During 2014 I decided to switch to Colemak keyboard layout. I just want now to give a brief overview of the process, and where I am right now. Here are a few pointers if you want to try it yourself.
Switching keyboard layouts is not easy. Many people give up and stick to qwerty forever. It is dumb but at least not as dumb as the old Portuguese hcesar keyboard layout.
COLEMAK OFFERS THE BEST OF TWO WORLDS, fewer keys change place—for example shortcuts keys like copy and paste stay in the same keyboard location—and more words are typed using the home row with less finger travelling.
PRACTICE. Typing fast is mainly a matter of practice and finger memory. I used Amphetype and Typeracer to improve over time. In Amphetype I downloaded a book from The Gutenberg Project and read it by typing it through.
I MADE SOME CHANGES to the original Colemak keyboard that have nothing to do with letters. I changed the numbers 6–0 to have the symbols of shifted 1–5 !@#$% that are very useful for programming, twitter, emails, latex, etc… and I didn’t want do be using shift to type them. I put 0 to the left of 1 and put 6–9 as shifted 1–4. I now need to press shift to enter those numbers, but I can use the number pad on the right of the keyboard. I AM STILL UNDECIDED ABOUT keeping this half system or to use the french azerty scheme of inverting all the numbers and shifted symbols (ColemaP figure above) — I used Ukelele for remapping Colemak to my version that I call ColemaP
DEFINE the caps lock key as a backspace. Even if you are still using qwerty. The caps lock is useless and having the backspace key on your left pinky is great. It takes some time to get used to but not having to rise and extend your right hand to reach the backspace is a time saver.
REVERTING BACK to qwerty is very easy as you don’t forget it that quickly. You lose some speed on qwerty but nothing that is that problematic. And when you go back you really feel it in your fingers how slow that layout is.
After deciding to learn Colemak to improve my touch-typing speed in the beginning of the month, I decided to give you an update on my progress:
After maybe one week I already knew the layout, but the speed was very slow, maybe 10wpm. This made it impossible to use it daily and therefore I kept using the qwerty layout.
Practice and more practice and even more practice brought the speed up to 27-30wpm. That’s not bad, but not enough, but recently I noticed that my writing speed in the qwerty layout was dropping. Because of this I’m considering going “Cold Turkey” and not looking back anymore. My initial plan was to do this only when I could do 40wpm consistently, but maybe if I switch a bit early the improvements will be faster.
Learning the new Colemak layout is a process that brings diminishing returns (approximately the speed grows logarithmic with time) and therefore it makes perfect sense to switch early as it will bring the most improvements and a sense of fulfillment as you see the speed going up.
I’ll keep “typing” about this, but I’d love to know about your experiences in switching to Colemak.
This is going to be probably the first part of a multi-part on my attempt to switch to the Colemak layout.
My reasoning to change keyboard layouts has to do with the amount of typing I really have to do every day. I can write consistently around 50-55 words per minute on a traditional QWERTY keyboard and this speed was slow for the amount of writing I did in my PhD thesis. As that is finished, I decided to invest some time in learning a better (and faster) keyboard layout.
I want a layout that is less stressful on my hands (not getting younger…) and is easy to transition to. After reading a lot about alternative keyboard layouts I decided to try out Colemak.
The main reason I adopted Colemak instead of Dvorak (another popular choice) was to make the transition from qwerty easy. There are fewer changes (17) to get used to and traditional shortcuts like copy and paste are in the same place.
My main concern right now is with the time it will take me to get at least to a similar speed as the old layout. I started practicing using the fabulous Amphtype software a few days ago. My idea is to read a book by writing it on the software. Right now my speed is around 18 wpm and my most used key is the backspace, but at least I have already memorised the layout.
By the way, this post was already written in Colemak. I’d love to hear about your experiences with different layouts and if you have any tips on how to improve the speed, please send them. I promise to keep you updated on my progress with the Colemak.