One month with the Colemak keyboard layout

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At the start of June, I switched to the Colemak keyboard layout. Colemak is an alternative to the traditional Qwerty layout designed to make typing more efficient and comfortable by placing the most frequently used letters on the home row. The reason behind the switch was not to improve speed, but to get a more comfortable typing experience.

At that time, I was preparing for my finals and didn't have much typing to do which made it the perfect time to switch. The reason I switched to Colemak, as opposed to other layouts such as Dvorak, was its similarity to Qwerty - only 2 keys move between hands and also the position of common shortcut keys (z, x, c, v) is preserved which makes transitioning a lot easier.

Due to the similarity between Qwerty and Colemak, memorizing the key placements wasn't much of a difficult task. The real difficulty was in slowing down and not letting muscle memory take over. Going from typing at around 80 wpm to having to think about the placement of each key was hard, way more than I had imagined. It took me about a week to get used to and within two weeks I was typing at around 20 wpm.

A month in and I am nearly at 30 wpm. I have not noticed any significant improvement in typing comfort, most probably because I have only been typing small chunks of text for a short period of time. However, it does feel satisfying to type words that can be typed using only the home row keys, which is quite a few words. The transition has slowly started to affect my muscle memory when typing on my phone as well.

Pain points

Vim. I use vim for all my writing and text editing. Also, most of the programs I use have Vim bindings. Vim, however, is designed with Qwerty in mind.

Initially I just remapped the bindings to make use of the placement rather than the actual keys (eg. navigation remapped from jkl; to neio) but it started getting confusing and hindering my progress with Colemak. So I reverted to using them with the default Colemak layout. Using Vim, and programs that make use of the Vim bindings, with the Colemak layout did not feel as good as it did with Qwerty.

What next?

Back to Qwerty. One month with Colemak and I am convinced that it is a much better layout than Qwerty. However, at this point in time, the inconveniences of using Colemak outweigh its benefits.

Love it or not, Qwerty is universal. My new semester starts this Sunday, after which I will be using different computers in different labs, almost all of which have Windows installed. Switching to Colemak on Windows is not as easy since Windows, unlike Linux, does not come with Colemak pre-installed. Also, I probably will be taking various standardized tests in the near future, mostly computer-based and those systems will more likely than not be using Qwerty.

I am in my final year of University and have a lot on my plate. Thinking about whether I will be able to set a system to the layout I use, and making time to do so is something I would be much better off without.

This is the last piece of writing I will write using Colemak until I pick it up some time in the future. So long Colemak!