Now that I have more time on my hands thanks to the summer holiday, I’ve been looking into a thing that I’ve been interested in for a while: alternative keyboard layouts. A few years back, I learned touch typing, and it’s massively improved my ability to type. Already, I was a fairly quick typist with a manner of ‘hunt-and-peck’ typing, using three fingers per hand to reach around 110 words per minute. However, it was also somewhat error-prone, and caused undue strain for only a small set of fingers. So, a while back I learned how to properly use touch typing, which slowed my typing speed a bit but increased my accuracy while decreasing strain.
One thing that I learned while learning touch typing is the fact that the qwerty-layout of most English-language keyboards was designed to slow down typists to avoid typewriters jamming up because of people typing too swiftly. Computers, clearly, don’t have this concern anymore, though most English-language keyboards do still use the qwerty-layout. So, some people have worked on changing the layout to increase typing speed once more, resulting in layouts such as Dvorak and Colemak, which focus on putting more common letters right on the home-row (the central row where your fingers rest with touch-typing).
The past week or so, I’ve been learning about Colemak via learncolemak.com and practicing with this new layout over on keybr.com. I was quite happy to discover that switching keyboard layouts is tremendously easy in Linux, requiring just a simple command:
setxkbmap -model pc104 -layout us -variant colemak
As you can imagine, switching back just involves the same command but without the listed variant. The only thing remaining is that the actual letters on the keys would then be incorrect. However, since touch typing involves learning all the keys through muscle-memory, there’s no point in looking at the keys in any case. In the long run, though, since I do have a Keychron K2 mechanical keyboard, I could just switch the keycaps over to a Coleman layout if I would be interested.
Still, it’ll take quite some daily practice before I’m comfortable enough to switch over like that. For the time being, I may end up using the following command to easily switch between three separate layouts:
setxkbmap -model pc104 -layout us,us,us -variant ,intl,colemak -option grp:alt_shift_toggle
Using this snippet in my i3wm configuration file, I can use alt+shift to on-the-fly change between standard qwerty-layout, an international “dead keys” layout that allows me to use punctuation to insert diacretics for typing in Dutch, and the Colemak keyboard layout.
I’m looking forward to seeing how this new layout will be treating me. In the meantime, I’ll keep on enjoying how easy things are to set up in Linux (never thought I’d be saying that, but here I am!).