Network effects / path-dependence / lock-in

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Joined: 12/03/2016

When advocating for the (relatively) obscure GNU/Linux over Windows, free software advocates often respond to the objection of "if it's so great, why isn't it already market-dominant?" by pointing to the Dvorak keyboard layout being superior to QWERTY as an example of how an objectively better system or standard can get locked out of the marketplace by various factors, such as short-term thinking in gatekeeper companies, self-perpetuating path dependence (typing schools taught QWERTY because manufacturers only made QWERTY; manufacturers only made QWERTY because typists were only taught QWERTY), network effects (everyone uses it because everyone uses it), etc.

So why don't more GNU/Linux users (and Mac users before them, come to think of them) actually USE Dvorak? If any one out there would "get it" about how going through a little more up-front effort to learn something new to get a big long term benefit, you'd think it would be our community. If anyone would have the discipline and dedication to go through a little bit of extra hassle (switching the layout on a new or borrowed computer, then switching it back when returned, etc), it would be our community, especially the "purist" freedom advocates.

In case you don't already know about this issue, check out more information here:

I just wish that the Linux friendly manufacturers and sellers (ThinkPenguin, System76, ZaReason, Entroware etc) and especially the fully-free system sellers (Minifree, Tehnoetic, Libiquity, Viking) would make Dvorak layouts at least an option, or even the default.

And why don't ANY Linux distros make Dvorak the default? I mean if you're hard-core enough to exclude MP3 capability and PlayOnLinux, why not Dvorak?

Joined: 05/30/2012

There's no evidence that using Dvorak actually improves typing speed or comfort. Most keyboards are QWERTY. You're supposed to set the keyboard layout based on what the printed characters on the keys actually say. So QWERTY is the default choice that makes the most sense. Even QWERTZ and AZERTY layouts would make more sense as a default choice than Dvorak.

Besides, most systems don't exactly have a default. The keyboard layout is chosen when you install the system. They just have QWERTY as the default selection because that's what most people are going to want/use.

I personally haven't heard of using Dvorak as an example in that context. Then again, I've never heard anyone say that GNU/Linux must suck because it's unpopular. If they did, that would be a logical fallacy, and it would also be wrong. GNU/Linux systems are by far the most common systems used on servers.

Joined: 12/03/2016

There's quite a bit of evidence that Dvorak improves typing speed and comfort.

In the first place, the world record-holder for typing speed to this day is a Dvorak user. Dvorak users, though a tiny minority of typists, have been disproportionately represented among typing speed and accuracy contest winners and high placers.

Second, QWERTY was designed specifically to reduce typing speed. At the time of its design, type bars used gravity, not springs, to fall back down after striking the ribbon. But this worked too slowly for the type bar to get out of the way of the type bars with the following letters of the word coming in because the typist had hit the next keys quickly. Rather than tackling the mechanical problem of speeding up post-impact typebar movement, rather than fixing the flawed design to serve the convenience and needs of the user, the early typewriter entrepreneur Christopher Latham Sholes focused on slowing down the typist, thus on imposing an anti-feature on users to serve the needs of an inherently flawed system. The same paradigm as unfree software, of putting someone other than the user first.

Accordingly, the men who worked for him (Carlos Glidden and James Densmore) had the goal of physically separating keys that are frequently struck in sequence. Amos Densmore (James' brother), an educator, provided data on digraphs, commonly paired letters, which Sholes then arranged as far from each other on the keyboard as he could. While making typing unnecessarily slow and cumbersome had some positive effect on jam prevention, it didn't work from a sales perspective. Typewriters sold very slowly.

Typewriters only became a breakout, mass market product when their second generation came out in 1875, which had two innovations: first, at last having springs that pulled back the typebars, thus solving the jamming problem the right way, and second, showing the typist the page he was typing on as he was typing on it (previously you were typing blind - you couldn't see the paper until you were finished and pulled it out). Unfortunately, the manufacturer (Remington) retained the now-obsolete and totally unnecessary QWERTY layout with this generation, and thus QWERTY came along for the ride, setting the standard we are bedeviled with to this day. Sholes even proposed a new layout to Remington that made more sense in the new context, but Remington ignored him.

Third, by drastic contrast, the Dvorak layout was designed and intended from the outset, from the proverbial clean sheet of paper, to maximize speed and efficiency. Dr. August Dvorak did extensive research on typist behavior and on the makeup of English words. Because the typist's natural resting position is on the home row, Dvorak put the most frequently used letters there. That's why with Dvorak you can type over 3,000 words (including many of the most frequently used words) without your fingers ever leaving the home row, while in QWERTY you can only type about 300 words on the home row, many of them obscure. In Dvorak, 70% of your keystrokes are on the home row, while in QWERTY only 31% are, forcing you to the slower and more tiring effort of reaching above or below the home row much more often. Even within the home row, Dvorak puts the more common keys under the strongest fingers (index and middle) and the less common ones under the ring and pinky, while QWERTY forces you to stretch to the corners and use your weaker fingers like the pinky much more often. Dvorak reduces finger movement over QWERTY by a factor of THREE. Dvorak also has intelligent features such as the vowels being on the left side of the home row and the consonants on the right, which speeds up typing by spreading a word out between both hands rather than requiring one hand to do disproportionate work -- it's easier to rapidly tap two fingers in succession back and forth on a table than to tap one finger from one hand as quickly.

Dr. Dvorak's studies showing that new typists get up to 40 wpm in only 18 hours via Dvorak while taking 56 hours in QWERTY have been dismissed with claims of conflict of interest, but the study Dvorak deniers cling to, done by the GSA in 1956, was conducted by a man who had established his anti-Dvorak bias before the study in a publicly quoted statement. Even a relatively Dvorak-skeptical study showed that Dvorak is more efficient:

Magic Banana

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Joined: 07/24/2010

What you write about Dvorak being technically superior to qwerty is true. It is true as well that Dvorak has not replaced qwerty because of inertia. Although I do not have any figure, I am pretty sure that the proportion of GNU/Linux users having a Dvorak layout is far greater than the proportion of Windows or Mac OS users.

Notice that the Dvorak layout is intended for the English language. There is Neo for the German language, BÉPO for the French language, etc. Like onpon4 wrote, you can choose whatever layout you want when installing the distribution.

I personally do not even know how to type with all fingers. Many users do not type a lot. Even programmers have far much to gain by learning Emacs or vim than by learning to type fast. Or by discovering a new tool, a new library, etc. Every user has her own needs. The default ought to be what most users want: qwerty in this case. Contrary to the Windows vs. GNU/Linux choice, there is no ethics involved in the choice of a keyboard layout. Qwerty is no "wrong" in that sense. Only technically inferior.

By the way Trisquel has always include mp3 (free) codecs by default, as far as I know. PlayOnLinux includes proprietary software, hence the absence in any 100% distribution.