating a custom layout include:

  • Non-standard physical keyboard, for instance a Planck, a Space Cadet, a modded Ergodox or a DIY split keyboard
  • Different preferences regarding finger use, alternation, and so on. Users may sacrifice performance on one aspect (e.g. alternation) in order to gain better performance on others (e.g. lower same finger use).
  • Physical differences between users
  • Input language. Users may not type 50/50 English-German prose, but for instance 30% French scientific prose and 70% Python code.

All this can be combined: a user may calculate an optimal layout for "30% English prose, 40% Swedish forum use, 30% Polish, for Maltron keyboard, that avoids using the pinkies and that prefers the bottom row over the top row". Because of this freedom, there is not one single AdNW layout.

Some other examples of AdNW layouts are:

Standard AdNW

KUÜ.Ä VGCLJF
HIEAO DTRNSß
XYÖ,Q BPWMZ

Bu-Tek - for the Truly Ergonomic Keyboard

ßbu.,ü pclmfx
 hieao dtrns
 kyöäq jgwvz

KOY - even less adjacent finger use

K.O,Y VGCLßZ
HAEIU DTRNSF
XQÄÜÖ BPWMJ

AdNW-NL_EN - for Dutch and English - like old Dutch typewriters, it has a dedicated ij key (Unicode 0133)

buy,! fpvmljx
saeio gdtnrw
z:.ij/ kcmhq

Without ß Ä Ü Ö - diacritics replaced

KU!.@ VGCLJF
HIEAO DTRNS:
XY/,Q BPWMZ

Community and Use

Software: AdNW consists of a layout and several software implementations:

  • Drivers & scripts for using the layout on Windows, Linux, OSX and *BSD; with versions for standard keyboards and for ergonomic keyboards (Ergodox, Maltron and others). This includes AutoHotKey files for Windows.
  • Typing training software
  • The Optimizer: an algorithm (written in C++11 and open sourced) for calculating a custom AdNW-layout.

Userbase: AdNW is not a massively adopted layout. The (German language) Google user group has around 100 participants, mostly from Germany. The AdNW website is in German as well. However, the manual of the optimizer is in English, and participants on the discussion group say they are very open to questions in English.

Support: The developers of the software are active on the discussion forum and answer support questions.

Development: AdNW has been iterated upon by many in its community. Usually these changes are trade-offs between the specific use-case the layout is being optimized for. The developers claim that there is not much room for further overall improvement, but invite users to prove them wrong and to come up with new ideas.


French

BvoFrak

BvoFrak
BvoFrak-v1.0-Layout.PNG
Creator H.
License CC BY-NC
Introduced 2011 [11]
Website bvofrak.blogspot.com


Bépo

Bépo
BEPO-Layout.PNG
Creator Nicolas Chartier and many others
License CC-BY-SA
Introduced 2005 [12]
Website bepo.fr


References