An Introduction to Alternative Keyboard Layouts

Thanks to @AstonJ for encouraging me to post this here:

An introduction to alternative keyboard layouts

Feel free to post your own experiences or ask questions. I consider my current layout to be stable, in the sense that I haven’t made significant changes for a couple years, and I am very happy with it.


It’s a great article Dusty - thanks for posting it! :nerd_face:

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I have tried three times to adapt to Dvorak from Qwerty, but each time I have been stopped (after a few weeks of committing to it) by my muscle-memory keybindings.

Maybe I’ll try Colemak or one of the variants of that at some point. And I would love to test out one of those matrix-style keyboards, although I do not want to buy one before I’ve tested it out in person (which is… a bit hard right now :upside_down_face:)

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I tried neo a couple of times, though one of the major problems with it is, that I still have to deal with other peoples computers or my Windows machine at the office.

Not even speaking about the fact, that keyboards are labeled for QWERTZ anyway…

Switching back and forth, beeing confused by keycaps that did not fit what was happening on screen when currently on Neo have been my major painpoints.

Today I have a keyboard where I could swap the keycaps, though again, now this PC is also used by my son for his schoolworks, and they even do a touch typing course next year! I do not want to confuse him with alternative layouts yet.

Perhaps if the Optimus were still available… Anyone knows an alternative?


The issue with using other people’s machines is very occupation-dependent. For some people, it is a constant issue, and for others it almost never comes up. Over the years, I have run into it far less than I anticipated. If you have access to a USB port on those machines, it’s much easier, given that you can just carry a QMK board or a converter like a Hasu controller. Having said that, carrying a board is obviously only easy for those that prefer 60% or less in the first place. No one is overly keen to carry a full-size around. If you don’t have access to a USB port, then I think PKL is probably the best option (via your email or cloud storage). My general attitude is that if I’m not going to be on the machine long enough to warrant downloading PKL, it probably doesn’t matter if it has my layout in the first place. For such brief interactions, looking at the keys is not a big sacrifice.

When I’m on my own board, I try very hard to make sure that the keys are not labeled in a way that tempts me to look at them. I prefer blanks or unrelated symbols (I went with the Hiragana for the Planck). But actually I find that QWERTY (or QWERTZ) is nearly as good. The key is just not to have the keys remotely resemble the actual layout, so that there is no temptation to rely upon them, and instead just consult the layout in my head.

The corollary to that is that it’s much easier to remember your own custom layout. When you put a lot of effort into making decisons about every key, it really sticks with you—it becomes an extension of you, a physical manifestation of all the quirks of your personality. The keys are exactly where you would guess you’d put them.

The keycap mismatch issue is another reason that I’m a fan of small boards. A lot of touch typists don’t touch type all keystrokes. They touch type keys that are easily within reach, but then reference the keyboard when they need far away symbols, numbers, Fkeys. On a small board, there is no temptation or need to do that, because there simply aren’t any distant keys that require a hand movement. So I think going small tends to promote true touch typing (without any “cheat glances,” so to speak).


Anyone know if there any keyboard layouts designed specifically for ortholinear keyboards?

When I get a new keyboard I am thinking about trying the since it was designed for programmers :smiley: (your article has been a huge help @dusty!)

I’m very worried about muscle-memory of qwerty tho - feels like I’ve be using it for forever…

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Colemak DHm is slightly superior to DH (AKA DHk) on ortho, @AstonJ. Workman is marketed more than it is used—it’s unclear if Workman’s creator even uses it currently (I tried Workman but the same-finger bigrams killed it for me). My layout is linked in the article, but the main issue with programming is symbols, and any QMK layout can improve those, regardless of the alpha mask you choose.

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Thanks Dusty! I think I’m going to try Colemak DHm before Workman then and maybe not bother with Colemak-DH at all (I’ll need to update my votes in this poll: Poll: Which keyboard layout do you use? I should add a link to this thread there too as your write-up is the best I’ve seen on layouts!)

My plan when my Moonlander arrives is:

  • Try it with qwerty… and hope I hate it :laughing: that will force me to switch it to C-DHm.
  • Try to learn all the keys as per your article
  • Hope I can make the change, haha!
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