I use the Colemak keyboard layout because I personally find it more comfortable to type on.

Using Colemak on Windows may need special attention to fix Alt Key Issues


Normal QWERTY keyboards trace their origins back to the era of typewriters. Back then, the layout might have even been specifically designed to slow down the user and prevent rapid adjacent keystrokes to mitigate the risk of physically jamming the machine.

Today, those problems don’t exist anymore, and there have been various attempts at creating more ergonomic keyboard layouts to mitigate yet another risk: Repetitive strain injury (RSI). These new keyboard layouts make it more comfortable to type on — in theory — by rearranging the keys so that:

  • Finger distance travelled is minimized (e.g. by putting common letters on the “home” or middle row)
  • Usage of each finger is rebalanced according to the strength of the fingers
  • Hand alternation is encouraged
  • Common letter combinations are optimized to feel natural to type

These considerations are usually made in the context of typing English, though there (probably) are other layouts that optimize for other languages using the Latin alphabet too.

One of the most well-known alternative layouts is the Dvorak keyboard layout, which I have also successfully learned and used in the past. However, a big countering pain point is that common keyboard shortcuts become notably unergonomic when keys such as Z, X, C, V and W are relocated.

Colemak attempts to improve on Dvorak by retaining the positions of as many common keyboard shortcuts as possible, all while balancing the the ergonomic needs of regular typing. It also improves on Dvorak’s ergonomics by considering more typing metrics than before.

Alt Key Issues

Downloading and using the standard Colemak installer for Windows, even without the special “Caps Lock as Backspace” remapping, still produces two issues:

  1. The right Alt key is actually mapped to AltGra special key that is used to type special characters not in the standard Latin alphabet
  2. The left Alt key is “normal”… except when holding Ctrl+Alt, the combination is mapped back to AltGr! This breaks Ctrl+Alt keyboard shortcuts in apps that need them.

The solution? Create a custom keyboard layout based on Colemak that removes AltGr functionality. This can be done with Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator (MSKLC), which results in a new .klc (keyboard layout creator) file and a new installable package that sets up the modified layout in Windows: