The problem with Dvorak
Those of us who type using the Dvorak or Dvorak-Qwerty keyboard layout have long faced several annoying problems:
1. Mac and Windows operating systems offer software-based support for Dvorak, but the results can be spotty at best and maddening at worse.
2. If you are in an environment where you often float around to different computers, you must change system preferences to get Dvorak to work. Often, you won’t have administrative rights to do so.
3. If you switch between multiple operating systems using VMWARE or Parallels on your Mac, it may take a bit of fiddling around to get Dvorak or Dvorak-Qwerty to work properly with a virtual desktop.
4. If you are using a computer in a conference room to give a presentation, you likely won’t have Dvorak set up. This can be rather embarrassing. In my case, I typically have to explain why I’m typing as if I’ve never seen a keyboard. I have to hunt and peck for the Qwerty keys with two fingers.
Now there is an alternative solution on the market that offers a hardware fix to these types of problems. It’s from a New Zealand-based company called KeyGhost, and it’s called QIDO. That’s short for Qwerty-In > Dvorak-Out > Portable USB Adapter.
I’ve been testing out the QIDO for several weeks now on Mac and PC platforms. Here’s how it works from a user perspective. It’s a small plastic device with male and female USB connectors. To set it up, you plug your USB keyboard into the female end of the QIDO, and plug the male end of the QIDO into a computer USB slot. Then you pull up any text editor and type ‘keydvorak’ to bring up a simple configuration menu (see above image) which allows you to choose from Dvorak Standard, Dvorak-Qwerty, Single Handed Left, or Single Handed Right. After you go through this configuration, you really don’t need to do it again. If you want to temporarily switch back to Qwerty, simply hit the ‘Num-Lock’ key (PC) or ‘Clear’ key (Mac) twice in quick succession. Do this again to toggle back to your chosen keyboard layout.
While this works without a hitch on a PC, there are a couple of points to be aware of while setting up the device on a Mac: the first time you plug it in, your Mac will try to identify the device as a new keyboard. Just close this dialog box and ignore it. This creates another minor issue, however, since your Mac now doesn’t know what kind of keyboard you are using. If you’re using an Apple keyboard (I’m using the thin aluminum design), you’ll find that everything works as expected, except that the Apple-specific keys on your keyboard (e.g. Expose, Dashboard, and other special function keys) no longer map correctly. To fix this, go to ‘System Preferences,’ select ‘Keyboard and Mouse’ settings, then choose the ‘Modifier keys’ button, and finally select ‘Apple’ under the ‘Select Keyboard’ drop down box. Now all of your Apple keys will work as expected. The documentation that ships with the device did not include instructions for this last step, but KeyGhost support staff helped me quickly sort it out in short order. These additional instructions will hopefully be added to the documentation.
What I think
I was skeptical at first that this device would make a substantive difference in my life, but it has. It’s certainly helps me to work more efficiently. With the QIDO plugged in, I’m confident that I can use Dvorak-Qwerty all the time, within any application. This may not sound like a big deal, but it’s revelatory after putting up with years of spotty Dvorak support.
I do a lot of graphic work using Photoshop CS3 on my Mac. Most Adobe CS3 apps (and prior versions of the Suite) do not properly support Dvorak-Qwerty. Without QIDO, I must switch to Qwerty when using Photoshop since I rely on Qwerty shortcuts to get work done in this application. Invariably, I will not remember to switch to Qwerty until after I try to enter a key combo such as CTRL-V to paste (which annoyingly opens up the Adobe Preferences panel when using Dvorak-Qwerty). And once I’m finished with Photoshop, I typically launch into another application and forget to switch back to Dvorak, which I don’t realize until after I type a string of nonsensical characters. Arg.
On my Windows machine, the benefits are more direct. Windows OS support for Dvorak is horrid. Before I started using the QIDO, my PC keyboard layout often seemed to change between Dvorak and Qwerty at random times. It was very unreliable. To get Windows to support Dvorak-Qwerty, I used a third-party software key mapping utility. This worked fairly well, yet some applications refused to work as expected with it, most notably Microsoft Office. Quite frustrating.
With the QIDO device, I don’t have to worry about any of this nonsense.
The QIDO is also convenient. At home, I have it plugged into a USB hub. When my wife uses my Mac, she can easily unplug it if she wants, or she can toggle it to Qwerty with the ‘Clear’ key. At work, I carry it around with me to use with other machines. It’s nice to not have to worry about OS settings, or if I have admin rights to change the keyboard setting.
In short: it’s simple, portable, and just works.
I’ve decided that it’s valuable enough for me to justify the cost, but I imagine that this will be the hardest selling point for the QIDO. At $89 plus FEDEX shipping charges from New Zealand, it’s not that cheap. And since there are just not that many Dvorak users out there, I don’t imagine we’ll see an economy of scale come into play with this little speciality device. It also only works with a wired USB keyboard. You can’t use it with a laptop keyboard. Nor can you use it with a wireless keyboard. These are not major issues for me as most of my work is done on wired keyboards, but I imagine these limitations will screen out many potential Dvorak typists.
All things considered, I’m quite pleased with the QIDO. However, I do think that the design could be a bit more user-friendly. Since it is a device that most users will tend to carry around for use on different workstations, I’d like to see a slightly slimmer, smaller design to make it more portable, as well as unobtrusive means to attach it to a keychain or lanyard to help prevent accidental loss. Perhaps the folks at KeyGhost could take a cue from the myriad portable USB flash drive designs out there for the next generation device.