A Keyboard Layout for the German Language

Reading Time: 9 minutes

blog Texteditor und Tastatur Wed May 1 11:57:22 CEST 2019

A ghost is wandering around when composing text on the computer: the good (?) old mechanical typewriter.

NOTE: Although written in English language, the aim of this project is it to develope a keyboard(-layout) and editor for the German language. This is not for national pride’s reason but for the specific needs of the German language (Umlaute, ß, Trigrams ed al.)

This I am writing on vim 8. After one year fiddling around with sketching out a German keyboard layout, I realized that equally important is the exact physical layout of the actual physical keyboard, dimensions and materials. We have to keep the whole thing in mind.


A first jotting-down of a text can be done with any editor or word processor. I consider the “no-distractions” slogans a hype more than a necessity. The only think one would want to do is to instantly erase a word or correct typos when found. Correcting all sorts of small typos in a second go is a nightmare and much more time consuming then correcting the typos right away when writing. Even slowing down the speed of typing is more useful then hacking ones way into the computer producing unnumerable mistakes.

So all boils down to revise and do correction work. Let’s focus on this: Dealing with

  • typos – changing of semantics and phrasing

We encounter «semantic units» i.e. words and sentences, as well as paragraphs to be re-worked.

Now widen the view: what are you actually looking at:

  • a physical screen (size? orientation? luminosity? position? view angle? light conditions at your workplace)
  • a “virtual screen”

Is the virutal screen a

  • representation of former “writing paper”? (Size? A4? American Size?)

What are you typing at? Too many possibilities to accomplish the same thing? Too many ways? Confusing? Too many buttons or keys? Yes!

What seems a good strategy at first hand, this is: to have more than one possibility to resolve a problem, becomes a confusing info overload in practice. This in computers have become a design principle.

An example: Things have split “in two possibilities” in many areas. For example: Writing on paper on a typewriter was dealing with a lot now obsolet facts (paper, color tape, mechanics) but some of them are still ghosting around when dealing with texyt compoition. The contradiction between on-screen-text in “landscape orientation” and print-outs on paper is a first bewildering handycap.

Writing by hand gives you the whole page, and you think in pysical “pages” which are also kind-of semantic units, breaking a long text-flow into handy pieces. This ship has sailed and the connection between a physical condition (paper) and thought-work units is disrupted. Unless you go back writing on paper again…

Re-inventing this «unit» as a helper calls for a letter-size monitor representing text in definite chunks.

The “kw 1.1” program (windows only) (“keep writing”) offers such an experience, as well as the German product “PC-Schreibmaschine” by Maxmess-Software. Both are “page-oriented” text editors or rather “text-writers”.

The «kw 1.1.» application creates «stacks» out of single pages. No going back or erasing though. For reworking your text you have to use some other software. Ouch.

«PC Schreibmaschine» mimicks the old mechanical typewriter. You can correct and also select blocks of text but it is so much truthfully an imitation of the mechanical typewriter that you have to bare with its shortcomings without having the real «beast» in front of you. Not really useful when working on a large document, like a book. Also using a proprietory file-format (like, for example the «wordgrinder»-app for the Mac terminal), you would have to export text as .txt format, which has become possible in 2019 (because I was asking Mr Braasch to do so and he programmed it!) but still clumsy, if you would want to do more then a couple of pages to print out.


Although all computers are the same, they differ in disconcerting minimal ways: Do it as you like. But who knows best what is best? You? For sure: No!

If you need to print out a lot of text on paper, you would need a huge button standing out saying “PRINT”. You would want to hit that button with your fist! Instead, some keyboards have so called designer’s keys where you can’t even read the label, or worse, have a clumsy little icon on it which you can’t figure out what it stands for. But the most times you don’t have a button at all: you click somewhere on the screen with the mouse pointer. Physicals response is for the old. Is it? For sure NO.

Printing: You might read through the manual to figure out, how many buttons, menues, commands there are to print. Why? Just one simple button that says “PRINT” would suffice!

YES, this is minimalistic reductionist. So once you have figured out you will never be confused again. And please: NOT UPDATES that change the spacial orientation inside the software! Guess what: It happens ALL THE TIME, from Microsoft to Apple to all the otheres. DON’T fiddle with our memories. Its a hazard of confusion.


Let us leave this for a moment and go back to relation between how the keyboard should be designed and what the editor does.

Assume there is a «split» keyboard in two halfs for the left and right hand designed with the appropriate and optimised distribution of letters and interpunction signs, then you have a whole bunch of function keys to place somewhere.


VIM uses letters and symbols on a second layer OF THE SAME KEYS. Genius idea! …but rather confusing. Why?

A on a key cap should just print an … A (And hey, some early typewriters had a double Keyboard for lower and upper keys. Right so! But… to slow in racing against the SHIFT-ers. Hermann Hesse used a mechanical typewriter with double letter set for most of his great books. Was he too slow?? You see…)

However, the price is high: switching between layers involves hitting the ESC key and keeping the actual layer always in mind. The probability of unwanted actions is very high if you don’t keep track of in which layer you are. You find yourself constantly peeping at the lower left corner of the screen to check, if it says: — INSERT —

Because you can’t … smell it. Everything fine. Wrong layer? Ouch! Do it again. And loose precious time…

The gains of this second layer-functionality are nevertheless huge: semantic unit manipulation. Maybe only EMACS comes close or can do the same stuff. Text becomes a plastic fabric. It can be manipulated in any way you can dream of. If you KNOW HOW… (Go and google stackoverload or read a couple on books of “HOW TO…” Vim.)

Contradiction: fixed pages to have images of your text are possible but seem like a Fata morgana. Nothing is real on a computer screen. You better swallow this pill first hand right away before starting any computer text work. And better never start thinking about the underlying issues.


Moving around in text is the most important thing when revising text. It is actually a «physical» movement. So why not keep it a physical action?

Here comes in the fantastic “Magic Trackpad” from Apple. Move gliding your fingertips up and down and so on. However: Fingertips never where made for glinding on a glass surface. Its not natural. Caressing your partner is a better idea!

Moving a pointing device, call it a mouse: What ever else you would use instead of your fingers: you have to grab it first with your hand. What is it and where is it?

This creates a deferring movement: your movement would be to first pick the tool than do the action. Stupid, if you do this all day every day! Why not going directly to the spot? (Because you can’t keep the tool in your hand while … typing. Ha!)

Best solution I found in this: STEVE by Primoz Jakopin. (Unfortunately deprecated, another story of a genius gone rather unnoticed by the industry in Europe) Its moving the mouse in a «free style» on the screen, where the pointer is attached to the cursor and thus freely can be moved anywhere on the screen. With some clever preferences (which in STEVE unfortunately are not well documented and enigmatic) turning on this feature would help intuitively move to text portions where in VIM you need keystroke you first would have to calculated. Even when great experience makes the muscle-brain move the cursor with out conscious thinking: There is calcuating nevertheless and thus being distracted from the text.

NOTE: Priority number 1 is: Don’t become distracted from your text EVER.

Maybe use a voice-command to jump around with your pointer. Only if your colleages agree or if you are working alone. Sounds silly. Is silly.

Keyboards with function keys become after an intense but short period of time intuitive: And should not change. The better they are placed and the more clever they are selected the better you work and the better the text will be.

First prize: «kw 1.2» (!)

Revision could (!) be made by xxxx-ing bad text and in between lines, provided you always use DOUBLE CARRIAGE RETURN (hit twice or program you keyboard to do it for you) So you got at least one full line to add in a new text. You can overtype it endlessly, but it becomes unreadable, like on a old mechanical typewriter. However, the LAST typed letters are the ones saved when exported to .txt format. Not bad!


If you want or need to send in a perfect manuscript, you will loose your nerves and go back to Microsoft word. Maybe that helps. If for some reason you don’t like it, like me, you keep on looking for other fancy solutions which hardly will satisfy you completely. Why? Simply because computer COULD do so much MORE…

COULD… just… IF…

To be happy keep in mind two things: What is your goal, what do you really want to accomplish? Writing? Avoiding wrist strain? RSI? Avoiding typos? Writing better text? Or playing around in preferences panes of updates and new applications? Be honest!

Is writing fast a value in it self? If you are a secretary: Yes. Learn 10 Finger qwertz (qwerty) etc.

Or keep on fiddling. QWERTZ strangely enough is not that bad as it statistically appears. It doesn’t make a big deal of difference in anything. Once you learn the violin you are not going to put on the strings the other way round. Also playing the violin seems IMPOSSIBLE to most human beings.

Enough of this polemic stuff.


I use:


letters numbers symbols

Vim constrains those to special commands.

Alternatively I could use a dumb editor and design basic semantic navigation (words, sentences? paragraphs?) How? Apple script?

Or I go and learn EMACS instead and design those function to my programmable TIPRO keyboard and label them. DONE.

What do I need? MOVEMENT:

Jumping to (This is the biggest problem: Jumping should be intuitive with gliding over the … keyboard itself?! Like the “Magic Mouse” was done by Apple.)

Little jumps in a line: word-to-word forwards backwards. (All other movements are on the arrow and navigation buttons already. Don’t try to re-invent the wheel!)

CHANGING: change foo to boo. Change upper to Upper with one stroke. VIM: 1.place

change sentence 1 into sentence to.

When the text-blocks become larger, you find yourself between sentence and line struggling, and struggling between dragging the mouse (easier) or using a command (faster). Price is: the second has a heavier mental load.

A magic touchpad on the right hand side, and Movement-buttons on the LEFT hand side would be best. The left hand anyway isn’t doing much, see also the poor left thumb: dangling around as if paralysed! The strongest finger on the left hand!


pgup sol 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 ß «- Numpad ________________________________


The notion of “robust” or “stability” is sometimes for myself and simpleminded people alike better and works better then the “speedy” version. Only problem is that I am not THAT stupid to find cursor moments INACCEPTABLE. Jumping to a text-spot by pressing an arrow key for seconds is asking too much for my impatience or sort-of-intelligence. Its not a natural speed. That is why. If I find myself waiting for something that normally has a fast typical pace or speed is throwing me completely of the tracks!


I had high hopes, very high hopes in the Mac iPad A4 tablet. Working with text should become a dream. Isn’t. Sad. Why? Because it doesn’t re-invent revising text, it just drags on the old stuff. Strangely enough, using even the Apple-pen its not working as expected. Great to design and so, nothing to work sensefully with text.

JUMPING is totally natural with the touch-screen. Problem: lift your arm and reach over for every little dot is no solution. You would have to have your hand right on the screen all the time. Then the LEFT hand would have to write all text, or, as it has been done, use a simple “one-hand-keyboard” («the frog») to put in some words or letters on that “left-hand-one-handed-keyboard” alone.) So use TWO keyboards: one for writing and one lefthanded -alone for revising, where the right hand has a sylus-pen holding and moving around, pointing directly at the spots.

Left hand keyboards exist in a a fun-version for gamers, where about 14 letters are available, so you would have to programm the missing ones into some keys on a second layer. Why not?

For example the TIPRO keyboard could be used to be programmed for functions and left hand, where the right hand only would point out the spots and navigate. Technically at the moment a problem, to connect that mechanical keyboard to a tablet-device via USB. Maybe adapters are somewhere… or DIY.


A left handed keyboard would maybe have SMALLER keys to put more keys in the same amount of surface. You will get used to it. IF YOU USE IT EVERY DAY FOR MANY DAYS.

Maybe some special keyboards for Media-Devices exist, and could be used via BLUTOOTH to connect to a touch-device (tablet).

I am using a BOOX eInk screen which finally works great with MAC and VIM. I got used to the lag and drag and don’t see that issue anymore. Acutally it is an Android driven device. I would have to become more familiar with the storage SD cards or the cloud, and have an air-print etc… So a bunch of new things to buy, i.e. a bunch of worthless plastic around where I already have a lot of working tools. The Android touch device isn’t very reliable and still relying on a basic system of predictive proposals to correct typos. Not bad, but I got tired of it after a while. I felt BORED by this way of correcting. It was just teadious clicking and fumbling.


Yes, Writing means a lot of stupid work but because you are typing and being active, you don’t feel it. When the computer comes in and «helps» you, things don’t become always better but mostly more boreing.

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