typing element

Dvorak Simplified Keyboard

The Dvorak Simplified Keyboard (or ) is a keyboard layout patented in 1936 by Dr. August Dvorak, an educational psychologist and professor of education at the University of Washington in Seattle, and William Dealey as an alternative to the more common QWERTY layout. It has also been called the Simplified Keyboard or American Simplified Keyboard but is commonly known as the Dvorak keyboard or Dvorak layout.

Although the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard ("DSK") has failed to displace the QWERTY as de facto, it has become easier to access in the computer age, being included with all major operating systems (such as Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and BSD) in addition to the standard QWERTY layout. It is also supported at the hardware level by some high-end ergonomic keyboards.


The Dvorak layout was designed to address the problems of inefficiency and fatigue which characterized the QWERTY keyboard layout. The QWERTY layout was introduced in the 1860s, being used on the first commercially-successful typewriter, the machine invented by Christopher Sholes. The QWERTY layout was designed so that successive keystrokes would alternate between sides of the keyboard so as to avoid jams. Improvements in typewriter design made key jams less of a problem, but the introduction of the electric typewriter in the 1930s made typist fatigue more of a problem, leading to increased interest in the Dvorak layout.

Dvorak studied letter frequencies and the physiology of people's hands and created a layout to adhere to these principles:

  • Letters should be typed by alternating between hands.
  • For maximum speed and efficiency, the most common letters and digraphs should be the easiest to type. This means that they should be on the home row, which is where the fingers rest, and under the strongest fingers.
  • The least common letters should be on the bottom row, which is the hardest row to reach.
  • The right hand should do more of the typing, because most people are right-handed.
  • Digraphs should not be typed with adjacent fingers.
  • Stroking should generally move from the edges of the board to the middle. An observation of this principle is that, for many people, when tapping fingers on a table, it is easier going from little finger to index than vice versa. This motion on a keyboard is called inboard stroke flow.

The Dvorak layout was intended for the English language. In other European languages, letter frequencies, letter sequences, and digraphs differ from English. Also, some languages have letters that do not occur in English. For non-English use, these differences lessen the advantages of the original Dvorak keyboard. However, the Dvorak principles have been applied to the design of keyboards for these other languages.

The layout was completed in 1932 and was granted in 1936. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) designated the Dvorak keyboard as an alternate standard keyboard layout in 1982; the standard is X3.207:1991 (previously X4.22-1983), "Alternate Keyboard Arrangement for Alphanumeric Machines". The original ANSI Dvorak layout was available as a factory-supplied option on the original IBM Selectric typewriter.

In 1984, the Dvorak layout had an estimated 100,000 users.

Original Dvorak layout

The layout standardized by the ANSI differs from the original or "classic" layout devised by Dvorak. Today’s keyboards have more keys than the original typewriter did, and other significant differences existed:

  • The numeric keys of the classic Dvorak layout are as follows:

7 5 3 1 9 0 2 4 6 8

  • In the classic Dvorak layout, the question mark key [?] is in the leftmost position of the upper row, while the slash mark key [/] is in the rightmost position of the upper row.
  • The following symbols share keys (the second symbol being printed when the SHIFT key is pressed):
    • colon [:] and question mark [?]
    • ampersand [&] and slash [/]
    • comma [,] and semicolon [;]

Modern U.S. keyboard layouts almost always place semicolon and colon together on a single key and slash and question mark together on a single key. Thus, if the keycaps of a modern keyboard are rearranged so that the unshifted symbol characters match the classic Dvorak layout then, sensibly, the result is the ANSI layout.

Modern operating systems

Early PCs

Although some word processors could simulate alternative keyboard layouts through software, this was application-specific; if more than one program was commonly used (e.g. a word processor and a spreadsheet), the user could be forced to switch layouts depending on the application.

However, IBM-compatible PCs used an active, "smart" keyboard, where the keyboard was actually a peripheral device (powered by the keyboard port). Striking a key generated a key "code", which was sent to the computer. Thus, changing to an alternative keyboard layout was most easily accomplished by simply buying a keyboard with the new layout. Because the key codes were generated by the keyboard itself, all software would respond accordingly. In the mid- to late-1980s, a small cottage industry for replacement PC keyboards arose; although most of these were concerned with keyboard "feel" and/or programmable macros, there were several with alternate layouts such as Dvorak.


According to Microsoft, versions of the Windows operating system including Windows 95, Windows NT 3.51 and higher have shipped with support for the U.S. Dvorak layout. Free updates to use the layout on earlier Windows versions are available for download from Microsoft.

Earlier versions, such as DOS 6.2/Windows 3.1, included four keyboard layouts: QWERTY, two-handed Dvorak, right-hand Dvorak, and left-hand Dvorak.

All known DOS/Windows implementations prior to Windows XP required restarting the machine or application after installing a new keyboard layout.

Unix-based systems

Many operating systems based on UNIX, including OpenBSD, FreeBSD, Plan 9, and most Linux distributions, can be configured to use either the U.S. Dvorak layout or the UK/British Dvorak Layout. However, all current Unix-like systems with Xorg and appropriate keymaps installed (and virtually all systems meant for desktop use include them) are able to use any QWERTY layout as a Dvorak one without any problems or additional configuration. This removes the burden of producing additional keymaps for every variant of QWERTY provided.

UNIX Shell scripts are available for switching keymaps without restarting.

Apple computers

Apple had Dvorak advocates since the company’s early (pre-IPO) days. Several engineers devised hardware and software to remap the keyboard, which were used inside the company and even sold commercially.

Apple II

The Apple IIe had a keyboard ROM that translated keystrokes into characters. The ROM contained both QWERTY and Dvorak layouts, but the QWERTY layout was enabled by default. A modification could be made by pulling out the ROM, bending up four pins, soldering a resistor between two pins, soldering two others to a pair of wires connected to a micro switch, which was installed in a pre-existing hole in the back of the machine, then plugging the modified ROM back in its socket. The "hack" was reversible and did no damage. By flipping a switch on the machine’s back panel, the user could switch from one layout to the other. This modification was entirely unofficial but was inadvertently demonstrated at the 1984 Comdex show, in Las Vegas, by an Apple employee whose mission was to demonstrate Apple Logo II. The employee had become accustomed to the Dvorak layout and brought the necessary parts to the show, installed them in a demo machine, then did his Logo demo. Viewers, curious that he always reached behind the machine before and after allowing other people to type, asked him about the modification. He spent as much time explaining the Dvorak keyboard as explaining Logo.

Apple brought new interest to the Dvorak layout with the Apple IIc, which had a mechanical switch above the keyboard whereby the user could switch back and forth between the QWERTY layout and the ANSI Dvorak layout: this was the most official version of the IIe Dvorak mod. Late-model Apple II computers added a switch inside the computer for switching to Dvorak, and the Dvorak layout was also selectable using the built-in control panel applet on the Apple IIGS.

Apple III

The Apple III used a keyboard-layout file loaded from a floppy disk: the standard system-software package included QWERTY and Dvorak layout files. Changing layouts required restarting the machine.

Apple Lisa

Keyboard mapping on the Lisa was a black art, known only to a few of the Lisa Toolsmiths, none of whom used the Dvorak layout. The technical documentation available to third-party developers does not mention keyboard mapping.

Mac OS

In its early days, the Macintosh could be converted to the Dvorak layout by making changes to the "System" file: this was not easily reversible and required restarting the machine. This modification was highly unofficial, but it was comparable to many other user-modifications and customizations that Mac users made. Using the "resource editor", ResEdit, users could create keyboard layouts, icons, and other useful items. Many wonders appeared at user-group meetings. A few years later, a third-party developer offered a utility program called MacKeymeleon, which put a menu on the menu bar that allowed on-the-fly switching of keyboard layouts. Eventually, Apple Macintosh engineers built the functionality of this utility into the standard System Software, along with a few layouts:QWERTY, Dvorak, French (AZERTY), and other foreign-language layouts.

Since about 1998, beginning with Mac OS 8.6, Apple has included the Dvorak layout. Apple also includes a Dvorak variant they call “Dvorak — Qwerty Command”. With this layout, the keyboard becomes QWERTY when the Command (Apple) key is held down. This makes transition for some people easier. Mac OS and subsequently Mac OS X allows "on-the-fly" switching between layouts: a menu-bar icon (by default, a national flag that matches the current language, a `DV' represents Dvorak and a `DQ' represents Dvorak — Qwerty Command) brings up a popup menu, allowing the user to choose the desired layout. Subsequent keystrokes will reflect the choice, which can be reversed the same way.

Mobile phones

A number of mobile phones today are built with either full QWERTY keyboards or software implementations of them on a touch screen. As of version 2.1, the iPhone OS only provides a QWERTY layout. As of version 4.3, the Blackberry OS also only provides a QWERTY (or AZERTY, if purchased in France) layout.

Resistance to adoption

Although the Dvorak layout is the only other keyboard layout registered with ANSI and is provided with all major operating systems, attempts to convert universally to the Dvorak layout have not succeeded. The failure of the Dvorak layout to displace the QWERTY layout has been the subject of some studies and of considerable debate.

In 1956, a General Services Administration study by Earle Strong, which included an experiment involving ten experienced government typists, concluded that Dvorak training would never be able to amortize its costs. The study was a large obstacle for the wide adoption of Dvorak for many firms and government agencies. One criticism of the experiment is that it did not involve any beginning typists; however, Liebowitz notes that it parallels the decision that a real firm or government agency would need to make: Is it worthwhile to retrain its present typists? However, there were other arguably fatal flaws. One criticism of the study points out that the Dvorak typists were not given adequate time to reach their potential competence, and what promise had been demonstrated by the Dvorak typists was ignored by the researchers. In addition to this flaw in the study, Strong's bias against the Dvorak keyboard was questionable at best. Seven years before the study Strong wrote "I have developed a great deal of material on how to get this increased production on the part of typists on the standard keyboard. Consequently, I am not in favor of purchasing new keyboards and retraining typists on the new keyboard. ... I strongly feel that the present keyboard has not been fully exploited, and I am out to exploit it to its utmost in opposition to the change to new keyboards." In addition, there is other evidence that Strong and Dr. Dvorak had a strained business relationship. It is also notable that when researchers had asked Strong for the data to his study, Strong had destroyed the data.

However, in considering resistance to the adoption of the Dvorak layout, different segments of the market (non-typists, typists, corporations and manufacturers) differ in the extent, nature, and motivation of their resistance. Furthermore, the influence of these factors on the different segments of the market has changed over time, following changes in technology and awareness of Dvorak as an alternative keyboard layout. Factors against adoption of the Dvorak layout have included the following:

  1. Failure to demonstrate superiority in speed, economy of effort, and accuracy--noting that the significant issue here is the demonstrability. Few studies have been done on the relative efficiency of the two keyboard layouts, and those studies have been criticised for failing to adhere to rigorous academic standards.
  2. Failure to achieve the general population's awareness that the Dvorak layout existed. This improved somewhat following the Guinness Book of Records 1985 publication of Barbara Blackburn’s achievement of 212 wpm using a Dvorak keyboard, and again in the mid-1990s when computer operating systems began to incorporate the Dvorak layout as an option.
  3. Failure to overcome an investment in competence in the QWERTY layout made by a large number of typists and typist trainers prior to the general availability of the Dvorak layout. This investment has proved the most powerful influence up until the 1990s. Typing training in schools and secretarial colleges is almost always done on the QWERTY layout both because it conforms with the expectation of industry and because it is the layout with which most teachers or trainers are already familiar. Many QWERTY typists have retrained themselves to use the Dvorak layout because the emphasis in touch typing is traditionally on speed and accuracy, and because Dvorak users commonly report a reduction in typing-related injuries such as carpal-tunnel syndrome.
  4. A reduction in efficiency while learning the Dvorak layout further impedes its adoption by typists already competent with QWERTY, and the organizations that employ them.
  5. Failure to persuade large typewriter manufacturers to produce significant volumes of typewriters equipped with Dvorak layouts. It would be sufficient to argue that the manufacturers were responding to the large QWERTY user base, rather than considering the plausible but unproven assertion that manufacturers had a vested interest in ensuring that typists could not type faster than the machines could respond mechanically.
  6. Converting standard mechanical typewriters to Dvorak (or any alternative, e.g. international, layout) was often impractical, and at best expensive, so switching to Dvorak usually required a new, dedicated machine. A notable exception was the popular IBM Selectric typewriter, which used a single spherical typing element rather than individual character hammers; it could easily be converted by replacing the QWERTY typing element with an available Dvorak equivalent.
    This problem is somewhat reduced with the advent of PCs, which created the opportunity to use computer programs to change the character that was produced when a particular key was pressed. This capacity benefited not only Dvorak typists, but those who typed in languages other than English. With early computers, this required the contents of the character-generator ROM to be changed; but with subsequent designs, only a table in memory or the disk file storing this table needed to be changed. By the mid 1990s the Dvorak layout was a standard option on most computer systems. With most modern operating systems, it is possible to switch keyboard layouts "on the fly" without additional software or reconfiguration. This makes it very easy for users of different key layouts to share a PC.
  7. Incompatibility between the two keyboard layouts on computers, where keys are assigned additional functions within software programs. In some cases related additional functions are assigned to keys that are physically proximate on the QWERTY layout, but not so in the Dvorak layout; for example, the Unix text editor vi uses the keys H, J, K and L to cause movement to the left, down, up, and right, respectively. With a QWERTY layout, these keys are all together under the right-hand home row, but with the Dvorak layout they are no longer neatly together. In many video games, keys W, A, S and D are used for arrow movements (their inverse-T arrangement on a QWERTY layout mirrors the arrangement of the cursor keys). In the Dvorak layout, this is no longer true. Keyboard shortcuts in GUIs for undo, cut, copy and paste operations are Ctrl (or Command) + Z, X, C, and V respectively; conveniently located in the same row in the QWERTY layout, but not on a Dvorak layout. Some of these issues can be overcome with programming solutions, and much software handles the keyboard correctly, for example most games. It does however add a layer of complexity to using computer applications which don't.
  8. Some confusion regarding which of the keyboard layouts designed by August Dvorak is the "real" Dvorak layout. This arose in part due to the existence of, in addition to the standard layout, layouts for left-handed (only) and right-handed (only) use. Also, while Dvorak specified a particular layout for the number sequence at the top of the keyboard, most implementations of the Dvorak layout retain the ‘1,2,3...9,0’ arrangement; most people who want to type numbers quickly will use the numeric keypad rather than the top row.

An appreciation of the strength of the resistance factors (particularly the investment in typewriter manufacturing) suggests that the Dvorak layout would need to have been significantly superior to the QWERTY layout in order for the former to displace the latter in widespread use in the past. If the Dvorak layout is inherently at least as efficient as, or more efficient than, the QWERTY layout, then one might expect to see an increasing rate of use as resistance factors (such as lack of awareness, non-programmable machines, and one-style formal training) become less powerful. There are no surveys or studies looking at the rate of use of the Dvorak layout over time.

A discussion of the Dvorak layout is sometimes used as an exercise by management consultants to illustrate the difficulties of change. The Dvorak layout is often used as a standard example of network effects, particularly in economics textbooks, the other standard example being the competition between Betamax and VHS. These examples are used to demonstrate that inferior technologies sometimes succeed simply because they become customary, even though the Dvorak layout's superiority is not clearly established.


Because of the radical differences between QWERTY and Dvorak, existing typists find that it takes considerable time and effort to make the change. As a consequence, some hobbyists have attempted to design alternative layouts which follow the principles involved in the Dvorak keyboard layout but preserve many of the QWERTY key positions, thereby making it easier for users to make the transition. Programs such as the Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator and KbdEdit allow this to be done very easily. The most prominent example to date is Colemak, estimated by its designer to have approximately 1600 users.

One-handed versions

There are also Dvorak arrangements designed for one-handed typing, which can provide increased accessibility to single-handed users who struggle with typical keyboards. Other users enjoy the ability to simultaneously type and control a mouse. Separate arrangements have been designed for each hand. Note that the hand is intended to rest near the center of the keyboard, making these layouts impractical to use with split ergonomic keyboards.


Some left-handed Dvorak keyboards have ")(" instead of "()".

Programmer Dvorak

Programmer Dvorak is a keyboard layout developed by electronics engineer Roland Kaufmann and targeted towards people writing source code for C, Java, Pascal, LISP, CSS and XML. The layout is based on the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard, with several enhancements intended to make typing easier for programmers.

While the alphabetic keys are placed as on the original Dvorak layout, most of the others are changed. The most noticeable difference is that the top row is devoted to brackets and other operational characters, and the numbers must be accessed using the shift key. Also, differing from most Dvorak implementations but following August Dvorak’s original design, the numbers are not placed in ascending order.

Other languages

Although DSK is implemented in many other languages other than English, there is a possible issue about it. Every Dvorak implementation in other languages leave the Roman characters in the same position as the English DSK. However, other (occidental) language orthographies can clearly have other typing needs for optimization (many very different from English). This raises a point which questions Dvorak Simplified Keyboard’s typing optimizations as language agnostic, and can be another possible cause of Dvorak not replacing QWERTY worldwide.

An implementation for Swedish, known as Svorak, places the three extra Swedish vowels (å, ä and ö) on the leftmost three keys of the upper row, which correspond to punctuation symbols on the English Dvorak layout. These punctuation symbols are then juggled with other keys, and the Alt-Gr key is required to access some of them.

Another Swedish version, Svdvorak by Gunnar Parment, keeps the punctuation symbols as they were in the English version; the first extra vowel (å) is placed in the far left of the top row while the other two (ä and ö) are placed at the far left of the bottom row.

The Swedish variant that most closely resembles the American Dvorak layout is Thomas Lundqvist’s sv_dvorak, which places å, ä and ö like Parment’s layout, but keeps the American placement of most special characters.

The Norwegian implementation (known as "Norsk Dvorak") is similar to Parment’s layout, with "æ" and "ø" replacing "ä" and "ö".

The Danish layout DanskDvorak is similar to the Norwegian.

A Finnish DAS keyboard layout follows many of Dvorak’s design principles, but the layout is an original design based on the most common letters and letter combinations in the Finnish language. Matti Airas has also made another layout for Finnish. Finnish can also be typed reasonably well with the English Dvorak layout if the letters ä and ö are added. The Finnish ArkkuDvorak keyboard layout adds both on a single key and keeps the American placement for each other character.

The Turkish F keyboard layout (F klavye) is also an original design with Dvorak's design principles, however it's not clear if it is inspired by Dvorak or not. Turkish F keyboard was standardized in 1955 and the layout has been a requirement for imported typewriters since 1963.

There are some non standard Brazilian Dvorak keyboard layouts currently in development. The simpler design (also called BRDK) is just a Dvorak layout plus some keys from the Brazilian ABNT2 keyboard layout. Another design, however, was specifically designed for writing Brazilian Portuguese, by means of a study that optimized typing statistics, like frequent letters, trigraphs and words.

The most common German Dvorak layout is the German Type II layout. It is available for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X. There is also the NEO layout and the de ergo layout, both original layouts that also follow many of Dvorak’s design principles.

There are also French and Spanish layouts, and also a proposed Klavaro Dvorak.

A Hellenic version of the Dvorak layout was released on Valentine’s Day 2007. This layout, unlike other Hellenic Dvorak layouts, preserves the spirit of Dvorak wherein the vowel keys are all placed on the left side of the keyboard. Currently this version is for Mac OS X.

An Italian Mac layout, optimized for this language and with all the accented vowels on the left, is being developed by Paolo Tramannoni. Several PC versions, consisting in the original layout with accented vowels added, are also being developed.

United Kingdom (British) layouts

Whether Dvorak or QWERTY, a United Kingdom (British) keyboard differs from the US equivalent in these ways: the " and @ are swapped; the backslash/pipe [ |] key is in an extra position (to the right of the lower left shift key); there is a taller return/enter key which places the hash/tilde [# ~] key to its lower right corner (see picture).

The most notable difference between the US and UK Dvorak classic layout pictured is because the [2 "] key remains on the top row, whereas the US [' "] key moves. This means that the query [/ ?] key retains its classic Dvorak location, top left, albeit shifted.

Interchanging the [/ ?] and [' @] keys more closely matches the US layout, and the use of "@" has increased in the information technology age. These variations, plus keeping the numerals in ascending order, appear in the preferred KB UK Dvorak.png and Dvorak for the KB UK Dvorak Left.png and KB UK Dvorak Right.png varieties.

Notable users

See also


External links

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