28 September 2009

Who moved my cheesy UI? (or, an Opera by Dvorak)



The Dvorak keyboard -- developed by August Dvorak, no relation to this Dvorak, but a distant relation of this Dvorak -- has a very devoted following.  Users like its more ergonomic design, which is different from the familiar QWERTY keyboard. Devotees claim (with some evidence) a much faster typing rate, and love using the keyboard. Heck, there are even Dvorak activists asking you to write to the local paper about the keyboard, and call manufacturers to get support.

As you can imagine, since they love their keyboard, they are miffed when it's not available for a certain device. Today in the Wall Street Journal, there is an article by Joseph de Avila on Dvorak users who are unhappy that iPhones, Blackberries, and other handhelds only use QWERTY.

But here's the thing: there is no advantage for Dvorak on a handheld. The layout was designed to improve two-handed touch-typing speed. There is no evidence to show that the same advantage can be found on chiclet keys that are thumb-typed, or virtual touch-screen keys. To be sure, the Dvorak users are used to that layout, and prefer it for sentimental or even principled reasons. Still, the original benefit is lost (admittedly, any traditional layout is probably not optimal on a handheld device).

My first reaction was that these Dvorakians (maybe Dvorks?) should realize this and move on. Then I downloaded Beta 5 of the Opera Mini browser...

I've used Opera Mini on my BB Curve 8330 for a long time; it acts and renders like a real desktop browser, not the limited default Blackberry browser.  I've grown used to its features, such as zooming in and out on pages, using the trackball for navigation, the options key to bring up the menu, etc. Beta 5 has totally thrown my paradigms for a tangled loop. The trackball navigates on the page, but also controls navigation between pages now. The options key brings up not the standard BB app menu, but a custom Opera icon-only menu which requires further selection by the sensitive trackball. I really don't like it. It's not what I'm used to.

That's when it struck me that I'm just like the Dvorks in the article.  Ah well, on to Opera Mini 5 it is....



Excelsior!