July 19, 2017

Colemak Keyboard Layout in German

About QWERTY

Though being the standard keyboard layout, it has been proven already in every of the numerous places where you can find information about alternative keyboard layouts that the QWERTY keyboard layout is deprecated for several reasons; thence I won’t explain those further in detail.

Switching to Colemak

So I decided to choose Colemak as my everyday-typing keyboard layout, because its approach of minimizing the necessary movement between keystrokes by having the most common letters appear in the home row1 of the keyboard while ordering the rest of the keys in a way that common letter pairs (Digraphs) appear close each other — further reducing the necessary movement, really seemed an improvement that is worth the effort (instead of any longer using a layout that was originally developed to slow down the typist). If you try to learn typing in Colemak at first, you’ll probably feel very clumsy, as if typing for the very first time, but soon you’ll often have the intriguing revelation that the key you were looking for is right underneath your fingertip.

But while typing mostly in German (besides English) I noticed that some of the keystrokes feel kind of clumsy, hence I felt the need to introduce some modifications to the default Colemak layout.

Invasion of the keyboard modders

At the beginning, I swapped Y and Z to follow the example of QWERTZ, a german version of QWERTY. This gives us already some very important digraphs, e.g. ze, zu, zi. For my own feeling a digraph is easy to type, when you can either slide with one finger from letter to letter (which one might argue is not an appropriate way to type) or if the combination doesn’t require much streching. Therefrom another difference to the default Colemak unfolds from the difficulty to reach letter G2. Especially since it’s a very common first-letter I had to move F to the farthest left where Q had been, and moved Q to the less accessible upper center, as its one of the seldom needed letters and only used in combination with U or for the quit command on macOS. Moving F allows us to slide to A while still being able to easily type fr without losing another important combination.

Other modifications include the placement of umlauts Ä, Ö, Ü, and divergent alternative keys, eventually resulting in an always unfinished and opinionated take on colemak, which can only serve as a starting point for you to develop your own adaptation. That’s why I have added only editable versions of this layout instead of an installer. On the figure you’ll notice as well that I also reordered the number keys by following their statistical frequency as well as the symbols usually3 written on it. This may differ depending on which languages you use for programming. Beyond that I switched the symbols and numbers key state (you’ll have to press shift to enter a number) in order to further ease programming and force myself to type fewer numbers as entering numbers is usually considered a bad practice.

Implementation

macOS

I made these modifications for macOS using the freely available utility called Ukelele. You can download this layout, and customize it to your own liking, too. Another tool that comes in handy is Karabiner-Elements to e.g. replace caps lock with another backspace.

Windows

A version for 32bit windows is available here and may be edited using the Keyboard Layout Managger.

Android

I made a simple implementation for Android of the layout presented in this article which you can find on Github. You’ll need Android Studio to compile & install.

iOS

I wasn’t able to find an easy way to customize iOS layout, but there’s Tempest which allows you to set Colemak for regular typing (except the password keyboard).

Conclusion

For sure, a customized layout has the possible drawback of unlearning a standardized layout with the inherent danger of being aisled on your own preferred way of typing. Anyway, you can easily reduce this effect by switching back to the standard layout at times.


  1. middle row

  2. for other important digraphs (or bigrams) see german letter frequencies and english letter frequecies which i can’t explain all in detail, but most importantly you’ll notice that G is more common in german.

  3. e.g. which you can easily (actually even physically) remap using default keycaps set.

Tags

#colemak, #keyboard, #german

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