Keymileage calculates just how far your fingers must travel to type something. Since the miles can really rack up, Keymileage allows you to measure very long files. Distance is tallied for both the standard and the Dvorak keyboard layouts (see below). Take a road trip with Keymileage today.

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Download Keymileage

Keymileage 0.5.2 (248 K)
Requires Mac OS X.
You can find some very large text files at Project Gutenberg.

Keymileage Source Code (180 KB)
for XCode.

Scholes Typewriter
First Typewriter, 1873

History of the Typewriter Keyboard

The standard "QWERTY" keyboard was invented by Christopher Latham Sholes, to be used on the first commercially-produced typewriter in 1873. While designing the typewriter, Sholes found that his machine (pictured on the left) was subject to intolerably frequent jamming, especially when people typed nearby hammers too quickly. Speed 30Armed with a letter frequency chart, Sholes scattered keys all over the keyboard to ensure that frequently-used hammer combinations were never anywhere near each other. Now that people had so much trouble finding the awkwardly-placed letters, they couldn't type fast enough to jam the typewriter. The earliest typewriters had little aspiration of exceeding the 30 words per minute maximum of handwriting anyway.

The jamming problem was solved by mechanical advances over a century ago. But you are still typing with a keyboard intentionally designed to make your life miserable. Thankfully, there is an alternative.
Qwerty Keyboard
Qwerty Keyboard

The Dvorak Simplified Keyboard

In 1932, Dr. August Dvorak concluded years of research into letter frequency and typing motions by introducing a radically different keyboard layout. Dvorak's keyboard was painstakingly designed to be the best possible keyboard for the English language.

Dvorak Keyboard
Dvorak Simplified Keyboard
Note how the Dvorak home row actually contains comon letters! Also, by placing the vowels only on the left hand and all the major consonants on the right, Dvorak ensured that the typist develops a steady hand-alternation motion. This can make typing faster. The real reason people use Dvorak, however, is that they swear by its comfort. Due to Dvorak's careful placement of letters, Dvorak typing is a very fluid motion. It makes typing on Qwerty feel like drowning flailings. Also, because the most common letters in the language are directly under one's fingers, one's hands simply don't move as much.

Dr. Dvorak reportedly claimed that a Qwerty-typing secretary would beat out between 12 and 20 miles of finger movement each day, while a Dvorak secretary would move only 1 mile. A later study calls that astronomical ratio into question.1 Keymileage lets you investigate the question yourself.

The Algorithm

Keymileage measures the number of inches between coordinates on the keyboard as the fingers are moving. At this time, the program makes no attempt to estimate movement that occurs above the keys themselves; the simulated typists are essentially sliding their fingers across the keys without lifting them.

When a finger is moved to type a character, it is left on that key for the next three keystrokes, waiting for a new character to be typed with that same finger. If such a stroke does not arrive, the finger moves back to its default position on home row.

Mileage for Great Works of Literature

My Conclusions

After analyzing over 50 MB of English, a trend had clearly emerged. Using the Dvorak keyboard results in at least a 38% reduction of finger travel over Qwerty. The figure is fairly consistent, from Elizabethan English to all the e-mail I've ever typed. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, weighing in at 9.1 MB, exhibits the ratio almost perfectly; the 88 miles it requires under Dvorak is only 62% of the Qwerty distance.

The Altar Call

(cue the revival music if you need it)

You don't have to keep forcing your fingers to do 60% more work than they need to. Just about any computer can be switched to Dvorak instantly, for free. Learning to type Dvorak (especially if you already know how to type) only takes a few weeks of total immersion. Unlike Qwerty, Dvorak actually makes sense, which dramatically facilitates the learning process. Dvorak converts often see a 10-20% speed increase2 as well. Most importantly, you will chop literally miles off your typing, which ought to work wonders for repetitive stress injury.

Switching to Dvorak does not mean forgetting Qwerty. I can still pound out Qwerty if I have to; now I simply loathe every second of it. Now accustomed to Dvorak, I cannot imagine wanting to switch back.

Further Information

Instructions for switching just about any computer under the sun, as well as much more information can be found at Marcus Brooks' "Introducing the Dvorak Keyboard."

If you don't have a Mac (heaven forbid!), this Dvorak Java applet also calculates distances. Unfortunately, it cannot load in files, and computes in metric.

For the ultimate in keyboard nerdiness, read this positively fascinating study into creating a keyboard layout by evolutionary programming. The best evolved keyboard looks suspiciously familiar.

This webpage took 297 feet 5 inches to type.

©Allen Smith, 2004-2007

1 Ober, S. (1993). Relative efficiencies of the standard and Dvorak Simplified keyboards. Delta Pi Epsilon Journal, 35, 1–13.
2 The fastest typist in the world, Barbara Blackburn, achieved 212 WPM with her Dvorak typewriter. It bears noting that she nearly flunked high-school typing.