'If it ain't broke, don't fix it'

'If it ain't broke, don't fix it'

Most people may be used to Qwerty keyboards, but YP cadet James Hurley uses a different version. Here he explains the logic of Dvorak.

In a dynamic technological landscape driven by constant innovation, the old Western saying, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", may go against your natural instincts.

However, this is not the case for the common Qwerty keyboard. Named after the first six letters on the top row, the Qwerty keyboard has remained essentially the same since it was invented more than 100 years ago.

The order of keys on early typewriters meant they often jammed when letters were typed quickly in certain orders. The Qwerty keyboard spaced these letters out to try to slow down typing speeds and stop this happening.

Yet Qwerty isn't the only option. Ross Parker, director of technology at International College Hong Kong, has been introducing his students to another system: the Dvorak simplified keyboard.

Named after its inventor, Dr August Dvorak, an educational psychologist, the keyboard puts often-used keys closer together, to reduce the distance fingers need to travel to reach the desired keys. This allows faster, more efficient typing.

"I love Dvorak because it is an effort to throw out something old for something better," Parker says. "It is the underdog trying to unseat the entrenched overlord."

Despite its strengths, the Dvorak keyboard fell prey to circumstance; by the time personal computers with electronic keyboards became commonplace, Qwerty had already become the standard. People who had already gone through the arduous process of learning to type were unwilling to start again, especially when their current system seemed to work well enough.

With the Qwerty system as common as it is, trying to teach, or learn Dvorak, is certainly not without its problems.

Parker says: "I would love to see a school teach Dvorak touch-typing from Year One, but it would resign them to being slow on the majority of the world's keyboards."

Many people who need to type every day often do not have the extra time to spend learning how to type using a Dvorak keyboard, and would have to continue using Qwerty while they learned.

"I think we should teach students the most useful technology, but encourage them to play with, and try other things, to see if they find something better," Parker says.

The task of learning Dvorak may seem daunting, but the internet has made doing so easier than ever. If you want to try there are many resources available online, such as learn.dvorak.nl/ and powertyping.com with information and tools to get new users started.

Although it may still be a specialised system, there are some big names in the information and communications technology industry that use and publicly support Dvorak.

By learning it, you will join the ranks of many ICT superstars, such as Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, Linus Torvalds, inventor of the Linux computer operating system, and Barbara Blackburn, the world's fastest typist.

So should Dvorak replace Qwerty as the standard? Perhaps, but not just yet.

"I do not believe it would be a good idea," Parker says. "Technological development has been an open process, with standards based on what is popular and deemed to work well. If everything was centralised and controlled, the internet would be like the phone networks: regulated to death, protected by monopoly rights, old, and very specialised in function. Instead, we have the internet, which is flexible, powerful, and open to experimentation by all. Freedom to create is freedom to innovate."

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
'If it ain't broke, don't fix it'


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