Why Learn Colemak?
Why would you go to all the trouble of learning a new keyboard layout if you are already proficient with another? It depends on your motives.
If you believe what you read on the net, and some of it should be taken with a grain of salt, then Qwerty was originally designed with the sole purpose of slowing down the typist so that typewriters would jam less and not need to be repaired as often. This does make sense and is very plausible considering the classic typewriter had arms that would jam or cross when the typist would type too fast thus slowing them down.
A response to this issue was the Dvorak layout. Dvorak is fast but one of its deficiencies is that the layout overly stresses certain weaker fingers. Colemak was designed to be easy to learn, balance typing between hands, and maintain recognised computer keyboard shortcuts such as Ctrl X, C and V to keep undo, cut and paste valid across layouts.
Basically Colemak is a VERY efficient keyboard layout compared to QWERTY and DVORAK. It has a good effort to output ratio whilst distributing the load evenly across the strongest fingers. The reason for this is due to the placement of the fingers.
Bulk of Typing from the Home Row
Colemak places the 10 most common letters of English and Backspace on the home row. Colemak uses the home row 14% more than Dvorak, and 122% more than QWERTY. Colemak allows the typing of words such as “tenderheartednesses” entirely on the home row.
Finger Travel Distance
Fingers only travel a fraction of the distance they do when using QWERTY. With Dvorak your fingers move 10% more than Colemak (30% more for a 4% error rate), and on QWERTY 102% more than Colemak (118% more for a 4% error rate).
Row jumping using the same hand
On QWERTY 1500% more than Colemak. e.g. “minimum” on QWERTY. On Dvorak it’s about the same.
Same Finger Typing
Typing words entirely with one finger is tiring and leads to rapid typing fatigue. On Dvorak it happens 60% more, and on QWERTY 340% more than Colemak. e.g. “ceded” on QWERTY.
Stretches of the Pinky Finger
Colemak avoids stretching the pinky, which is the weakest finger. Dvorak is notorious for stretching the pinky finger.
Reduces long sequences of same-hand typing
By grouping the vowels (except ‘A’) on the right hand, it reduces very long sequences of same-hand typing, such as “sweaterdresses” on QWERTY.
Compare The Finger Workload
If you still need convincing as to moving to a different keyboard layout, then this nifty application should sway it for you. It is a keystroke analyser that takes all the guesswork out and tells you exactly which layout is best for you by breaking it down into ‘meters travelled’ by your fingers when typing any article of your choosing.
When I tried it out, Colemak would have saved me almost 50% of my finger travel. Meaning, my fingers travelled almost twice as much using Qwerty as they would have done using Colemak to type the same article.
Considering people in contemporary western cultures can expect to be using keyboards for at least 50 or 60 years of their lives, it adds up to a lot of finger travel, a lot of typing, and a lot of time to that can be saved in front of a keyboard, if you choose the correct keyboard layout.