The standard QWERTY keyboard layout was designed for typewriters in the 1800s with the purpose of preventing the type bars from jamming. They achieved this by arranging the keys in such an inefficient pattern that the operator was slowed down to the point where they couldn’t type fast enough to jam the the bars. So why are we still using it now that we no longer have that limitation? Because switching to a better layout is a pain in the ass.
Maybe not as much as you’d think, though, and there are several significant benefits. You can type faster and more accurately on a Dvorak layout, and most importantly, it’s better from an ergonomic standpoint, so it’s easier on your wrists if you have a repetitive strain injury (e.g., carpal tunnel syndrome). I’ve heard about Dvorak several times over the years, but watching John Ford’s presentation on healthy computing at last year’s Wordcamp San Francisco motivated me to try it out.
Most modern operating systems allow you to choose from multiple keyboard layouts, so you can use Dvorak on your current keyboard. You can then buy labels to stick to the keys, make your own, or just rearrange the keys to fit the new layout. If you search for Dvorak labels on Amazon you can find both transparent and opaque ones in different font colors for about $6.
Once you’re all setup you can use online touch typing games and lessons to help you get used to the new layout:
Update: Apparently there’s some disagreement over the commonly held beliefs about the history of QWERTY and benefits of Dvorak, but I haven’t found anything definitive on either side, so I’d still like to try it out and see for myself.