Using The Colemak Keyboard Layout - 1 Year


I still can't believe that it's already been a year since I switched to the Colemak keyboard layout. Just as a reminder for the uninitiated, I challenged myself to use this layout instead of QWERTY and I documented my first two weeks and first month of using it. The learning curve it not very steep, but it did take a while for me to match my current typing speed. Below are my average typing speeds after each time period:

Week 1: 30 wpm

Week 2: 45 wpm

Month 1: 50 wpm

Year 1: 80 wpm

As you can see, my typing speed has increased quite a bit since my first month, but the progress was very slow. On average, my typing speed increased by 2.5 wpm per month. Compared to the leaps and bounds of my first few weeks, it really felt like nothing has changed.

Do I still use Colemak?

Yes. Unlike my first month though, I didn't really practice my typing. I presume my increase in typing speed came from just using it day to day for a longer period of time. I've gotten to the point where I don't need to think at all where any of the keys are, so it feels like second nature to me. It no longer feels like a chore or anything.

So was it really worth it?

Yes and no. My average typing speed on QWERTY a year ago was around 75 wpm. After a year of using Colemak, my average typing speed only increased by 5 wpm. Despite that, I would say that my typing on Colemak is significantly better than on QWERTY, as I am far more consistent and I don't need to move my fingers as much (so that means that I can type for longer without getting as tired).

Colemak is also not the default on any operating system, so there's always an additional step of configuring it. Surprisingly, it's a lot worse on Windows compared to any Linux distro I've used. The theme of setting up and getting accustomed goes beyond the OS and into all kinds of software. Most games are actually quite compatible from what I've noticed; I've yet to find a game where I had to remap WASD (NOTE: ONLY ON LINUX). I mentioned osu! lazer as the only game that I had to change bindings, and I didn't even mention that the game is in beta and might actually fix that in the future. Unlike games where I need keys to be in reasonable locations, general software doesn't have to be like that. Almost every shortcut I know (of which, I know a lot) is different. This extends into browsers, which means you may have to relearn the locations of bindings for everything. For 99% of cases, it's not the end of the world, but on others, it really is a major pain. This is especially true in Vim (and pretty much any cli/keyboard-centric ui). In Vim, you can control the cursor (like arrow keys) using H,J,K,L, which are in the places of H,Y,N,U. Take a look at your keyboard and imagine just how silly that is. Despite that, I still use Vim on Colemak, because I'm a psycho or something. I can make some changes to my .vimrc file to maybe make it more pleasant though. Using H,N,E,I creates some conflicts, so it really isn't pleasant.

The thing about Colemak that makes it so great though, and why it will be hard for me to commit to QWERTY again is the fluidity of the words. I can roll my hand over the keys naturally to type out words. For example, rolling my left hand on the home row yields "arst". So anything with ras, rst, st, rs, ar, etc, are very easily done. Rolls are found in so many other ways so that really helps with writing consistently and with a flow. The home row in general is very well-put together, and it only helps that you really don't need to move your fingers all that much.

Other Things About Keyboards

Before I forget about this whole rabbithole I went down a year ago, I want to discuss some other keyboard things that I learned about and intend on looking into in the future. Firstly, I really want to get an ortholinear keyboard. Ortholinear keyboards essentially "unstagger" the columns so that they're in a neat grid. It takes time to get used to it, just like learning a new layout, but I think it would be really fun to type on once I get one. The reasons why it is better than staggered columns is because it decreases finger travel distances. This is because hands are perpendicular to the keyboard, where fingers make a 90 degree angle with the keys. Unstaggering them makes it so that your fingers can reach keys better. Numpads are ortholinear by default, and so are most button arrays (such as on calculators and pretty much every machine). The ergonomic keyboard rabbit hole goes far deeper than this. For example, you can split the keyboard into two, making it so that each board is in line with your shoulders, use low-profile keycaps to decrease vertical travel distance, change the shape of the circuit board to make the keyboard fit in the hands better, and decrease the number of keys by creating software layers of mapping so that fingers move even less.