Tom's Blog

A Year of Colemak - What I didn't expect

February 18, 2020

I switched to Colemak in late 2018. I wrote about that switch here. I’ve now been hacking away in Colemak for over a year and have absolutely no desire to switch back to QWERTY.

But…

Things I didn’t expect

There are a few things about switching to Colemak that have been pretty annoying, and they weren’t things I expected.

I’m a slower typer on Colemak

I was never a very fast typer on QWERTY. I don’t know how fast I was, but I’ll guess somewhere around 70 WPM. A year into Colemak, and I’m hovering around 60 WPM.

Unfair! Unjust! I was told that Colemak would make me a faster typer!

Maybe it’s just me - I’ve read a lot of posts by people who are much faster on Colemak. But I wonder if there are more people out there like me who switched to Colemak and didn’t regain their pre-Colemak speed.

For the record, I’m in my late 30s. Maybe if I was 20 this wouldn’t be an issue. Also, I had 30 years of QWERTY experience before switching to Colemak, so maybe I’ll catch up. Maybe.

No one else can use my computer

You’d think I’d be happy that no one else can use my computer, but some times it can be a pain. A co-worker excitedly asks, “Can I show you something?” They reach to touch my keyboard and get intercepted by my reluctant, stuttering explanation.

“No.. No you can’t type on my keyboard. I’m using Colemak. It’s like, it’s like a different way to type. I don’t use QWERTY. I’m not sure why I changed exactly.”

Not a great look.

Or my mom asking if she can use my computer to send a quick email. Sure… Let me just install QWERTY on here. How do I do that again?

I can’t type on other people’s computers

Much worse is the fact that I can’t use anyone else’s computer anymore. My wife will ask me to edit an email she’s written. I get a couple words in, find a typo, and realize that I have to use QWERTY. And I do not remember how to type QWERTY.

So now what? I ask her to send me the email. Or I ask to install Colemak on her computer. She looks at me like “Why can’t you just use a normal keyboard layout. Why make this difficult.”

The other day I was at the bank. The banker was asking me what I do for work. “I’m a software developer,” I replied. A minute later I had to input a password using a QWERTY keyboard. I slowly hunt and pecked the easiest password possible. The banker looked at me typing like someone who’s never used a computer before.

Setting up a new computer means an extra step

I’m really into Linux these days, and I’ve setup my computer several times in the past few months. Now that I’m on Colemak, I have an extra step, or two (or three, of four).

On Arch Linux, here are the steps:

  1. Figure out how to change the keyboard layout to Colemak IMMEDIATELY.
  2. Figure out how to persist that change.
  3. Figure out how to change the keyboard layout to Colemak in the X Window Environment.
  4. Figure out how to persist THAT change, too.

It’s just a bit more work, but it IS more work.

Some programs aren’t as nice to use

Since switching to Colemak, I’ve also started using Vim. I spend more time in Vim than nearly any other program. I’m typing this in Vim right now.

Vim was designed to make movements easier. Lots of action happens on the home row. But MY home row isn’t where the creators of Vim thought it would be. So, my UP key is on the bottom row, and my DOWN key is on the top row. My LEFT key is to the left, so that’s good, but my RIGHT key is on the top row as well.

For a while I used dmenu, a program to launch other programs. To launch a program, you hit SUPER (Win/Mac key) + d. But for me, d is in an awkward spot. So now, do I remap dmenu and make it “smenu”? (I’ve since switched to Rofi.)

But I’m not leaving…

I still really like Colemak. It’s fun having my finger stay on the home row. When I do have to type QWERTY it feels insane. The letters are all over the place. Colemak is sane, consistent, and safe.

I also suspect that Colemak is better for my fingers. I type a lot, and I don’t want them to start hurting.

I don’t know who I would recommend Colemak to. Very few people, probably. But for those of us on Colemak, it’s pretty great, right?