Dvorak on Linux Console

For my benefit more than anything. I always forget how to change the keymap on a linux console session:

loadkeys /usr/share/keymaps/i386/dvorak/dvorak.map.gz

This seriously could have saved me an hour or two earlier today.

QWERTY is so painful! Switch to Dvorak. You’ll thank me later.

Update: Matt Brubeck informs me I could just use loadkeys dvorak in most modern distrobutions. Thanks!

18 replies on “Dvorak on Linux Console”

Change is scary. Wow I’m actually typing this in the dvorak layout! Very slow. I’ll see if it sticks.

On many distributions (including Debian), “loadkeys dvorak” is sufficient.

Now, if there’s an easy way to change the Caps Lock key to Control at the Linux console, I’d love to hear it.

are you going to Bad Art Night tonight at Tropioca? do you have a Dvorak keyboard that you could bring? i’ll be there until 8:00. i’m curious!!!

I wish there was a “loadkeys datahand” that I could use that would make my datahand (http://www.datahand.com) magically replicate in front of any computer.

Do you use windows or linux mainly? If windows, do you ever have any problems with programs using scancodes instead of translated keys for shortcuts and such?

Brian, I use Windows primarily. I haven’t had anything use scancodes except for an obscure game I don’t play anymore. I suspect it would be more of a problem with games that are more likely to not use the Windows libraries for such things.

Wow, I’ve been using some of your Movable Type plugins and reading your site sporadically for a while now. It’s surprising to hear that you use Dvorak. I’m a Dvorak user and I’m always interested in learning of other people who use it as well.

To Kathy: Matt is asking how to remap his QWERTY keyboard under Linux, so my guess is that he probably doesn’t own a Dvorak keyboard. Since remapping is a no-brainer under most Operating Systems nowadays, most Dvorak users don’t waste their money on a hard-wired Dvorak keyboard.

Too bad you can’t set only one VC to be Dvorak. That would be ideal for me to run gtypist on vc12 using Dvorak, to learn it when I want but leave all the other VCs to get some work done until I know Dvorak.

A guy left a tiny old Mac at my place to demon-dial faxes for his theater company, showed me how I could browse in it without breaking anything. It had Mavis Beacon 2 which introduced me to Dvorak, so I read up on that in the library. Staff in computer stores would have their eyes glaze over when I tried to learn more. One guy called me back after researching how many thousand dollars I’d have to spend to have a programmer convert my computer to dvorak. But there was an article on keyboards in a Canadian computer mag
(The Computer Paper TCP) which the author turned to addressing ergonomics
so he could promote dvorak. This gave me the contacts for Dvorak Int’l, which showed me how simple it actually is to install and access the dvorak options.
I subscribed to his quarterly newsletter (hardcopy) which is a blast, and I’ve thought of asking his permission to scan it to pdf’s to distribute on the next. A wealth of dvorak lore and resources.
I learned qwerty on an Underwood Manual in school in the late 60’s, often hit 100 wpm with no practice outside the classes. This left me with a solid respect for learning touch typing, and I still don’t get why so many users seem proud of their total lack of typing skills.
I first typed on the small Mac kybd’s that came with the compact Macs,and cherish them because you can shift the keycaps to Dvorak while maintaining the original surface, unlike most later keyboards which get very wierd and uneven if you move the keys. I often give these old keyboards to new users to help them learn, but I now confidently type upon qwerty caps layout.Benefits of using a tutor and learning to touch type.
A friend who worked at the local Mac Store had bad RSI (articles in the paper began offering dire predictions about kids who grew up with computers having such bad RSI by the time they left highschool that they’d need someone to type for them, or really good voice dictation software.)
He asked me to find him a certain laptop, so I set it up in dvorak for him, and after one month, his RSI was gone.
I have found few in my area who use dvorak, but began to pester a local paper that since they did seasonal tech articles about RSI and computers, why not include some useful info on Dvorak. So they hired a freelancer to do the story, and it came out great.
After some time, I began to use the Apple Adjustable Keyboard, which allowed you to open it to the precise angle your hands are comfortable at. Too bad, it was costly and flaky….the key switches would give out.But I became convinced that a bent keyboard means as much in its own way as does using Dvorak. Then I worked for 3.5 years in ‘cybersweatshop’…an outsource callcenter supporting highspeed Broadband.A local doctor had been converted by a musician friend to Dvorak, and he wrote me a note requiring my company to get me a bent Dvorak keyboard. (And all you folks take note…you can make your company do this with a doctor’s note!)Only problem was they got cheap and boughtthe straight DvortyBoard….which was much better than trying to hunt’n’peck in qwerty….but it made it real clear to me that as much as my hands love Dvorak, they also want that bent keyboard!
During a flush period, I bought a DvortyBoard just to go with my Linux setup on an Intel tower…which is what I’m typing on now. If I upgrade to a newer Mac with usb, I’ll probably buy some bent keyboard for that too.
Recently I began getting serious about using Linux (Ubuntu)cause I love the whole open source thing and because it now makes sense to learn command line for Mac OS X. So even though I am using a DvortyBoard, the first thing I have learned to do it command line is to change the keyboard back and forth between dvorak and qwerty.
My final words of wisdom….even if you do learn to type over 100wpm
(The Guinness Record holder is an elderly lady who types 280wpm….in Dvorak of course!), it’s NOT ABOUT SPEED. It’s about the fact that the Dvorak layout is more natural….that your hands feel more comfortable that way and that it not only doesn’t cause RSI, but Dvorak has also been seen to
to heal RSI. Say no more!


‘Makes no difference to huntin’ pecker like myself’

actually you will still be moving your fingers less distance based on the configuration of the keys.

I was/still am a hunt and pecker, but I figured when I switched to dvorak that I would take that chance to learn to touch type. I still hunt and peck when I have to use a Sholes (Qwerty) keymaping, but I have now learned to touch type with a dvorak map. I never relabeled my keyboard for learning when switching, that way I never had any reason to look down and be tempted to hunt and peck while learning.

Being a programmer, and when sitting at the computer every day I am now very glad that I can touch type. It makes typing a lot easier and copying even better. One does not have to pay attention to the keyboard or even the terminal when touch typing.

If you are willing then I would defiantly suggest that you learn to touch type and while you are at it you could try out the Dvorak layout if you like. You could always learn to touch type with Qwerty rather then try Dvorak, but I would suggest Dvorak. (I figured out how to hunt and peck extremely fast on Qwerty over years of repetition, and even though I practically knew where the keys were… if it was dark, under the desk, or just copying from paper, I would find I still had to waste time looking at the keyboard.

Even if you don’t want to try out the Dvorak mapping then if I could, I would suggest you consider trying to learn to touch type some time in the future. If you are interested in touch typing and want to use a free program take a look at the next section.


Learning to Type using a Dvorak Layout:

ANYONE interested in Learning to Type on a Dvorak keyboard layout, can easily try out Simon Baldwin’s jTypist program. It’s free and requires you are able to run java applets. You can easily try out Dvorak if you are using a standard Qwerty board with no changes to your computer at all.

This program takes you through several practice typing lessons. You can learn to touch type with Dvorak or a normal Qwerty Keyboard with this. If you are interested then I strongly recommend you check it out.

[ http://www.geocities.com/simon_baldwin/typist/index.html ]

His program can also be found here:
[ http://www.seren.net/dvorak/jtypist-3.1h/dvorak_jtypist.html ]


DVORAK vs Qwerty

There are several arguments ranging from Repetive Stress Injury (RSI) such as Carpel tunnels syndrome, to efficiency, and even social reasons. In my opinion, even though the Dvorak keymaping requires less finger movement ( because e-t-a-i-o-n and others of the most frequent letters in the english/latinbased languages, I’m also a cryptography guy), RSI injuries can be avoided even more from ergonomic keyboards. (Of course I am not a professional in the area, but I don’t see a huge difference. I could very well be wrong because many people have recovered/felt_better because of the switch. Also I do not suffer from RSI yet, so I could not say, but feels more comfortable. )

The main benefit in my opinion is efficiency. There have been many articles written on why one might choose the Dvorak layout over Qwerty, so I am not going to go into details, but recommend that you google and find your own references and decide for yourself. I just wanted to help others discover that Dvorak is out there and it is a nice Variation from the Qwerty layout that seems to have become the defecto standard.

If you are lazy try here to get you started on the benefits:
[ http://www.mwbrooks.com/dvorak/procon.html ]


I originally discovered the dvorak layout because I started on designing plans for a hand held input device that would translate binary (each finger controls a bit) because I thought it would be a good project to practice in a linux environment. (Of course in an actual business perspective its not something that you would make millions on, but it is a neat party trick.)

There are other ergonomic keyboards out there and several support the Dvorak layout. It is considered a much more comfortable layout compared to others.



Can you guess why/how I came across your post here? Yeah, I am currently being sidetracted from looking up one of the ways to load the dvorak keymap on a linux box. ^_^; I wasn’t looking for the loadkeys program, but of course I stumbled upon this post. loadkeys generaly looks in the paths /usr/share/keymaps/ or /lib/kdb/keymaps/ etc. so that is why ‘loadkeys dvorak’ can work, you can also try ‘loadkeys dvorak.map’ etc if it is telling you that it cannon locate the file.



Peter’s case study is great! This is very similar to something I might have tried had I not run across it when doing research. (Thank You Peter!) Anyway, this is for anyone that wants to see a detailed technical study and probably only interesting to ‘geeks’ but I have to let others using Dvorak see it.

In reference to the ‘best’ keyboard layout:

‘Could a modern evolutionary algorithm and a huge input sample discover a better arrangement? I had to give it a try. The results surprised me!’

Using tons of source text and a few physical-fitness AI type evaluations (based on criteria listed in his article) Peter attempted to design/let_evolve the ‘best’ keyboard in terms of efficiency.

Guess what evolved after several generations and more testing?….. something that resembled the Dvorak layout!
You can see a layout of the 3 side by side on the link below ( Dvorak layout, Sholes’ layout, Best evolved layout ).

The study also continues and tests the actual usability and further evaluates the Dvorak layout.

If you have time, do check it out.

[ http://www.visi.com/~pmk/evolved.html ]



Yes, I had also attempted to swap all the keys on a newer keyboard and discovered the terrain to be amazingly uneasy for my fingers to traverse. I never realized the old macs I have are all flat and identically sloped. Good to know.



Not that you shouldn’t have a Sholes layout handy for actual work when you are learning, but it is much easier/faster to learn if you don’t switch between the two a lot when learning. You may want to leave one computer for tasks that have to get done right away, but leave browsing, e-mails and anything else that does not have a time limit on them for Dvorak. It will speed up the process.

You don’t have to do that at all, but I’m just mentioning it because most people benefit from avoiding switching and not using Dvorak in long enough intervals to learn immediately. I’m mean, obviously we all have to get paid or we won’t even have the luxury. 😉


Oh, and I do believe there are a few ways that you can set the Capslock key to Ctrl for the terminal (when not running X) but I don’t remember them off the top of my head. You might search for the sites that are promoting killing your caps key (ex: http://www.anticapslock.com/ ). Emacs has a much easier flow when it is switched to Ctrl similar to the Sun keyboards placement.

Ok, enough rambling, back to work.


(If anyone needs help getting the Dvorak Layout setup on Windows or Linux, feel free to drop a message here and someone might help. I apologize if Matt does not want this post to do that and if so then please let us know ^_^ )

> Now, if there’s an easy way to change the Caps Lock
> key to Control at the Linux console, I’d love to hear it.

Easy enough if you have root access:
I used dumpkeys to dump the current keymap.
Then edit it such that the keycode that was = Caps_Lock
is now = Control.
Then load the editted keymap with loadkeys.
In Slackware, any script you put in /etc/rc.d/rc.keymap is
called automatically at boot.

As an aside, I thought this might work for me too but it
wasn’t quite right:

Last comment truncated, probably because it
contained some escape characters. No biggie.

setxkbmap dvorak to set the keyboard layout for the current X session.

(figured it would be worth mentioning for reference, even if it’s not relevant to the console)

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