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Curious About Colemak? Learn The Best Keyboard Layout Easily

Erez Zukerman 12-06-2014

Your keyboard sucks. There, I said it. Don’t take it personally — you’re not the one who invented the QWERTY layout. But the fact remains that QWERTY is so terrible, it’s not even funny. The good news is that it’s low hanging fruit – QWERTY is so bad, it’s actually easy to fix.


Back in 2012, I shared the story of how I started using Colemak How I Quickly Mastered A Superior Keyboard Layout Without Losing Productivity If you're reading this on a computer, look at your keyboard. Chances are it's a QWERTY keyboard, or something closely modeled after QWERTY, like AZERTY for French or QWERTZ for Germany. Is that really the... Read More , a better keyboard layout. In another post, I covered Portable Keyboard Layout Learn A Better Keyboard Layout & Take It Everywhere With You Using Portable Keyboard Layout As some of you guys may know, I have been using an alternative keyboard layout for years. It is called Colemak, and it is brilliant. But using such a layout puts me in an awkward... Read More , a great way to try out alternative keyboards without having to make changes to your computer. Today I’d like to tell you about a killer combo.


Colemak. That’s the keyboard layout we’re going to talk about today. Here’s what Colemak looks like:


By switching to Colemak, you’ll be able to type much more comfortably. Your fingers will have to move less (much less), and the motions each fingers make won’t be as awkward. There’s less reaching for keys – for example, the letter E falls under the middle finger of your right hand — rather than (rather randomly) on the top-left corner of the keyboard as it does with QWERTY.

But you already know why QWERTY sucks. In all likelihood, that’s why you’re reading this post: You are looking for an alternative, or at least curious about what’s on offer. But you won’t know how good this alternative is until you try it… and that’s the tricky part.


Learning A New Layout Doesn’t Have To Be Hard

“What, change around all the keys on my keyboard?” I can hear you ask. “That’s madness!” you say. And yes, you’re right: If you were to just suddenly switch to Colemak “cold turkey,” that would be pretty challenging. That’s what I tried to do a few years ago, and it didn’t work for me — even though you only have to change the positions of 17 keys (as opposed to Dvorak, which moves 33 keys).

But here’s the good news: You don’t have to learn all 17 keys at once. You can do it in stages!


This bears a moment of contemplation because it isn’t obvious: When you think about it, a keyboard is like a big Rubik’s cube. Let’s say you move the letter O to a more sensible position – maybe where the semicolon is. So… where does the semicolon go? Oh, let’s put it where the letter P is — but wait, where should we put P then?


You see the problem. How can you learn a layout in stages? Well, that’s the brilliant part here: A few resourceful members of the Colemak community, spearheaded by the brilliant DreymaR, found a solution.

It works like a bunch of loops: Take the very common E key and give it a better place on the middle (“home”) row – Colemak puts it where QWERTY has the K. Now, K isn’t so frequent so it goes down to the N’s place and the N in turn is promoted to where J used to be. The rarely used J becomes the Tarmak system’s odd man out and gets the now-vacant E position temporarily — it’ll move from there later to give way for a more worthy candidate and then settle after a few more such steps. You only move a few keys at a time:


Now type. Just keep working as you have before. Yes, you’ll make annoying typos — but you will be able to type. I cannot stress this enough: Only 4 keys in your keyboard will be in different positions, and you’ll get used to it. I promise.


Keep working like this for a couple of weeks, maybe even a month. Then move on to the next stage, in which four other letters move around. You already did it once, so you can do it again — just four keys to master (you’ve waited long enough after the previous change, right?).

You get the idea. This is, bar none, the best way to learn how to use a new keyboard layout, and if you do any serious amount of typing, it will change your life. Speaking from experience here.

Tarmak, as this learning system is called, has five stages — the fifth one being the full Colemak layout.

It’s Free, Easy To Use, And Won’t Kill Your Productivity



Here is why Tarmak is the best way to learn a superior keyboard layout:

Try It Now

Tarmak makes learning a new keyboard layout easy enough so that you can (and should) just try it on impulse. Take it one step at a time, and your wrists and hands will thank you for years to come.

Download Tarmak now and read DreymaR’s original forum post for complete information. That’s where the images above come from (with permission).

Let me know in the comments how you fare with Colemak. Good luck — it’s well worth the effort!

Related topics: Keyboard, Touch Typing.

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  1. GordieGii
    April 14, 2016 at 3:32 pm

    Why does S move? Why not just move R to D? That way R and T stay side by side and S stays where it is. I know you didn't invent it but maybe you know something I don't...

  2. Leopardmask
    March 18, 2015 at 2:03 am

    Update: Tried Minecraft. Even worse than the browser games. None of the keys will respond, and sometimes the mouse doesn't either, if I have PKL active. Granted, as a lefty I use IJKL instead of WASD, but it's very annoying because I actually do a lot of typing while playing Minecraft and so I have to switch keyboards whenever I play. PKL does not like any sort of game apparently. The arrow keys work fine, and I think WASD sometimes does, but nothing else. Using PKL for everything else, but MC and browser games just don't respond properly.

  3. Leopardmask
    March 14, 2015 at 1:45 am

    This seems like a good idea, but when I play browser games I can't use the space bar or number keys. I haven't tried a downloaded game like Minecraft yet, but it's very annoying.

  4. Benson Wong
    January 2, 2015 at 5:47 pm

    I liked Colemak in the beginning but over time have found it to be difficult. As an example, it tends to overload the right hand more, especially the ring or pinky fingers, your weakest fingers. Examples of words include "you". When I am in a typing frenzy, I find typing the word "you" and then to type follow-up quotations to throw off my rhythm. To make matters worse, I am actually left-handed.

    • Øystein "DreymaR"
      February 13, 2015 at 6:25 pm

      Hmmm, maybe your fingers are weak? I don't feel that way.

      If you worry about your right pinkiy, try a Wide ergo mod! That takes a little load off the right pinky and makes the reaches for the RShift, Enter and Back keys much easier. Compatible not only with Colemak but basically with any layout including QWERTY.

  5. John Williams
    November 6, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    For a Windows physical keyboard on a desktop you can
    use a keyboard remapping tool - Keytweak.
    Remap the four letters for month one.
    Buy a sheet of keyboard stickers off ebay - or look on You tube to see how to easily remove and replace the keycaps on a keyboard.
    When happy, remap the letters for month two.

    A modified cheap USB keyboard will work on a laptop at the same time as the built in one. You can also run two keyboards on a desktop PC.
    Replacement laptop keycaps are available individually on ebay - in case you break a plastic clip when pulling a keycap off.

    Go on, give it a go - you know you want to. Try Linux as well while you're at it - then you can afford that fabulous Logitech keyboard in the photo instead of buying Window 8.1 .....

  6. chnklr
    November 4, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    how do you type a question mark and a ñ with the tarmak keyboard layout?

    • Øystein "DreymaR"
      February 13, 2015 at 4:20 pm

      The rest of the keyboard will be unchanged (or the way you may want to arrange it). The question mark is where it's always been for you. And if you have a ñ key it'll still be there – or if you've used a tilde dead key for it that tilde dead key will still be there.

      The image only shows the letter block. It's not as if the rest of the board vanished! ;-)

  7. Cmorus
    July 16, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    Not for me. I'd still have the Qwerty keyboard on my iPad, Surface, etc.

  8. anon
    July 9, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    There is zero reason to deviate from regular keyboard layouts. It is illogical regardless of companies creating such "innovative" products.

    • Dave "lalop"
      July 28, 2014 at 7:56 am

      It's actually not that hard to find three reasons against QWERTY; one need only look at J (0.13%), K (0.60%), and ;: (0.29%).

      Of those three, the worst offender has to be J. Despite being one of the rarest letters, QWERTY's designers placed it on what is arguably the keyboard's most privileged position! Contrast that to T (7.14%), Y (1.44%), and N (5.34%), all far more common yet placed askew.

      This isn't QWERTY's only flaw (it also suffers in many other areas), but it certainly is the most blatant one.

      > It is illogical regardless of companies creating such “innovative” products.

      Wrong article? :P

  9. Howard B
    June 17, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    Meh. I learned on QWERTY when most of you were still in diapers or playing with dolls. You'll get my QWERTY when you pry it out of my cold, dead hands.

    I also can't stand the keyboards that move the cursor keys or the Insert/Delete/PgUp/PgDn island, and I prefer the backslash key between backspace and equals (top row). Wish Logitech made a keyboard with that layout...

    • Eke
      June 17, 2014 at 10:25 pm

      Meh. I learned on Windows 3.1 when most of you were still in diapers or playing with dolls. You’ll get my Windows 3.1 when you pry it out of my cold, 16-bit processor.

    • Øystein "DreymaR"
      June 17, 2014 at 10:58 pm

      Meh. I learned on a bona fide mechanical typewriter. There was a 20 kB computer or two at school but they were usually taken - and those VIC-20 keyboards were no walk in the park I tell you.

      I was lucky to live in an enlightened time; my parents, apparently, had to whittle their own typewriters from mammoth bones and carve QWERTY runes into their whale-tooth key caps!

      You tell that to the kids of today, they won't believe you...

    • Howard B
      June 18, 2014 at 9:48 pm

      I learned to type on an Olympus electric typewriter in high school so I could type on the school's Apple ][ computers (no "][e" and no "][c"!!) and Franklin Ace 1000 clones. This was before Windows 3.1, 3.0, 2.0, or even 1.0....heck, this was before MS-DOS 2!

    • Nuala R
      August 21, 2014 at 5:28 pm

      You guys are all making me feel old. I learned on a MANUAL typewriter. (Yes, one of those things with the letter on the end of a rod striking the paper.) There were no letters on the keys so you had to learn touch-typing. I've been a touch typist ever since. I'm really good and really fast, but I've been yearning for years to switch to Dvorak and so found this article very interesting. My problem is not the new learning or "re-learning" as some have called it, but that I often have others using my computer at work if I'm not there. Changing up the keyboard would really mess them up. It would likely be much easier to simply have some kind of PNP Dvorak (or whatever) keyboard that I could swap out so other users can have the old QWERTY back when I'm not there.

      Now if only there were left-handed versions of these alternate layouts...

      • Gary
        July 31, 2018 at 3:22 pm

        I use Dvorak. On Windows I can switch back and forth with Win+Space, so other people can still use the old QWERTY if they need to. I can type pretty well without looking now. Never could before switching.

    • Howard B
      August 21, 2014 at 8:42 pm

      @Nuala: I learned on an electric, not a manual, and it had key markings. Still was a pain in the butt to learn to touch-type. However, I see no reason for a "left-handed" keyboard (I'm a lefty, but I taught myself to use a mouse/trackball with my right hand), and I've never wanted a "left-handed" keyboard, which typically just puts the number pad on the left side. Why relearn key positions? Why put the number row right-to-left instead of left-to-right? Meh.

  10. Donald
    June 15, 2014 at 3:15 am

    Linux is better for some things, Windows for others. I use both.

    Windows has a much larger user base. Linux has access to lots of free software.

    Windows, for the most part, is easier to work with for most people, requires little to no meddling under the hood, like in the registry, and it's easier to find people to show you how to do something or fix something in Windows.

    But Linux has some advantages over Windows. You don't pay a dime for most distributions of it. Every iteration of every distro is becoming more user friendly and we're now at the point where you don't have to edit special files anymore to do certain things. Yes, learning how to edit those files and using the command line can come in handy sometimes, but so can learning how to do that in the Windows registry or using the Windows command line. There's power in knowledge if you take the time to learn these things. Most of the available software for Linux is free.

    There is even a free program called WINE that can let you run many Windows programs under Linux, and a more refined (but not free) program called Crossover that does a great job with the few Windows programs I've tested it with under Linux.

    Linux runs many electronic devices today, and if you us an Android phone or tablet, you are using a scaled down version of the Linux operating system.

    Neither is better than the other in every respect, just as Windows isn't better than the MAC OS. But that's another completely different story that I won't delve into.

  11. Kristianna
    June 14, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    I already had to learn a new keyboard layout when I moved from Europe to the US. Were I grew up the layout was AZERTY, numbers were used with the shift key, and symbols were different.
    I'm comfortable now with Query - and plan to stick with it. I don't see any benefit in your layout what so ever - unless someone makes keyboards that are actually showing this layout.

    • davkol
      June 16, 2014 at 3:24 pm

      Colemak comes with Apple OS X, Android, GNU/Linux and several hardware keyboards, e.g. WASDv2 or TypeMatrix 2030, out of the box.

      The point of optimized layouts is... well, they're optimized for typing in certain language. For example, some of the most common letters in English (and similar languages) are E, T, A, O, I, N—only one of them is on the "home" position though, if you use the "standard" touch-typing technique. Moreover, certain key sequences require awkward/straining hand movements or positions. On optimized layouts, the most common letter sequences are the most easiest to type.

      I recommend everyone to try the new layout before judging. You can use Mike Kuehn's visual simulator: [Broken Link Removed]

  12. 2deuces
    June 14, 2014 at 12:01 am

    I'm not saying what is right or wrong or best, but here is where I am. I look at the keyboard but am able to type about 35 words/minute with an error every several words. Worse, I don't see the error until I am on a the next line 'cause I'm busy looking at the keyboard. So, the idea of learning to touch type is appealing. I also type several pages a day, so 'd like to type faster.

    Here is what I am going to do - and which many of the critics do not appear to have done - I am going to give this a try. Change the four keys, try it for several weeks and see if anything is better or worse. If worse, go back. If better, change four more keys. Rinse, repeat.

    Anyone see a problem with this?

    • Stan
      June 16, 2014 at 9:04 am

      I'm sorry, but I do see a problem.

      Tarmak is designed to build on existing muscle memory (and to change it in manageable stages). If, as I gather, you don't already have that muscle memory, there's no real point in transiioning this way.

      If you need to learn to touchtype as well, I would start at Colemak itself. Fortunately, there are also many typing tutors for learning it from scratch.

    • Øystein "DreymaR"
      June 16, 2014 at 9:46 am


      I didn't quite design Tarmak with muscle memory directly in mind, but rather the concept that smaller changes are much easier to learn fast (trying to learn a 16-digit number is daunting but learning 4-digit numbers four times with a little time in between is much easier). The muscle memory certainly plays its part though!

      I think that non-touch typists may benefit as well. They usually have more muscle memory than they think, and at any rate they remember many key positions even though they may be barely aware of it themselves. So if the concept of a full-on 17-key transition seems daunting to someone they might use Tarmak to soften the blow even if they don't touch type beforehand.

      For a lightweight layout choice, Tarmak step 2 might be an idea. One might either jump straight to it or do step 1 for a while first. With only 7 keys changed from QWERTY it still does quite well in analysis since both E, N and T are brought to the home row.

      Then again, touch typing is useful and you while learning it properly you'll likely relearn your layout anyway in which case a full-on Colemak will be about as good as you say.

    • Stan
      June 16, 2014 at 3:04 pm

      @ DreymaR

      Interesting, I never thought about it that way. However, hunting and pecking Tarmak would still concern me for a different reason. Often, and in 2deuces' case, hunting and pecking involves looking at the keys. When some of the keys no longer match the layout, wouldn't that have the potential for confusion?

      The obvious way to get around this would be to swap keycaps. A more compelling possibility, though, would be to commit to no longer looking at any keys that have been swapped, thus gradually committing at least 17 key locations to muscle memory.

      Maybe the latter has some promise as a secondary Tarmak function?

    • Stan
      June 16, 2014 at 3:28 pm

      After some reflection, I no longer think my previous idea, to "commit to no longer looking at any keys that have been swapped", is very good on its own.

      The problem is that, even if you've committed a key's location, a hunt-and-pecker still wouldn't have a consistent way of hitting it, short of looking. Thus, it may simply not be possible to avoid looking at the key. Trying to get used to the inaccuracy ("in order to type F, I go to the top left and hit the E key!") could be very confusing.

      This leaves either changing the key caps, as before, or adopting a touchtyping stance so that the learner does have a way to hit those keys without looking.

    • 2deuces
      June 16, 2014 at 5:13 pm

      Thanks for the comments and advice. I will give Colmak a try, possibly starting with Tarmak step 2, and see if there are appreciable benefits. And then decide if it worth changing keyboards forever.

    • Øystein "DreymaR"
      June 17, 2014 at 7:15 am

      Best of luck then! Let us know if you run into any hardships or interesting phenomena.

      If you wanted a permanent 7-key-changes-only solution Tarmak2 would probably not be it. But I think it's a nice way of trying out layout switching with much benefit for the effort, given that you can transition further to Tarmak3 (which I think is quite decent!) and Colemak later on and reap massive benefits.

  13. Bud
    June 13, 2014 at 8:17 pm

    Can't open a very thin Apple keyboard.....or can the letters disappear (fade away after many uses ) and would like to replace those 'worn-out keys, e, i, o, a, s, h and n, with keys from an older Apple keyboard ???

  14. Terry
    June 13, 2014 at 7:03 pm

    Just put the SOB in Alpha freaking Betical order, I'm only gonna use one finger 90% of the time & only 2 the other 10% anyway.

  15. Warren
    June 13, 2014 at 7:00 pm

    I learned to touch type more than 40 years ago. I suppose I could relearn, but why? I do no see anything compelling about this. So what, is it better for hunt and peck, thumb typing? The worst part of learning a new keyboard layout is that I use so many devices. Switching from one layout to another would be ridiculously hard.

    • Dave "lalop"
      June 19, 2014 at 8:23 am

      I unfortunately agree: the article is sparse on details of how exactly Colemak is "The Best Keyboard Layout". If you're interested, though, you can check out my "Colemak Talking Points" thread (url: ).

  16. Reb
    June 13, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    the Querty layout was designed for the old old keyboard. It was arranged so that the levers (not sure what they called the rods that struck the paper) would not get jammed when typing fast. The Querty was not random it is just not needed anymore. I'm not sure if I would be able to change after 40 years of being a touch typist of 80+ wpm. But worth trying. I am getting better at not doing 2 spaces after a period.

    • Timothy G
      June 13, 2014 at 7:04 pm

      A few years ago I tried Dvorak and enjoyed it. But unfortunately this was at about the same time my work changed to using thin clients, so to use it at work was a pain, and I did not want to have to be fully skilled at both layouts. So I never did get very proficient with it. Since I can control the environment in which I type with my present job I think I may try this. Looks easier than Dvorak. But I definitely do not want to learn the Colemak layout piecemeal. It'll be all or nothing

  17. Sheeva
    June 13, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    I guess the world (or at least this site) has forgotten why the QWERTY key layout was designed. I'm no Wikipedia but from what I remember it was to SLOW TYPISTS down. Original key layouts on old impact typewriters allowed for the users to be lightening fast but often with lots of mistakes. By slowing them down (through the QWERTY layout) it helped reduce errors. This is in regards to "touch typists" who often typed 120 to 160 words per minute (wpm), and not for your average user who might have typed 50 to 80 wpm. With today's technology, most are using smartphones which still have QWERTY layout; most average users are okay with this speed. Faster and longer times for typing are not necessarily desired by all. FYI, I've used/using a DVORAK KB for many years.

  18. Nancy B
    June 13, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    Interesting article but I learned basic typing on a manual typewriter with no letters on it! -- yeah they liked to torture us when I was in high school!!! I found in the early 2000's when I got my first PC how fast, surprisingly, the old typing came back to me.
    Now with short term memory issues as well as 40 years of using QWERTY to change would just be totally confusing for me.
    This might be great for a younger, hunt and peck typist but not for me.
    Interesting idea and concept though.

    • Stan
      June 16, 2014 at 8:16 am

      Well, firstly, this method was designed for touchtypists, not hunt and peckers, since it builds on (and slowly changes) previous muscle memory.

      But assuming you are a touchtypist, one of the big advantages of this method is that it reduces the amount of rote memory required in switching layouts; you only change 3-5 keys at a time, and can practice those changes as long as you want.

      Touchtyping seems to be more related to muscle memory, so I'm not sure that it's directly influenced by short-term memory loss. Perhaps ask a doctor to be sure.

  19. Mark
    June 13, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    I know a younger techie guy (I'm an old fart) that taught himself to type on the Dvorak key layout. It is unbelievable how fast he can type.

  20. Rene Baron
    June 13, 2014 at 6:34 am

    My speech recognition does not understand colestuff :-)

  21. Brad H
    June 13, 2014 at 1:43 am

    It may be more efficient, but it is not practical. I have a laptop, a tablet, a smart phone, a home theater keyboard, and two bluetooth keyboards that I use for my smart phone and my tablet. Until one of the alternate keyboards become mainstream and is available on every device that I own, I'm not going to change.

    But it was an interesting article.

    • Dave "lalop"
      June 18, 2014 at 11:50 am

      Availability is actually better than you might imagine. If I recall correctly: iOS supports Colemak on external keyboads, Android possibly with an app, and OSX and GNU/Linux include it by default. Windows is covered by the method of this article (which, as the author says, can be run from a flashdrive without requiring admin privileges).

      Concerning mobile, however, it was never a very good idea to squeeze a typewriter layout onto a smartphone; the resulting tiny keys basically require autocorrect in order to be useful. I would also argue similarly for a full-sized tablet, since anything similar to touchtyping takes a lot of screen space and forces you to (literally) float your fingers. Some of us discuss alternatives in this thread:

    • Øystein "DreymaR"
      July 1, 2014 at 7:56 am

      In the thread Dave mentions, I've described how I set up MessagEase which is the fastest touch-screen keyboard in tests, so that it reminds me of Colemak. That way, I got both a very efficient touch-screen input method and ease of learning and remembering it.

      The MessagEase people don't want to provide this solution with their product, which I can understand as they don't want to confuse their users who for the most part haven't heard of Colemak. But it's quite easy to set up yourself with the remapping functionality of MessagEase.

      I took advantage of the important keys all being on the home row in Colemak (in MessagEase they're on tap keys instead), so I could remap the slides to resemble the upper and lower rows. You cannot easily do the same with QWERTY, as the important keys are all over the place.

  22. othello
    June 13, 2014 at 1:18 am

    What keyboard is that with the circle? It looks awesome!!!

  23. Chaudhry
    June 13, 2014 at 1:06 am

    why on earth would you confuse yourself even more? qwerty experience 15 years will take forever to be undone. maybe kids will like it.

    • Manuth C
      June 13, 2014 at 1:33 am

      It took me 2 months for me to be able to type in Dvorak as fast as QWERTY.

    • Stan
      June 16, 2014 at 12:30 pm

      It's actually the other way around. Tarmak is designed to build on that existing QWERTY experience, retraining it, step-by-step, into Colemak. "Kids" (by whom I assume you mean those with little QWERTY experience) wouldn't benefit as much, and should probably just learn Colemak directly.

      You can't completely eliminate the confusion of learning an optimized layout, but Tarmak does a pretty darn good job at minimizing it.

  24. Denny Rousse
    June 13, 2014 at 1:06 am

    Hello Mr. Erez Zukerman, could it be possible to find out what keyboard is the one in the picture? It's pretty sleek.

    As far as the keyboard layout I have to type a lot at work and anything that would help increase my effectiveness is always welcome. Will have to try it at home.
    Thank you!

    Denny R.

  25. Gene
    June 13, 2014 at 12:31 am

    This would be okay for someone who uses the hunt and peck method. Typing with a qwerty keyboard is so intricately ingrained that to change after using it for decades is idiocy.

    • Stan
      June 16, 2014 at 7:57 am

      Actually, it's the opposite. This method is designed to change muscle memory a little at a time; it's the hunt-and peckers without muscle memory who wouldn't find it very useful.

    • Gene
      June 16, 2014 at 12:31 pm

      Stan, where is your data to back that up? It's a stupid idea as I see it.

    • Stan
      June 16, 2014 at 2:47 pm

      If you don't have any QWERTY knowledge to start with, there's no point in learning four intermediate layouts; you might as well just begin with the final Colemak layout. Tarmak only has utility for those who are building on their existing QWERTY experience.

      Still, DreymaR has said that I'm partially wrong (comment-1413453):

      > I think that non-touch typists may benefit as well. They usually have more muscle memory than they think, and at any rate they remember many key positions even though they may be barely aware of it themselves.

      so there's that.

      As for the notion that learning in smaller, more manageable steps is a "stupid idea"... I have no comment.

  26. Enrique
    June 12, 2014 at 11:41 pm

    And why keeping letter "a" in the left pinky's finger? I hate that position, sometimes I use my ring finger to press the "a" key. I'ts my most hated key, agghhhh I really hate it...

  27. Paulo
    June 12, 2014 at 10:57 pm

    Your Colemak keyboard layout sucks. There, I said it too and don't take it personally. - You're not the one who invented the Colemak keyboard layout.

    I can't imagine remapping my muscle memory just for using a hipster keyboard layout.

    If you look at the keyboard most of the time when you type, then this is probably for you.

    • Chris C
      June 13, 2014 at 11:15 pm

      When he said it was more efficient he meant that maximum typing speed is increased and less motion is required for typing the same stuff.

    • Øystein "DreymaR"
      June 16, 2014 at 9:30 am

      Your reasoning... well, let's not go there. ;-)

      This is probably not so much for those who look at their keyboard most of the time! All the Colemak users I know of use the touch blind typing technique.

      It may be hipster to you, but for me it was mostly a matter of mathematics: Consider how many hours you are going to be spending typing over the rest of your lifetime. Imagine you can make all of that typing more comfortable and a little faster too! The hours you spend learning a better layout and running PKL or whatever to access it on new machines will be repaid with interest if you type a lot.

      But of course, this is a life hack. If you don't like those that's a valid choice. Life hackers and non-hackers rarely understand each other so keep that in mind. For the optimizers among us it's fun and rewarding to find a better way of doing things, even if it's a bit of work to implement the change! :)

  28. Garrett
    June 12, 2014 at 10:50 pm

    I heard that the Workman layout is much easier and more efficient than Colemak.

    And really, how is improved efficiency and accessibility just "different" than it is better? A lot of people are so used to one way that they don't really want to invest some time and energy into something new, so that probably explains some of the detraction. It'll just take a couple of months, maybe even weeks, to gain some new muscle memory.

    I don't think that the keys really need to be switched around either. It's all about the touch typing and using a visual layout on the screen for practice until you get a hang of it.

    • Øystein "DreymaR"
      June 16, 2014 at 9:19 am

      Where did you hear this, Garrett? I'm curious.

      The Workman layout does well in analysis algorithms (a little better than Colemak in the tool under which it was constructed but that's certainly to be expected!), but it moves four more keys than Colemak does so it'll certainly give less "bang for buck" although not as abysmally as Dvorak. And accounting for the uncertainty in model quality etc I'd say that all we can conclude is that both Dvorak, Colemak and Workman are fairly optimal layouts and we can't really decide which is better beyond personal preferences.

      I don't agree with all the preferences of Workman's creator. He hates the H key (in QWERTY and Colemak) but I don't mind as my hands easily slide in a bit when necessary; I also use a Wide ergonomic mod which puts an additional key column in the middle of the board so that the H position is even easier to type. On the other hand, Workman has higher same-finger bigram frequency than Colemak and I think that's a bad idea as consecutive same-finger strokes are bad for typing flow and comfort.

  29. Fred
    June 12, 2014 at 10:37 pm

    Anyone noticed gaming keys will spell WARS in this layout?

  30. Alan
    June 12, 2014 at 10:28 pm

    i really only need WASDQERZCXF,ctrl,space & shift.

  31. Nikolaj Knudsen
    June 12, 2014 at 10:24 pm

    It's not better. It's just different. End of story.

    • Jeppedy
      June 13, 2014 at 11:13 am

      If you define better as "less motion to type", I think it would easily be "Better".

    • Dave "lalop"
      June 20, 2014 at 3:22 pm

      It's actually not that hard to be better than QWERTY. QWERTY places J, one of the rarest letters (0.13%), on what is arguably the keyboard's most privileged position! Similarly for K (0.60%) and ;: (0.29%).

      Compare those to T (7.14%), Y (1.44%), and N (5.34%), all far more common yet placed askew.

      Of course, keyboard optimization involves much more than just placing common letters on good positions, but QWERTY fails even those basic tests.

  32. Alan
    June 12, 2014 at 10:22 pm

    Did you type this article using a Colemak layout?

    • Liran
      June 13, 2014 at 8:50 pm

      Good one :) (Sure they don't... learn to type from scratch ..? Who wants that?)

    • Erez Z
      June 15, 2014 at 2:46 pm

      Of course. I've been using Colemak for years now.

  33. James M
    June 12, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    I have two remarks. One, Tim has already pointed out. Changing your own keyboard layout might have some positive effects, but if you need to use other people's devices for any reason, you're going to have to go back to QWERTY, remap their keyboard (and back again), or something. I don't know how easily people retain two separate keyboard layouts and typing efficiency in both, especially if they're not constantly switching between them, but this is something to consider.

    Two, I expect that basically all of these alternate keyboard layouts are designed for touch typing, keeping your fingers on the home row and moving only a little bit up or down. If that's the way you type, then another keyboard layout might be fine. If you don't though, I'm not sure it will help. Personally, I kind of float my hands over the keyboard when I type, and I can't say for sure whether I always hit the same letters with the same fingers. I'm guessing that I don't, because I'm pretty sure that I will occasionally cross the left-right center line that you normally wouldn't while touch typing (e.g., stretch the right hand across to hit a key that's usually hit by the left hand). But after doing this for so long, I've gotten used to it, and can type quickly and accurately enough (in general) for my purposes. Trying to change to another layout would probably be a huge pain for me. I think I'll stick with the QWERTY layout that's standard and I'm already used to. Thanks for the post though; it will probably be useful for some people.

    • Manuth C
      June 13, 2014 at 1:31 am

      I type in Dvorak on my devices, but I still retain QWERTY just in case that I have to use other people's devices.

    • Chris C
      June 13, 2014 at 11:18 pm

      Using a different keyboard layout is just like using different controls in a game, or a different gear on your bicycle, or clearing those papers you seldom reference off of your desk.

    • Øystein "DreymaR"
      June 16, 2014 at 9:01 am

      The "floating" you describe is what I'd call 'alternative fingering'. It's used by fast typists regardless of layout, and fortunately many of your good habits will carry to the new layout even if the letters involved may be different. But to get it up to full speed and comfort will take a while.

      When typing, I use mostly the home position touch technique but I slide in to type bigrams like Colemak KN/NK (QWERTY JN/NJ) to avoid consecutive same-finger strokes which are bad for your flow.

  34. Tim
    June 12, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    It's like a Linux geek saying dump Windows because Linux is better. It doesn't matter if it's better (that's only an opinion anyway). Every US keyboard is qwerty and every US school teaches qwerty, so what's the benefit? Changing key maps only applies to your personal devices, then you still have the problem with the rest of the devices. If you learn using this or any other method, you'd have to install an app or remap the keys on every device you use, or you'd be typing gibberish. I suppose you could know both and be able to switch, but I don't think that would work either. Typing takes advantage of muscle memory, so your brain will not easily override that repetition. The backspace key will be broken in no time.

    It's geeky, but completely useless and impractical. What would be useful is if someone can invent a time machine and take this method back to the 1870's and explain to Christopher Latham Sholes why it's better and then we will have all learned this method instead.

    • techno
      June 12, 2014 at 8:40 pm

      linux being better, in many cases isn't an opinion it's a fact(linux is just a kernel, but I suppose there are people who call engines automobiles as well), just as this is way of typing is a more efficient way. The benefit is if you type often it will reduce repetitive stress injuries, improve your typing speed, and it costs you nothing to try it. You completely ignore the entire section where he talks about benefits, don't address any of them and denigrate actually being spoonfed something as too hard to learn. You're probably not the target audience of this hack if all you do is play solitaire and look at email, as improving typing speed generally only matters to those who type for a living and for fun, so writers, sysadmins, some gnu/linux users(some distros favor user friendliness over efficient design), coders or really anyone who does heavy computer usage. Your argument is essentially like questioning learning 10 key because many laptops don't come with it and you'd have to re-learn where the numbers were.

      Your history is also really terrible. The reason that the letters were created in the way that they were was because when typing the keys if the letters were too close to each other they would interfere with the next or prior key as you typed. It was purposeful so going back in time wouldn't have done anything.

    • Sathish
      June 12, 2014 at 11:33 pm


      Linux is better? Define Better, and better for Whom?

    • Manuth C
      June 13, 2014 at 1:30 am

      Well I have to type in Dvorak for medical reasons, so it's not useless. Plus, Windows, Mac, and Linux all has built-in support, so I never need to install a thing.

    • Stan
      June 16, 2014 at 8:43 am

      @ Tim

      As Erez himself says , this method is based on PKL , which can be used from a thumbdrive without admin privileges.

      When complaining about impracticality, please don't propose a time machine as your alternative.

  35. Jake
    June 12, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    I'd love to make the switch but I fear that I rely on looking at the keyboard to get my bearings sometimes. Still though, I'd love to do this.

    What I really want to know is what is that keyboard at the top of the page!? Tried a google image search and nothing is coming up. Looks really nice!

    • Lukas
      June 12, 2014 at 10:35 pm

      It's the Logitech diNovo Edge :)

    • Eddy
      June 13, 2014 at 12:50 am

      Pshh, it's way too expensive. It's definitely nice though. However, if you want a classy keyboard that will make friends jealous without spending upwards of $150, get the Logitech K800 Illuminated Wireless Keyboard. I'm using it right now. It's pretty awesome.

    • Artie
      June 13, 2014 at 4:45 am

      Based on what you are telling me it would still be just the same as learning how to type as we all did in typing class using the QWERTY method so basically typing 101 all over again.

      No thanks!

    • Biggs
      June 13, 2014 at 7:37 am

      What I'm wondering is what model keyboard that is up top. I want one of those!!

    • Stan
      June 16, 2014 at 8:28 am


      Assuming you already touchtype QWERTY, not quite! This method essentially bootstraps on your existing muscle memory and changes it a little at a time. It should be much more straightforward to get up to speed with each 3-5 key change, than to learn a whole new layout at once.

    • Øystein "DreymaR"
      June 18, 2014 at 9:09 am

      The onscreen keyboard images in PKL are actually quite nice and helpful, so I don't think you'll have to look at the actual keyboard after a while. The image will move between the top and bottom of the screen if it gets in the way of the mouse pointer, which is nifty. I made it so that the new keys are shown in color – if you press Shift you get an image with all the keys moved so far in colors.

      That said, I have modded several keyboards by moving the caps around.