I Switched to Colemak

I decided to stop being a QWERTY user. If you don't know what a QWERTY user is, you are one.

What's Colemak?

QWERTY is the most popular keyboard layout for the English language. It gets it's name from the first six characters on the keyboard. Look at any keyboard, perhaps the one on the device you are currently using. That's the QWERTY layout - a layout so ubiquitous that it leads many to believe it is the only keyboard layout. It's not.

Many other keyboard layouts have been introduced since the birth of QWERTY in the late nineteeth century. The goal of these layouts is always the same - create a modern layout that improves upon QWERTY to give a faster, more comfortable typing experience. The most popular of these layouts is called Dvorak. The Dvorak layout is completely different than QWERTY and it has a sigificant following. But I didn't learn Dvorak. I decided to learn Colemak instead.

Colemak is a keyboard layout introduced in 2006. It is based on QWERTY, but it changes the placement of 17 keys. Colemak is kinder to modern typists who've gotten used to common keyboard shortcuts (ex: CTRL-C to copy). Colemak doesn't move most of the keys that are commonly used in keyboard shortcuts, such as Q, Z, X and C. Colemak is well supported. You can use it on Windows, Mac, Linux, iPhone and Android.

Why switch?

I considered switching layouts in the past, but never went through with it. However, these days I type a lot. I'm a programmer and I spend anywhere from four to... twelve hours a day on my computer. I'd like the typing experience to be as comfortable as possible. Also, it feels cool to type in a new layout. That might actually be the biggest reason for the switch. Another reason for switching it to prevent RSI issues.

How I made the switch

I started by adding the Colemak layout to my keyboard layout options. This allowed me to switch between QWERTY and Colemak whenever I needed to. I printed out the Colemak layout and kept it as a reference for the firt few days. I forced myself to use Colemak in the evenings, but at work I stuck with QWERTY. Colemak was slow at first (less than 10 wpm), but it felt more comfortable right away. After I got above 20 wpm, I started using Colemak at work. After a month I could comfortably type at above 30 wpm.


All in all, switching wasn't very hard. It was slow, but not difficult. There were a few challenges.

  1. Colemak's backspace key is where the QWERTY caps lock key is. You erase text with your left pinky. That took a while to get used to, and it was made worse by the fact that I needed to use the key so often as a new Colemak user. It's fine now, though.

  2. Learning the layout isn't difficult, but reprogramming my fingers is hard. After a day I knew where all the keys were, and with thought I could hit them, but the second I wasn't concentrating, old habits would sneak back in. Over a month later, I still have trouble typing the following: 'I', '.com', 'OK', 'google', 'but', 'and', and any of my passwords. It turns out that typing is a lot like speaking. You often say things before you realize what you're going to say.

  3. I can't type QWERTY very well anymore. I'm fine with that.