May 19, 2023

Switching from QWERTY to Colemak and Back

Given the integral role of computers in my daily life, perfecting my relationship with my keyboard has been something I’ve always been fascinated with. More specifically, the ubiquitous usage of QWERTY despite its known inefficiencies. Approximately a year ago, the Colemak layout caught my attention, promising increased typing efficiency and reduced finger movement.

The Switch to Colemak:

Intrigued by the claims of reduced muscle fatigue with Colemak, I decided to make the switch. Some interesting tidbits from the transition:

  • OSX has built-in Colemak support, but Windows does not.
  • You can use AHK or other portable programs to use Colemak without requiring administrative access. This is helpful if you’re using a locked-down’ computer but still quite annoying because I would have to carry a small USB key for every computer that I used or redownload the programs.
  • Speed was terrible and painful at the onset. I initially started out at 10 WPM. I used pretty much exclusively to train with their typing program, tests, and challenging others. You can use other sites, but I noticed that my WPM varied between different sites.
  • It took about 5 months before I was able to reach around 86 WPM.

The Return to QWERTY:

Colemak was great for one thing: comfort. It was amazing to type without your fingers having to do any significant movement. They could just rest on the middle row and you’d occasionally have to move a row up or down. There were a few problems, though.

  1. Speed - I knew that I could easily type at 90-100 WPM before the switch, but I seemed to stagnate in the mid 80’s.
  2. Compatibility - Because I use multiple different computers and occasionally other people’s computer, I found it more and more annoying that Colemak support was not built into Windows computers and the fact that I had to carry around a USB just to type.
  3. Vim bindings - As a heavy Vim user, my muscle memory went haywire with the switch.

After six months of using Colemak, I decided to switch back to QWERTY. To my dismay, my typing speed drastically plummeted to a mere 10 WPM initially but now its back higher than it was before.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Switching keyboard layouts requires substantial time and effort.

  2. Before making a significant change, assess how the switch may affect your workflow.

  3. Colemak is pretty awesome if your goal isn’t to be the fastest typer. I really think it should be the default keyboard layout taught.

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