Home > Keyboarding Theory, Keyboards > New Keyboard Layout Project: Have We Been Mistaken All Along?

New Keyboard Layout Project: Have We Been Mistaken All Along?

Everyone who has designed a prominent keyboard layout, and I mean everyone, assumes that finger travel distance is by far the most important factor. It makes sense on an intuitive level: we should move our fingers around as little as possible. Colemak places the eight most common keys on the home row, as does Arensito, Michael Capewell’s layout, and others. I used to agree.

But have we been mistaken all along?

Enormous benefits can be gained if we are willing to sacrifice a little finger travel distance. I was running my keyboard generator program and it came up with this layout:

b l o u ; j d c p y
h r e a , m t s n i
k x ‘ . z w g f v q

This surprised me at first. I thought, I must have something wrong. The ‘o’ isn’t on the home row. That can’t be right. But then I considered further. Maybe it’s worth it to sacrifice some finger travel distance in order to gain other benefits. This layout boasts great inward rolls (notice ‘he’, ‘in’, ‘is’, ‘re’, ‘it’) and very few outward rolls. With four vowels on one hand and only one on the other, it also has pretty good hand alternation, thus pleasing both the “rolls” crowd and the “alternation” crowd. Same finger usage is amazingly low — lower than any other major keyboard layout.

The trouble is, I’ve never tried a layout like this, nor do I have the time to. I want to stick with the layout I have and try to get faster using that one layout; remembering both it and QWERTY is not too hard, but remembering three layouts is far more difficult. It would be really nice if I had a research grant and could hire a group of 50 or so college students to learn this layout, and compare it to one where finger travel distance is valued more highly.

Perhaps a different sort of layout is better than the conventional type. The trouble is, we don’t really know. But there’s still the possibility that we’ve been mistaken all along.

  1. Atle
    June 30, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    Hi Michael,

    I notice, except for the O, the rest of the layout has extremely good reach (finger travel distance). Even the O is in a prime top-row position – the next best thing.

    Conveniently, the most frequent 14 letters can be found within easy reach in the home and top row. So, on balance, trading a slightly sacrificing the O for extremely good access to the best half of the alphabet, is probably a profitable tradeoff in terms of overall reach.

    In other layouts, it bothers me when the relatively frequent U, C, or M falls down into the bottom row.

    • June 30, 2010 at 3:16 pm

      Thank you for your comment. I always appreciate feedback and new ideas.

      You make a good point. What I’m primarily concerned about in this case is not finger travel distance, but that the middle finger may be overworked. Placing O and E on the same finger is an awful lot to be typing. Perhaps the middle finger can handle it; and perhaps it’s worth it for the decreased load on the left pinky finger.

      I agree that it is important to place moderately common letters like U, C, or M in good positions. That said, I don’t think that the bottom row right index finger (QWERTY ‘m’ key) is very difficult to type. Generally, though, my algorithm places somewhat less common things (like ‘w’ or ‘g’) in that position.

      Regarding the semicolon, it is actually relatively common among punctuation. My layouts always use the 4 punctuation keys that are used on Dvorak. I do this because: they are among the most common punctuation; it’s easier to keep things consistent that way; and layouts get much harder to learn when you start moving too much punctuation around. In my own experience, I have no trouble switching between my layout and QWERTY, but when I modified the punctuation I had much more difficulty.

      One other thing to be considered is that the semicolon will end up being placed in one of the worst positions, which may actually be worse than some punctuation outside of the main 30 keys (for example, I find that the QWERTY apostrophe is easier to type than the QWERTY slash).

      • Atle
        June 30, 2010 at 7:06 pm

        Michael: ‘Regarding the semicolon, it is actually relatively common among punctuation.’

        Atle: I doubt the frequency of the semicolon is true anymore.

        Sure, if you use the obsolete ‘classics’ literature from the previous two centuries as the test data, yeah. Youl find alot of semicolons.

        But if you go to Barnes&Nobles and buy a paperback romance novel or even a hi-tek scifi novel. I bet you, no semicolon.

        I consider your use of semicolons above:

        “I do this because: they are among the most common punctuation; it’s easier to keep things consistent that way; and layouts get much harder to learn when you start moving too much punctuation around.”

        Occasionally, I see semicolons used to separate a series of clauses, like ‘capital commas’ sotospeak. But, 1, this is grammatically improper anyway. 2, the same sentence is clear with proper commas. 3, the sentence actually uses a colon .. because a colon is useful, as opposed to the semicolons that are gratuitous. Significantly, 4, the semicolons enabled a sprawling (less ideal) writing style.

        Sentences that refuse to succumb to periods may be good for Immanuel Kant, but theyr bad for modern Americans.

        Especially in our era of navigating the information rather than memorizing the information, the information itself must be instantly clear.

        When the concepts are complex, moreso style must be simple. To paraphrase Einstein, ‘Be as simple as possible, but no simpler.’

        This is a matter of style. Yet objectively, today, I bet the dollar sign is more common than the semicolon. Certainly, informal writing uses exclamations more than semicolons! Except for emoticons πŸ˜‰

        • Atle
          June 30, 2010 at 7:11 pm

          But πŸ™‚ is probably more frequent than .. πŸ˜‰

          • feurry
            July 14, 2010 at 12:21 am

            the semicolon is used often in programming. It’s not like it’s in a prime location anyways. It could probably be swapped with k or some other keys and hardly affect this layout.

            If you really want to move some bad punctuation keys, move the up to the number pads onto 1,2 and bring the ! and @ in to replace them. How many times do you type email addresses vs > … probably a whole bunch. I’ve moved a few other keys though on my layout so i actually put ? and ! with , and . to keep things consistent by grouping punctuation keys. I moved @ to the shifted / (but even / is in a different spot on my board)

            i like the way Michael has just used the 30 keys. The other ones can be changed to ones own needs quite easily, and their usage patterns can vary greatly depending on what you type. i.e if you program. Their usage varies too much with how you use your computer. Some people use $ a lot and others /.

            I have used many of Michael’s layouts and other layouts for more than a month each and can say first hand the punctuation keys have never been a sore spot. At the same time, adapting my punctuation mods to any of them has been trivial and are always better than qwerty.

        • June 30, 2010 at 10:09 pm

          Here you may find the frequency of every ASCII printable character. A sizable proportion of my corpus is text that I pulled off the internet (forums, etc), so it’s pretty modern. Semicolons are still relatively common.

          • Atle
            December 30, 2010 at 7:49 pm

            Im not sure how I missed this updated data. But it looks strong. πŸ˜€ I especially like where it lists the semicolon as less frequent than the dollar sign ‘$’ – as I predicted earlier! And, the semicolon is less frequent than the colon – as I experienced.

            As the frequency of the semicolon is comparable to the dollar sign, it seems safe to remove it from the keyboard.

            Personally, I make SHIFT-comma the semicolon and SHIFT-period the colon, and am very happy with this key assignment. Thus the semicolon and colon dont hog up space, but are conveniently in reach for the times when I need them.

  2. Atle
    June 30, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    On a separate issue, the semicolon is evil.

    Contemporary American English seeks clarity and concision, avoids adverbs and adjectives unless vital, and rejects the semicolon. The semicolon is the opposite of American English. It is obsolete.

    I estimate I use a semicolon about two or three times .. per year. I use grammar checks to *remove* semicolons from preexisting documents, replacing them with a period and capital.

    More frequently I use a colon: a grammatical equal sign.

    The semicolon doesnt belong in any keyboard layout. For most typists, it may be best to swap the colon with the doublequote. However, my ideolect never uses doublequotes either. I use ‘British’ singlequotes, and dont use apostrophes for contractions. I would swap the semicolon with the colon.

    • June 30, 2010 at 10:10 pm

      I am rather fond of the semicolon; I consider it to be dreadfully under-utilized. In run-on sentences, it often can serve to add more clarity and smoothness than breaking up the sentence.

    • dphrei
      November 21, 2010 at 2:59 pm

      i use it almost daily.

  3. Atle
    June 30, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    I wonder what the character frequency of English Wikipedia is. That! is probably the best sample for people who care about keyboards. Brackets and all.

  4. Atle
    July 7, 2010 at 7:31 pm

    Maybe this keyboard can get a reality check? For the algorithm, lock the block of four vowels in place (with the O above E), and leave everything else open. Hypothetically, the outcome should be this same keyboard. However, if the other keyboards rarely exhibit excellent fitness, it suggests this keyboard is a statistical fluke, and perhaps less good than the fitness suggests. However, if different kinds of keyboards exibit excellent fitness, a block of vowels probably enjoys better efficiency.

  5. phynnboi
    July 8, 2010 at 6:30 am

    I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this or not: My testing method of choice was to take TypeFaster’s “Common Words” exercise and translate it from the layout I wanted to test into a layout I already know.

    So, for instance, assume we know Qwerty and want to test Michael’s layout. The first sentence of “Common Words” is,

    The man almost called to the boy.

    This translates from Michael’s layout into Qwerty as,

    Jad hfl fwhekj ifwwdu je jad qepv

    Type that on Qwerty and you’ll get a feel for what it’d be like to type it with Michael’s layout.

    It’s pretty easy to write a script in Perl (or, I assume, Python or Ruby) to do this translation for the whole file (or whatever file you want). Assuming you’re facile enough in your main layout to type garbage at a reasonable speed, that’ll give you a pretty good feel for the new layout without having to spend months actually learning the thing. I found this system invaluable in vetting my evaluation function and finally settling on a homebrew layout I was happy with.

  6. Atle
    July 14, 2010 at 12:24 am

    Hi guys, I meant to respond earlier, but I got pulled away by a side project.

    This keyboard is interesting. Iv been making use of it. Il let you know it goes. (Using it now.)

    A main concern of mine is a ‘private domain area’ to reuse for variant keyboards. This keyboard is actually fantastic for that.

  7. feurry
    July 14, 2010 at 1:19 am

    I’d been using your program for a while back in ’09 trying to come up with layouts that favoured the middle finger. I was tweaking the keyboard position costs and also manually making changes. I wasn’t exactly thinking about sacrificing finger travel distance, but more about sacrificing rolls, since they aren’t my thing.

    My perception is the middle finger is as easy to type in the top row as the pinky in the home row, and far more powerful.

    Anyways, i’d try the layout and comment, but i’m already using a layout with a similar o e ‘ combo, so i’ll comment on that. I love it, and this layout would be pretty darn good too, but i won’t be testing it as i can tell already i don’t like the hre grouping.

    I’m using a modded version of your 2nd layout from sept 12/09. I moved jx; for personal tastes. This is the modded version.
    Hands: 52% 47%
    Fingers: 8% 9% 19% 14% 15% 14% 10% 7%
    y c o u j k m d p w
    i s e a . l h t n r
    x z ‘ , ; v f g b q

    it has even more middle finger action by having t and d on the right.

    I’m much happier with this layout than mtgap 2.0, my previous layout of choice.

    • July 14, 2010 at 7:48 pm

      If you can easily move your middle finger around, I can definitely see how putting more on the middle finger could be a good idea. It looks especially promising because same finger can be so low — td/dt and oe/eo are very rare.

      What are all the statistics for your modded layout?

      • feurry
        July 15, 2010 at 8:33 pm

        here’s the full stats
        Hands: 52% 47%
        Fingers: 8% 9% 19% 14% 15% 14% 10% 7%

        y c o u j k m d p w
        i s e a . l h t n r
        x z ‘ , ; v f g b q

        Fitness: 2313114799
        Distance: 9580900
        Inward rolls: 7.08%
        Outward rolls: 2.23%
        Same hand: 16.85%
        Same finger: 0.68%
        Row change: 7.59%
        Home jump: 0.24%
        To center: 1.60%

        as a bonus here’s another layout with a really low same finger.. about 1% lower than your posted layout. Same hand is much lower though.. so i’m really amazed your layout has such a low same finger and higher same hand.

        Hands: 52% 47%
        Fingers: 8% 9% 19% 14% 14% 14% 10% 7%

        y l o u ; q m d p w
        i h e a , f s t n r
        j k ‘ . z v c g b x

        Fitness: 2308232051
        Distance: 9523500
        Inward rolls: 6.15%
        Outward rolls: 2.89%
        Same hand: 16.54%
        Same finger: 0.58%
        Row change: 7.77%
        Home jump: 0.39%
        To center: 0.77%

        not sure why i didn’t end up using that layout.

        • feurry
          July 15, 2010 at 9:13 pm

          while i’m on low same finger, here’s another one of my layouts that looks pretty kick ass from the stats.

          Hands: 51% 48%
          Fingers: 7% 10% 19% 13% 14% 13% 11% 10%

          q l o u j k y m c p
          a r e i , f h t s n
          z x ‘ . ; v d w g b

          Fitness: 101377344
          Distance: 9580900
          Inward rolls: 7.49%
          Outward rolls: 3.94%
          Same hand: 19.03%
          Same finger: 0.51%
          Row change: 8.42%
          Home jump: 0.29%
          To center: 0.84%

          Despite the numbers this layout wasn’t working for me. I don’t like the 10% on the pinky and or, er, ng. Maybe someone else will like it.

  8. Atle
    July 15, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    I also dont seem to mind the o above e, at the mid top. I dont know if it will become an issue later at higher speed, but right now seems fine.

  9. Atle
    July 15, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    ‘The hre grouping’

    Funny enough, Im finding that awkward as well.

    • feurry
      July 15, 2010 at 8:42 pm

      there, here, were aka the ere combo is very common which leads to a lot of direction changing while doing rolls. If er were on the index and middle it would probably be fine.

  10. Atle
    July 15, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    Heh. Surprisingly, the most difficult key for me is the pinky bottom. The need to not activate the touchpad gives the heel less mobility. The wrist flexes up, twists and strains.

    • dphrei
      November 21, 2010 at 3:14 pm

      i would suggest setting a hotkey to toggle the pad on/off. should be in mouse settings.

  11. Atle
    July 16, 2010 at 2:58 am

    These four letters form the base of a family of keyboards:

    N R S T

    Out of curiosity, with no other factors, which sequence has the best rolls?

    • July 16, 2010 at 3:11 am

      Without using a computer program, I can tell you that ST is the most common digraph possible using those four letters, and NT is the second most common. There aren’t any others that are very common. Almost all common digraphs are vowel-consonant or consonant-vowel.

      • Atle
        July 16, 2010 at 3:57 am


  12. Atle
    July 22, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    So, not all rolls are equal. As a tentative estimate, I rank the rolls from best to worst as follows, where I=index, M=middle, R=ring, P=pinky:

    Inward rolls from easiest to least easy:

    Outward rolls from easiest to least easy:

    Personally I find the MR roll surprisingly awkward, the R (ring finger) seems uncoordinated and erratic in that sequence. I suspect thats why having the letters ‘ER’ on the fingers MR may be uncomfortable for some.

    Anyway, try rank the rolls yourselves to see if you experience them similarly.

    After a concensus emerges, determine if certain outward rolls are easier than certain inward rolls. Once the home positions are clear, use it as a basis to estimate the value of rolls involving the center and other rows.

    • Atle
      December 29, 2010 at 11:24 pm

      Im wondering if the problems with rolls are extremely specific. So, all rolls a great except for these problems.

      I am currently using a personalized i-s-e-a keyboard. The reversing diagraph e-s-e disrupts (confuses?) the flow of typing noticeably. Especially at high speeds.

      Mid-Ring-Mid: Specifically, the problem seems to be the roll of mid-ring-mid. By contrast the ring-mid-ring roll seems fine! The problem only exists for high frequency rolls. Using mid-ring-mid is intolerable for the topmost frequent e-r-e roll, problematic but potentially worth the sacrifice for e-s-e roll, and simply negligeable for less frequent characters.

    • Atle
      December 29, 2010 at 11:41 pm

      I want to call attention to a truly surprising problem. Id like to see what the experiences of other people are.

      I created an h-i-e-a keyboard (hand home) with mid e-o. It has zero outward rolls with regard to the frequent diagraphs, and good same finger, distance, and finger distribution. It looks excellent according to the methodology.

      I was shocked to discover the top frequent *inward* roll of pinky-h then mid-e (such as ‘the’, ‘he’, ‘there’, etcetera) is very straining to the wrists. Im half wondering if this and similar usage is responsible for all carpal tunnel problems.

      Specifically, the problem occurs when you exert pressure with both the pinky and the middle finger without exerting the ring finger as well.

      If you lift your ring finger and roll back and forth with your mid and pinky, you can feel out exactly were the position becomes problematic.

      Do you guys have a similar experience?

      If you feel

      • Atle
        December 30, 2010 at 11:24 pm

        I was looking for ergonomic way to resolve this issue of straining.

        Coincidentally, the program also tends to produce the solution that avoids the straining.

        While the program tends to put the e on the middle finger, it also tends to put the i on the pinky.

        The resulting inward i-e roll is relatively infrequently, and the outward e-i roll seems so infrequent as to be off the radar.

        The infrequency of i-e prevents any issues from arising. Indeed, Iv been using a i-s-e-a variant for a while, and never had issue with straining. It was only after I created a layout with a frequent h-e roll that I even discovered this could be an issue.

        With regard to the other hand, I use r-n-t-h (right home, reversed with pinky on r and index on h). In this case, the inward r-t roll and outward t-r roll are both relatively infrequent. Iv never noticed a problem here either. So their frequency between the 80th to 100th is probably a good ballpark for a safe frequency, and the i-e rolls falls in this range too.

  13. Pieter
    October 26, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    Or – you might drop the keyboard conventions completely and go for different things. Like honeycomb shaped keys – I suppose you all know this paper that I found?


    • October 26, 2010 at 11:04 pm

      That’s actually quite interesting, I’ve never seen it before. I’ll be sure to look at it more closely later.

  14. Atle
    December 29, 2010 at 11:10 pm

    For a while now, Iv been using a mod of an i-s-e-a keyboard (hand home) with the e-o middle finger. I love having the mid-e-o.

    As others have evidenced, I feel the real reason for its success is the minimal same-finger usage for consecutive characters. I love having the lowest same finger.

    Sharing the e-o on one finger leaves more room for the other home keys to share with their optimal characters. The mid finger can definitely handle the workload and worth the sacrifice of distance. I am impressed the program is accurate enough to predict this.

  15. December 31, 2010 at 1:40 am

    Regarding the rarity of the semicolon:

    The letter frequency on my website is old and there was a bug in my program. It didn’t have much of an effect on more common characters such as letters but it was drastically affecting punctuation. Actual punctuation frequency (according to my data) is this:

    . , _ ( ) ; = ” / – $ * ‘ { } : > [ ] < + \ ! # | @ ? & % ~ ^ `

    Which means that the semicolon is actually more common than $ after all.

    • Atle
      December 31, 2010 at 2:51 am

      . , _ ( ) ; = ” / – $ * β€˜ { } : > [ ] < + \ ! # | @ ? & % ~ ^ `


      It seems like the textual corpus for these punctuations includes quite a bit of computer coding. That might explain the strangely high frequency of the spacebar _ (even more frequent than quotation marks?), as well as how the braces {} which are usually quite rare could be even more frequent than brackets [].

      • December 31, 2010 at 3:06 am

        I explain how I calculated it here. While it’s true that most people are not programmers, people who are programmers do a lot of programming, and programs usually contain a lot of punctuation. Maybe I’m a little biased because I’m a programmer.

        • Atle
          December 31, 2010 at 4:55 am

          Actually, same link I was referring to below. Good stuff. I read it last year, but was already rereading it last night when thinking about punctuation.

      • Atle
        December 31, 2010 at 3:06 am

        Computer codes – especially source codes for webpages and wiki editing.

        • December 31, 2010 at 3:24 am

          I don’t think it does include much computer code if at all.

          • Atle
            December 31, 2010 at 4:53 am

            Whats the reason for the remarkably high frequency of spacebar _ ?

  16. Atle
    December 31, 2010 at 4:50 am

    ‘Maybe I’m a little biased because I’m a programmer.’

    Heh, exactly.

    Actually, last night I was studying the data that you compiled, that separates into the punctuation into different genres of writing style: casual, news, formal, prose, and programming. The differences in the frequencies of the letters are small. Whether the r or h is more frequent, the c or u, f or w, or x or j, doesnt noticeably affect the easy of typing. It is possible to accurately approximate the comparable frequencies, without needing to be precise. It usually doesnt matter what writing style one uses, its more or less the same letter frequency, and they use keyboard in roughly the same way.

    However the punctuation frequency differs drastically from one genre to the next.

    It occurred to me. Punctuations and writing style are the same thing. It is precisely the use punctuation that defines what a genre is – or at least shapes the form that the genre takes. There are accepted and unaccepted uses of punctuation in formal writing, relaxed and pretentious ways of puctuation in casual writing, polished and raw punctuation in prose, clean and messy punctuation in news, and correct and buggy punctuation in coding.

    Once I realized the identity between punctuation and genre, I tried to come up with a way to organize the data meaningfully. I came up with this method that Im pretty happy with.

    For each genre of punctuation systems, I compare their punctuation frequencies against their number frequencies. The results are telling.

    β€’ Generally, the punctuations whose frequencies intermingle the frequencies of the letters of the alphabet (generally near the frequency of the letter b) and are more frequent than any number: these are the must-have punctuations that define the writing style.
    β€’ The punctuations whose frequencies intermingle those of the numbers: these are the supportive punctuations that characterize the mood of the genre.
    β€’ Here in this post I ignore any punctuation that is less frequent than the least-frequent number. I also subdivide these into rare but still part of the repertoire of the genre versus alient to the genre, except in accidental circumstances, such as referring to an other genre.

    In the genre descriptions below, I give two lines.

    β€’ The first line represents the punctuations whose frequencies are greater than that of any number.
    β€’ The second represents the puctiuations that are roughly the same as the frequencies of numbers.

    Each genre prefers its favorite punctuations, reusing them as part of its own punctuation system.

    . ,

    – ‘ ) ( : ” / ! ?

    Casual writing is simple comments, periods and commas. Less elaborate formats. At the same time, casual writing is more likely to type number symbols for the sake of brevity rather than spell the words out. So all of the supportive punctuations are at about the same frequencies as the numbers. (The supportive punctuation includes a reasonably high frequency of parentheses for stray comments that interject into the flow of the conversation – and dashes too.) There is less concern for quotation marks, as there is less need to formally document the casual conversations.

    , . ” ‘ – ! ; ? : ) (


    Prose formally presents casual conversations. These are the novels and narrative descriptions. The high frequency of quotation marks shows hyper concern for exactly which person says what. The high frequncy of apostrophes shows the formal presentation of vernacular speech, especially in the form of contractions. Notice also that the numbers are less frequent than the bulk the punctuation in use because the narrative format prefers to spell out any numbers (such as ‘forty-two’) rather than jot their symbols (’42’). As far as know, the chevrons (really inequality signs) are often for narrative markers, such as to visually signify the statement by a character is actually speaking a different language when saying it. Note the infrequency of the equal sign, so these chevrons rarely convey numerical computations. Novels similarly use italics to signify to the reader what someone is thinking. As for the astrix *, every now and then, the author must interrupt the flow the story to inform the reader about the significance of a term or circumstance.

    , . – ” ;

    ‘ ) ( : []

    Formal writing, includes academic writing as well as other professional writing styles. This genre cares about who makes what claims, using quotation marks to communicate the text of interest, as well as parentheses to document the source, simultaneously with numbers to convey date and page number, and even a relatively high frequency of brackets [] to interrupt the quote with hyper analysis. The formal style also includes frequent use of dashes and semicolons to visually divide complex thoughts.

    , . ” –

    ‘ :

    LOL. News says it all. Crisp clean statements. Done.

    _ ” . , = ‘ ( : ) > < [ ] /

    @ \ | ? { } – %

    Yeah. And then theres programming, where the punctuation is itself the language. Its like looking at cuneiform.

    The subtle way that punctuation writes genres fascinates. Each style reuses the punctuaitions for its own distinctive system. The community of each system even enforces what punctuations are appropriate or not.

    With regard to keyboard design, it seems the designers can specialize the keyboard for specific punctuation systems. Likewise each keyboard user can note which punctuations they tend to find themselves using when selecting their layout. The keyboarder can even swap among several keyboard layouts, each with its own punctuation arrangement.

    • December 31, 2010 at 5:52 am

      That’s a really fascinating discovery you’ve made. I think it makes perfect sense.

      Atle :

      Whats the reason for the remarkably high frequency of spacebar _ ?

      (You are referring to the underscore right?)

      I think I have your answer. This is the letter frequency for the C files only:

      e 5967
      t 5616
      i 4271
      s 3769
      o 3688
      r 3597
      n 3516
      a 3415
      _ 2404
      l 2370
      c 2348
      d 2072
      / 1909
      u 1736
      m 1729
      * 1712
      p 1697
      ) 1689
      ( 1689
      = 1621
      ; 1620
      f 1455
      h 1243
      g 1208
      b 996
      - 969
      , 942
      . 764
      " 713
      x 683
      y 670
      z 233
      ' 224
      j 201
      & 192
      \ 174
      3 165
      4 115
      5 98
      ! 94
      | 94
      6 89
      8 84
      q 79
      7 61
      9 49
      % 48
      ? 19
      @ 6
      ~ 5
      ^ 4
      $ 1

      _ is one of the most common characters because it is so frequently used in variable names. It’s close to as common in Ruby (but less common in Java because Java variables are usually written differently).

      The dollar sign is common for a similar reason. Here are the five most common letters in Perl:

      e 7053
      s 4818
      t 4361
      r 3983
      $ 3963

      $ is used in every variable so it’s very common in Perl, but not nearly as common in any other programming language or in normal writings.

      I produced a new letter frequency for non-programmers and put it up.

      e t a o i n s r h l d c u m g f p w y b , . v k ' " - x 0 j 1 q 2 z ) ( : ! ? 5 ; 3 4 9 / 8 6 7 [ ] % $ | * = _ + > \ < & ^ # @ ` ~ { }

      You’ll notice that underscores are much less common here.

  17. Atle
    December 31, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    LOL, Iv never used the _ charcter for anything except as a bar to represent an empty space. I even forgot they were called ‘underbars’.

  18. Atle
    December 31, 2010 at 11:34 pm

    Your new stats look excellent.

    Applying my methodology that I describe above, the results feel accurate when using your stats.
    β€’ Must-have punctuations: these punctuations are more frequent than any number.
    β€’ Finetuning punctuations: these are equally frequent with the range of numbers.
    β€’ Repertoire punctuations: the rest of the punctuations, which are less frequent than any number, can further subdivide. A third category has the punctuations that are rare but remain in the repertoire of the genre as backups for specific situations.
    β€’ Almost-never punctuaitions: The as-of-yet vague fourth category has the punctuations that are alien to the genre and unlikely to find use.

    , . ‘ ” –

    ) ( : ! ? ; /

    [ ] % $ | * = _ + > \ < & ^ # @

    ` ~ { }

    The resulting categories of frequency feel both reliable to represent the tendencies of the population and to quantify the variations for a particular individual. For example, I use paretheses very frequently. So for me personally, these punctuations that are already on the upper cusp of the Finetuning frequency category probably sneak up into my Must-Have category. Oppositely, I personally avoid the use of doublequotes (using singlequotes instead), semicolon, and number sign. So in my own usage, these 'cusp punctuations' would probably fall down into the next lower catagory, respectively.

    Your results for the character frequencies work well. Even when they segment into separate categories, each catagory on its own appears accurate.

    Happy New Year!

  19. Ulf
    May 5, 2012 at 11:04 am

    We come to similar results. Our keyboard layout which has been in practical use since Beginning of 2010 is designed for German and English. Check out http://www.adnw.de.

  20. August 20, 2013 at 4:03 am

    On the topic of having possibly missed it on which is the best keyboard, here is an idea. For the standard qwerty keyboard for example one person at typingsoft.com Alexey Kazantsev advocates the keys SDFV and NJKL for the home position. I think that could be good if one were never concerned with typing the numbers (and symbols for that matter). He claims a speed of 100 wpm.
    I prefer a different home position. I am working on using these keys AWER UIOP with left thumb on V (for use for C and B) and the right thumb on N (for use with M). This has the benefit that the normal home position makes it difficult to type the number 6. This arrangement makes typing such words as “minimum” a breeze. This also makes reaching the special symbols for programming easier, I would believe. I have a speed of 38-42 wpm with this, but had about that with the regular home position. Some care must be made to keep the wrists high with this alternate home position. I would be interested in your thoughts. This is not quite far fetched as the KALQ keyboard uses only thumbs.
    “Peter” at http://www.onehandkeyboard.org/standard-qwerty-finger-placement/ advocates using the right index for C, left middle for X, and left ring for Z. I tend to agee there.
    I typed this using my chosen home position.

    • August 21, 2013 at 2:50 am

      Those systems you mentioned sound like interesting ways of adapting to the weaknesses of the QWERTY keyboard. I’ve never used such a system myself, but they sound like half-measures. They probably help somewhat, but I think it’s a better idea to change the keyboard to fit your fingers instead of the other way around. That means either getting an ergonomic keyboard or using a different keyboard layout, or both.

      You mention having the thumbs be responsible for more keys, which I agree is a good idea. I think the Kinesis Advantage does this right.

      • August 24, 2013 at 7:03 pm

        Thanks for the link. Did some research on which ergonomic keyboards are out there – so far I see: (from low to high price)
        Logitech K120 – $18
        Wireless Wave –$80
        GoldTouch —— $90-$120
        Microsoft Erg.— $120-$130
        Engage (Smart Fish) $149
        dasKeyboard—- $163
        ErgoDox———–$240 + 6 hr assembly
        Kinesis Advant.- $325
        Maltron w/o track$585
        Maltron w/ track -$678
        DataHand ProII $995

        Did I miss any?

        Thanks for your listing of common words/digraphs/letters. Makes it handy to drop into http://www.typingcourse-onlne.com

        • August 25, 2013 at 5:17 pm

          I’ve never seen the DataHand Pro II before. It looks like a remarkable keyboard.

          That looks like a pretty good list. I don’t know if you missed any because I don’t know of that many ergonomic keyboards.

          • August 26, 2013 at 12:13 am

            I had never heard of it either. Apparently it sold for $1200 at one time. (now at datahand.com) There are reviews of it at octopup.org/computer/datahand — At that site they say that one can pick one up for $600 on dBay. Hopefully the bugs have been worked out and the help support is good now. Too pricy for my pocket book right now. On the company website the testimonials are about rsi and the ease of typing with it. Some mention typing speed, but no figures/percent increase.

          • August 26, 2013 at 12:20 am

            It sells for $995 at datahand.com – out of stock right now – but “and awaiting delivery of DataHand Pro II units … our supplier has had difficulty moving to a new facility which has delayed our production…we will post the schedule as soon as it is known, in the interim, please contact DataHand sales at sales@datahand.com.”

          • August 26, 2013 at 12:22 am

            Some of the articles at the end of that review site are also interesting. (at “Other Resources”)

      • August 25, 2013 at 4:00 am

        I did overlook some of the ergonomic keyboards from this TechRepublic article: http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/10-things/10-ergonomic-keyboards-that-actually-do-their-job/

        And then I didn’t mention the combimouse which is in beta, has no price and is not yet in production.

      • September 2, 2013 at 2:04 pm

        I have found that using the left thumb for “c” is not the best route to go. It leads to rsi just like someone using the left thumb for alt (as in emacs). It is much better to use one of the fingers ( I prefer the left index for “c”). When I was using the left thumb there was too much temptation to also use the left thumb for “x” – ouch. Lessons learned.

      • September 2, 2013 at 10:16 pm

        I know this is not a sophisticated analysis, but, the sum of the frequency of the letters for the normal home row (qwer -jklm;) amount to 0.27417 (assuming that “;” is approximate to the same as “b”). Then the home position that I use (qwer – uiop – v – n) would be 0.48031 which would be quite an improvement right off the bat. (That is for those that can’t or won’t switch from Qwerty)
        I don’t have time to go through with your altogether thorough analysis (impressive!) of the normal home row vs. my home position vs. colemak. Maybe someone will have the time for that. For right now, I am just keeping with this system.
        Besides, my work place is not about to convert to Colemak. I would only be able to do Colemak at home.
        Don’t get me wrong, Colemak has its benefits. I definitely am impressed that the Colemak has so fully and seamlessly integrated 43 languages while Qwerty was done in such a hodgepodge fashion. Sometime hope to have the time to try out Colemak.

        • September 3, 2013 at 2:19 am

          IIRC, the Colemak home row (as well as the home row for most alternative keyboard layouts) is about 0.7.

          Besides, my work place is not about to convert to Colemak. I would only be able to do Colemak at home.

          I haven’t used Windows, but on Mac and Linux (Ubuntu), you can add multiple keyboard layouts to the menu bar and it only takes a few seconds to switch layouts. I don’t think you should have any problem using it at your work place if you want to.

          That said, you certainly aren’t required to use Colemak or some other layout; your system sounds innovative, and if you like it better than the default, go for it.

      • September 2, 2013 at 10:35 pm

        And of course comparison with your MTGAP keyboard. Are you going to follow the pattern for the 43 languages that Colemak made?

        • September 3, 2013 at 2:21 am

          I’ve had difficulty finding good frequency statistics for languages other than English, so I don’t plan to integrate other languages any time soon.

          • September 9, 2013 at 9:10 am

            hi michael. i’m sure that, for a foreign language corpus, it would suffice to take 50k words from the usual array of literature. An NLTK script would easily lemmatise that and spit out the stats. but then, how would we test the real-world fitness of the resulting layouts?

            I would like your opinion on layouts for a 24 key grid. i refer to my dual numpads idea which i got from reading
            a 24 key grid would eliminate inner, outer and diagonal reaches making it inherently low stress.
            it would require less computation and might produce good ‘core’ layouts quickly and with less variation.

            Now I hear your pedantic soul crying out about the incompleteness of a 24 key layout so, let me be clear. Letter frequency lists (for natural language) agree that VKXJQZ come last. Users can figure out where to put these unmapped chars. In fact, people visiting these pages are tinkerers and make personal tweaks anyway. So it makes no real difference.

            But that’s not all. I may have solved the ‘rolls’ issue!
            On a large kb with a large charset, overuse of the ring finger is inevitable. I propose that on a 24 key grid:
            – Slightly penalise the upper-ring key
            – Strongly penalise ‘pinky/middle down followed by ring up’
            – Prohibit the hurdle ‘middle to lower followed by ring to upper’ but allow all other hurdles.

            I could be wrong but, I feel that the whole rolls issue originates in ring-finger weakness and it would be worth neutralising that biomechanical issue rather than accommodating it.

          • September 10, 2013 at 4:08 pm

            I could see a 24-key keyboard potentially reducing hand stress. You’d have to have additional modifier keys, which means typing would probably be slowerβ€”I wouldn’t want to do it myself, but I can see the advantages.

            Can you describe what you mean by the ‘rolls’ issue? My keyboard optimizer already heavily penalizes those hurdles you mentioned by categorizing them as home row jumps.

          • September 11, 2013 at 3:20 pm

            about a 24 key grid…
            i’m talking about using the program to map the 24 commonest chars and obtain a really ergonomic core layout. In fact, the physical keyboard would have more keys which users would assign. Using zeros to represent keys, this is what my dual numpads, rotated 90′ would look like:

            00000 00000
            00000 00000
            00000 00000
            00000 00000

            Numpads come with a variety of double-width or double-height keys to suit different needs. That’s fine as long as there’s a 3×4 grid somewhere in there. Users can put less common chars wherever they feel is comfortable.

            Now about rolls…
            As you know, the ring finger lacks dedicated motor-nerves of its own which limits specific key-sequences. It is quite plausible, therefore, that a set of functions dedicated to ring finger sequences could give early elimination of unfit layouts.

            I’m just making the case for ergonomic fundamentals and for programmatic elegance:
            — Constraining finger movement to one dimension (up/down), greatly simplifies all the metrics and leaves just 24 keys to be mapped.
            — With dedicated constraints on ring-finger sequences, the number of candidate layouts to be tested may be greatly reduced.

  21. August 20, 2013 at 4:08 am

    What I mean is that some of these ideas of alternate home positions could generate a new way of looking at what could be optimum – whether qwerty or any other alternate keyboard.

  22. September 3, 2013 at 1:41 am

    hi wesley. compare these two lists:



    seeing these lists a few years back was my turning point. Actually it was a revelation! At work, my policy is don’t ask, don’t tell. My virtualised winXP session allows me to change color schemes and keyboard layouts. I prepared a non-executable layout file using msklc and mailed it to myself. Then at work, i fetched and applied it. On a more basic, amnesiac network, users may need to reapply their layout with each login. Big bloody deal.

    Everyone knows the meaning of NSFW. You’re not doing any of that… Are you?
    Of course not! You’re doing nothing wrong. Applying an ergo keymap will protect against RSI. And non-executable Keymap files are totally innocuous.

    Like, don’t ask don’t tell, dude.

    • September 3, 2013 at 3:36 am

      Thanks for the links. That is some difference! I will have to check out the non-executable keymap files. What started me experimenting was a coworker who talked about Colemak and the fact that to reach the number 6 from the “home row” is a stretch – and I didn’t necessarily want to have to stop and go to the number pad – besides my home laptop that I bought doesn’t have a number pad – not even in amongst the letters. So for an alternative, I would prefer a alternate keymap that has a home position where qwerty uiop is now plus take into consideration that right thumb would type where n and m are – plus the left thumb type where v and b are. I just have gotten used to that now. (However, I tend to drift from my home position rather quickly to match the material after starting at that home position.). This home row up higher also allows more easy access to the numbers and Backspace, Esc (Reaching Esc is easier with this for the Vi/Vim users – nice), and easier access to the special programming symbols – [ ] { } | etc. I don’t think that there is an alternate keyboard arrangement yet to fit that mold. Possibly could use Michael Dicken’s program to come up with one. It could be the Maltron or MTGAP home position moved up one line and then the next most common letters put in the positions of v,b,n, and m. “B” seems a little more of a stretch to hit – so whatever letter there would need to be somewhat less common. (And keep j (Vim down one line) lower than k (Vim up one line) (or at least on the same line) so that when one uses Vi/Vim its not backwards). The least used keys would stay where z, x, and c are on both sides of the keyboard. Just a thought. Noone else types that way that I know of so it could take some convincing. However this is a new time where thumb typing is coming into vogue. (KALQ keyboard). The more keys that can be considered home keys, the more are readily available – essentially for free.

    • September 3, 2013 at 2:17 pm

      You mention a revelation. I am emphasizing with my own website a revelation that I came across quite a while back. You can get to my website by just clicking on my name with this post. I also have lots of search engines and portals – general and categorized portals. Including some International typing programs like 10fastfingers.com

      • September 4, 2013 at 4:47 pm

        oops. I forgot to say that relocating ctrl and esc is very common. As a vimmer It’s tempting to swap esc and capslock. However, systemwide, it works out better to swap ctrl and capslock. Secretarial/wordprocessing types often swap backspace and capslock. Remember that the bottom row has winkey and menukey. These are modifiers too and can be reassigned. I look forward to reading your results!

  23. dphrei
    September 4, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    nice website, wes! After a quick browse, i could feel the power of the interweb at my fingertips. Is that what they call a metasite?

    In response to your earlier posts, i shall avoid getting sidetracked and give you the chiz. On ms win –using MSKLC– i made an alt-gr layer with numpad on right and punctuation on left. Please try this for fun and report your experience. If alt-gr conflicts with vim commands, just use another modifier like winkey or menukey.

    Having dealt with numpad and punctuation, you can then focus on the base layer (alphabet):

    english letter frequency lists look something like
    on an ergo layout, chars are zoned as follows:
    the first 12 chars go on the home row and on upperindex/uppermiddle.
    The last 6 chars go on the outer/inner diagonal reaches.
    The middle 8 go on the remaining keys.
    All chars are positioned to facilitate left/right alternation and to avoid awkward moves like home row hurdles. Michael’s program manages all this. Smart guy!

    The other major issue in kb ergonomics is that a square grid of keys works better. Staggered rows pretty much guarantee strained hands and typos.

    Ergo keyboard cost a fortune. However, custom layout on a grid can be done cheaply. Take 2 usb numpads and wire them into a programmable kb controller (15-30 euros depending on features/convenience). Then load your custom keymap onto the controller. This gives a plug n play device that is safe for work. Convincing the paranoid that your device is bufferless and contains no keylogger/macro facility is another task =P

  24. September 4, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    oops. I forgot to say that relocating modifier keys is now easy. It used to require ugly hacks but was so in demand that the tools now provide for it.

    Ctrl, esc, backspc, etc can be relocated. I look forward to reading your results!

    • September 10, 2013 at 1:16 am

      Thanks for filling me in on MSKLC. I tried my own manual line-up (see above), but it is too close to qwerty. So, I am going to try the one that Michael has at the top of this page – modified to have the second row move up one. Looks interesting.

    • September 10, 2013 at 1:18 am

      Actually, see below for my manual attempt with inward rolls. Michael’s looks much better. The reaches for s and t were somewhat annoying.

  25. September 5, 2013 at 3:05 am

    Glad you liked the website. The hardest websites to find have been the multi-lingual ones, so I designated them special in the Roget classification. I try to make it accessible by most languages. It definitely is a metasite. Maybe I need to include that word in the keywords. It can be reached by most search engines using “search in all earnest”
    I will be downloading that program that you are talking about. Thanks for all the detailed information. I’ll get back with status soon. Euros? are you in Europe somewhere?

    • September 5, 2013 at 11:17 am

      I’m in central england. Sadly, shillings and groats carry no currency on the internet… So hard to keep up with the kids!
      >>> “Bitcoins is old skool, baby. Imma be payin’ in swag.”

      • September 6, 2013 at 2:12 am

        Jolly good. The msklc works great! I don’t know how you would relocate modifier keys, but that is okay for now. Put in the MTGP keyboard with modifications of moving the home row up one and some other small modifications – did the punctuation and number pad – haven’t tried that part out yet. Here is my lowercase:

        \ 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 q z B
        T i n e a , d s h t r x _ /
        C . p o u v x f l g k ; R
        S ! – ‘ y j b c m w * S

        Where upper case indicates the modifier keys.

      • September 6, 2013 at 2:32 am

        I think I may try the keyboard arrangement at the top of this page – and also the maltron – see which ones work better for me.

      • September 6, 2013 at 2:52 am

        I hale from the Northwest of the US. The kids are hard to keep up with!

      • September 6, 2013 at 4:37 pm

        Oops, what I meant was very good. Need to know my phrases.

      • September 7, 2013 at 11:26 pm

        Please forgive my attempt at sounding British. I was unaware of the meaning of the phrase. It was a miserable failure. What can I say.

      • September 7, 2013 at 11:35 pm

        There is one other I want to try.

        \ 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 – = Bs
        T g h e r s n t u i o _ /
        C y m c f . – k d p w ‘ R
        S z b v l j a , x q / S

        This is from looking at the digraphs and trigraphs that Michael Dickens has posted and working manually from the most common to the least – while trying to do the most inward roles that he recommends. I tried to keep away from more common letters for the pinkies. Haven’t tried his program yet. Am keeping rather busy.

      • September 8, 2013 at 12:07 am

        Oops, rather have this since so used to d on left and k on right:
        \ 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 – = Bs
        T g h e r s n t u i o _ /
        C y m c f . – d k p w ‘ R
        S z b v l j a , x q / S

        Note that the home position is “gher – tuio – l – a” with left thumb for l and j – right thumb for a and “,”

  26. September 8, 2013 at 2:31 am

    Getting used to this one –
    \ 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 – = Bs
    T g h e r s t n u i o _ /
    C y m c f . – d k p w β€˜ R
    S z b v l j a , x q / S

    Note “t” and “n” shifted

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