Trying out Colemak (keyboard layout)

So on Sep 14th someone shared a link to this amazing game, Biolab. The game is not that amazing by itself, but its pretty impressive that its built with web standards (HTML5 and Javascript). No flash or any other plugins required. And if you’re impressed by that, the level editor showcased in the making-of video will totally blow your mind.

But I digress. After playing the game a bit, I had a look at the author’s blog and found an entry about an alternative keyboard layout, Colemak. As the blog author, I hadn’t tried Dvorak because it looks so hard to learn and I wasn’t sure how much it was going to change my typing experience. I mean, look at it, it feels totally “upside down” coming from QWERTY/QWERTZ (where else can you come from?).

I would normally totally ignore that post, but some claims made me very curious:

  • Easy to learn (relatively close to QWERTY)

  • Tries to be “compatible” with QWERTY (common letters used in shortcuts remain in the same positions, notably Ctrl-Z, Ctrl-X, Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V, Ctrl-Q and Ctrl-W)

  • Designed to make you stay in the “home row”: less movement would theoretically mean more potential speed and of course less chances of carpal tunnel

Although I’ve only been using it for a week and I still suck at it, my impressions so far are:

  • It’s impressive how relatively easily I got used to it (I’m still terribly slow and make many mistakes, but I can type without looking at the keyboard)

  • There are many English words that you can write exclusively or almost exclusively within the home row: actually all typing exercises are typing real words, never gibberish

  • It really feels like I move my hands much less when typing

  • It seems possible to keep both QWERTY and Colemak in your head (important because there will always be cases where you need to use QWERTY)

The only downside so far is that using vim felt just too hard (for starters, I couldn’t use hjkl for moving anymore, and I didn’t feel like relearning the editor really), so I decided to try and learn Emacs. That is, I’ll try to keep vim as my QWERTY editor and Emacs as my Colemak editor. Let’s see how that will work out.