For years now, I knew that a computer keyboard’s layout can be changed. You can remap your keys for different languages, games, and such. I was interested in changing my current keyboard’s layout from QWERTY to Dvorak. I personally think that a Dvorak layout can help me with my repetitive stress injuries in my hands. So, where was I to start?
After doing some preliminary research, there were many options. I can buy a QWERTY / Dvorak swtichable keyboard, but those are costly. Another option was to overlay each key with a color-match sticker. I thought that was OK, but can get a little hairy. The last option seems to be more logical. I decided to try to physically remap the individual keys of a standard keyboard to the Dvorak layout.
I originally wanted to try the one keyboard that I can mess up, a older Dell-branded PS/2 keyboard. The problem with this keyboard was it’s side view profile. The keys in each row are angled differently. The top rows have a steep angle, the middle rows are more horizontal, and the last rows are steep again in the opposite direction from the top row. The profile looks curved from top row to bottom row. This means that the keys are different heights. So, remapping the keys produces a keyboard that have keys that look funky. That is part one of the conspiracy: ergonomics prevent an end user from remapping the keyboard.
So, I try to find another keyboard. While I was at work, I found a keyboard from a Compaq computer that had a flat profile, where every key was exactly the same size. After negotiating a trade, I took this keyboard home and started to remap the keys.
Now, here comes the second part of the conspiracy. After taking the keys out, I shortly realized that most of the slots that hold the keys are rectanglar and oriented horizontally. I say mostly because there are two keys, F and J on a QWERTY keyboard, whose slots are oriented 90 degrees opposite the others. The F and J on a Dvorak keyboard would have occupied slots that have the standard orientation. Additionally, two other keys, I and T, who have the standard orientation, would be occupying the two open slots left vacant by the F and J. So, all together, four keys could not be physically remapped. What I noticed about the F and J keys is that on some keyboard models, there is a plastic line at the bottom edge of the key. It would be a dead give away that these keys are oriented funny. Both the Dell and the Compaq keyboard have this line. You can probably see it on your keyboard also.
So, I chalk it up to the fact that the QWERTY keyboard is the standard keyboard and the manufacturers do not want you to mess it up. Screw that. I’ll look for more flexible keyboards. For example, I am very interested in the Optimus Keyboard, a keyboard that has L.E.D’s in the keys. If you need to remap for a specific purpose or language, the L.E.Ds would change. How cool is that? In the meantime, I will look for third party keyboards that do not purpetuate the conspiracy.