Is the colemak layout really optimal for what I need to do? Today I went looking for some cold hard facts.
sorenk's post on the colemak forum got me thinking. One of the things that's been bugging me about colemak is the digraph 'cd' – as I mentioned before, my typing style doesn't use the recommended fingering for the letters 'zxcvb' on QWERTY. To me, the left hand has always felt a bit odd, reaching in the same direction as the right hand does, which is lateral to the direction the finger normally points. 'tfc' makes more sense than 'edc'. You've got to turn your left hand in a little to do it right [sic].
So given that I don't use the unergonomic (in my opinion) bottom left row the way most people assume, I've run into a few problems with colemak:
Typing 'cd' was comfortable on QWERTY as it used the index and middle fingers, but on colemak, it becomes a long stretch with the index finger with my fingering style. Likewise, 'cp' was using different hands, but now it's a 2-row jump with the same finger – and as a Unix admin, I spend a lot of my time on the command line, changing directories and copying files.
Typing 'ct' is now less of a stretch in colemak, but still not optimal. Same finger digraphs are best when you are rolling your finger down, instead of up the keyboard.
Now sorenk's suggestion of moving the bottom row might work, but I want to be sure – and that means statistics. I downloaded the source from colemak's comparison page, put on my protective gear and started pulling apart the dreaded java code. To my surprise, it's actually quite clean and comprehensible.
A short time later, I've re-jigged the fingering on the bottom row, added sorenk's mods (jokingly called Kolemak) and a few other layouts from Michael Capewell and I'm ready to test. For data, I used the contents of my
lib/TWiki.pm (perl source),
*.py from the Dive Into Python tutorials, and the contents of my blog for some English language to balance it.
The results are awesome! Given that the left index finger has one extra key to press, it still provides a significant drop in usage, with less distance to travel and it balances better (getting closer to Dvorak) while still being relatively easy to learn.
I guess I know what my next task is: create some Kolemak files for distribution and retrain the world with a more ergonomic left hand style. :-P