Skip

Engineering Gloriousness
May 2, 2011 8:54 AM   Subscribe

To the aficianado, a clicky keyboard is the only keyboard. For PC users, nothing is better than an IBM Model M. For Apple lovers, it never got better than the Apple Extended Keyboard II.

But what makes these keyboards so special? Their key action. The IBM Model M has what is known as "buckling spring key switches." The Apple Extended Keyboard II has what is known as "ALPS action switches."

Even though most of these twenty year old designs can still be found on Ebay, Matias has taken up the manufacture of ALPS action keyboard for Macs and PCs, while Unicomp is still making keyboards based on the specifications of the Model M. (previously)

(I just switched my Apple Extended Keyboard II to a Matias Tactile Pro; the verdict is still out.)

Bonus:

Wired compares the Apple Extended Keyboard II and the IBM Model M.
More Model M links.
Apple's Product Specifications for the Apple Extended Keyboard II.
posted by whimsicalnymph (115 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
While scissor switches have generally made laptop keyboards usable, I'm always surprised that people don't appreciate mechanical keyboards -- either the clicky or non-clicky variety -- over the squishy, non-tactile membrane keyboards that are so cheap and common.

While the Model M and the Extended Keyboard II are certainly the classics of the era, there should be a shout-out to the best ALPS-based PC keyboard out there, the magnificent Northgate Omnikey.
posted by eschatfische at 9:01 AM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Topre switches are better than ALPS or buckling spring: the same joyful action without all the noise.
posted by koeselitz at 9:03 AM on May 2, 2011


Geekhack is where serious keyboard nerds hang out and talk about the awesome clicky action on their old-skool keyboards, and compare spring rates and layouts, and the relative merits of Cherry Brown switches vs Cherry Blue.

A couple years ago, I acquired a NOS Datadesk 101e, which is mechanically identical to the Apple Extended Keyboard (as I understand it, Datadesk actually manufactured the Apple Extended Keyboard under contract). Then my wife started sharing our home office, and gave me an ultimatum: I had to get a quieter keyboard.

Now I use one of Apple's modern low-profile keyboards. Sigh.
posted by adamrice at 9:03 AM on May 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have one of the "cheap chinese" ones they deride in the slideshow here at work (I'd have to look inside at what I have at home, but I'm pretty sure it's the same). I've had it for 7 years and never had the least problem with it. Granted, the layout is probably based on (or even identical to) the Model M, but let's not pretend the M has no problems:

1) What's that weird concavity about? I guess to bring farther keys into reach, but I feel like I'm typing in a bowl and have to reach up and out to press a number or, heaven forbid, a function key.

2) The keys are sooooooooo slow. The travel of each key like like twice as far as a more modern keyboard and if you don't strike the key straight down it scrapes against the side or something and kind of jams.

I'd heard good things about these keyboards even back in the early 90s, so I was happy when I found one. Then I hated it.
posted by DU at 9:06 AM on May 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also know as LOUD KEYBOARDS!, these are great to drive co-workers, family members and especially enemies insane with the 120 dB noise they make.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 9:09 AM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've learned over the years that what I like aesthetically in a keyboard isn't what I type fastest on. fastest PC keyboard for me, ever, was the cheapshit squishy thing that came with my Amstrad PC c. 1988. (Fastest of any keyboard would be the rock-hard, completely non-tactile keyboard on the Unisys data entry terminal I used c. 1985.) I had great affection for the mechanical-switch Fujitsus that I used for about 8 years in the 90s, and I enjoy the crispness of a nice mechanical click, but I type fastest when I can't hear anything (for some reason I type really fast with earplugs in).

These days I generally favor scissor-switch keyboards, though the current Apples are just too hard-bottoming for me.
posted by lodurr at 9:11 AM on May 2, 2011


These keyboards may have been a joy to use but to be in the same cubicle farm as them was torture.
posted by birdherder at 9:13 AM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


ALPS Electronics left the keyboard and keyboard switch business in the 1990's

Is this the same ALPS that now makes the cheapest, worst, piece-of-crap, avoid at all cost trackpads that just don't work for multitouch no matter what you do?
posted by orthogonality at 9:14 AM on May 2, 2011


They feel great, but the color scheme is repugnant and dated. If I could get one in black I'd snap it up right away.
posted by LSK at 9:15 AM on May 2, 2011


LSK: Here you go.
posted by leotrotsky at 9:24 AM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I used to be a fan of the Model M. After a few years of laptops and various Apple keyboards, I find that I really love the current generation of Apple slim keyboards. Zero wrist pain and no typing fatigue.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:29 AM on May 2, 2011


I also like Model Ms.
posted by box at 9:34 AM on May 2, 2011


Also in black. It doesn't have the heft of the original model M, but it's very similar otherwise.
posted by dirigibleman at 9:35 AM on May 2, 2011


I honestly don't understand how typing on a chiclet keyboard can be comfortable at all. There's almost no travel. What next, pure touchscreen? (Did anybody ever actually use one of those laser projected keyboards? They seemed like my worst possible keyboard nightmare.)

Sadly I can't use my Model M at work (and I never use an external keyboard at home), but the Microsoft Natural (can't remember exact version) has been decentish. The switches aren't nearly as crisp of course, but it's not totally mushy like most modern keyboards.

The keyboard on the Thinkpad at home is also pretty much best-of-class. I don't understand why Lenovo is playing with chiclet keyboards on some of the newer Thinkpads. Leave that stuff to the Ideapad side.
posted by kmz at 9:35 AM on May 2, 2011


> it never got better than the Apple Extended Keyboard II.

Damn straight. I still use mine with an iMate USB->ADB adaptor (which themselves are nearly 10 years obsolete now). I even swapped the D-F keys and the J-K keys to move the home row buttons under my first fingers. I touch-type, so I don't care what the keycaps say...

Last week, after finishing Portal 2, I spilled some beer into the keyboard in the course of celebrating. Whoops. Ran hot water through it, took the keyboard apart, scrubbed the keys and circuit board with a toothbrush and a generous dose of Dr. Bronner's, rinsed, and after drying for two days it was even better than before. Also, minty-fresh.

I should get a second as a donor board; the ALPS switches do eventually go bad, but the sockets and circuit board traces are so big (by current standards) that it's a comparatively minor thing to replace a key switch.

If anybody wants a ca. early-90s IBM Model M, I'll swap.
posted by ardgedee at 9:37 AM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love the compact Apple Wireless keyboard that came with my 27" iMac - - but then I'm not a touch typist, so what do I know?
posted by fairmettle at 9:40 AM on May 2, 2011


On one hand, I love clicky keyboards. OTOH I love my wife and value my health. So I'll pass.

::sigh::
posted by Splunge at 9:43 AM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Incidentally, I have one each of every mechanical-switch ADB keyboard Apple produced, as well as some of the more interesting membrane-switch ADB keyboards. One of the Compact Keyboards would be a glorious thing - the touch is fantastic - if the keyboard layout wasn't arbitrarily scrambled. The nearest real contender is the Apple Extended Keyboard (the predecessor of the AEK II), but it feels ever so slightly off, for difficult to articulate reasons. Hold out for an AEK II if you insist. But not until I get one for a backup.
posted by ardgedee at 9:43 AM on May 2, 2011


Anecdotally, some people say that Model M and other clicky keyboards are better for wrist fatigue than modern-era keyboards. Something about getting the more tactile springback, rather than your motion being absorbed in a thud. I'd be curious to see research about this.
posted by roll truck roll at 9:44 AM on May 2, 2011


The space bar on my Apple Wireless keyboard is starting to suffer - it's still working, but I have to hit it more squarely than fast typing allows for - so I have switched in my old Apple Pro keyboard. It's amazing how alien the high-profile keys feel, especially without the click of mechanical switches.
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:45 AM on May 2, 2011


Pains me to say it, but the MS Natural keyboard is a joy.

Of course, none of you are real keyboard hipsterrrrrrs unless you use a straight key.
posted by scruss at 9:46 AM on May 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


I can attest to the goodness of Unicomp keyboards. There are three Model Ms in my router closet and one Unicomp on my desktop at home.

It's a misfortune that Model Ms annoy people nearby because on Windows machines they are ideal. The "menu" and "whatever" keys on modern Windows keyboards were always useless to me. On a Mac the command keys are needed, and that's why the Unicomp.

Seconding roll truck roll. I haven't had any problems with fatigue or carpal tunnel but last I recall there wasn't a definitive answer about long travel being good.
posted by jet_silver at 9:49 AM on May 2, 2011


> The keys are sooooooooo slow. The travel of each key like like twice as far as a more modern keyboard and if you don't strike the key straight down it scrapes against the side or something and kind of jams.

That's because you're doing it wrong.

The key fires roughly in the middle of the keystroke travel, and the rest of the travel is follow-through. If you're bottoming out the keyboard, you're hammering too hard. The whole point of long-travel keyboards is to improve your life by not percussing your fingertips. It's a hard technique to master if you don't have some good old-school typing education under your belt.

Since people don't generally get formal typing schooling, they don't know, so manufacturers have generally moved to short-travel keyboards.

The Apple chicklet keyboard works okay enough - I can get through a day of work without problem, but it's not as comfortable as a good old-fashioned keyboard.

Incidentally, if you think, for some reason, modern keyboards are quieter, stand behind somebody who taught themselves two-finger typing and watch them hammer the bejezus out of a short-travel keyboard.
posted by ardgedee at 9:51 AM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


NPR had a piece on this a couple of years ago...

"Almost all keyboards made since the early 1990s are, frankly, no good. A tiny group of writers and hackers know better. They use vintage IBM keyboards. Ugly, built like tanks, and, most importantly, with a spring under each key, and which clicks when you press it."
posted by mmrtnt at 9:52 AM on May 2, 2011


I was browsing around my parents' basement about two years ago and found the old Dell style clicky keyboard (Modeled after the IMB M, I think). I was overjoyed. Finally, I'd be able to type and actually feel it! I replaced it, and was immediately delighted with the new tactile sensation of keyboard use.

For about a week.

After that I started to hate the sound of my own typing. Playing games became a chore, as I suddenly had to exert more pressure on the keys to get my player to move. I was back to my cheap-o Microsoft membrane keyboard after that week.

They're cool, but I think there's definitely a reason that membrane keyboards are the defacto choice now-a-days.
posted by codacorolla at 9:58 AM on May 2, 2011


I love my Model-M clone and clicky keyboards in general. I touch-type, but not that fast.

Because the key clicks on the way down AND on the way up, it sounds like I'm going twice as fast.
posted by mmrtnt at 9:59 AM on May 2, 2011


While we're on topic, can we get Apple to start making a wireless keyboard with a numberpad again?

I don't get why the choices we're presented are limited to "Wired with numberpad" and "Wireless without numberpad." I scrambled to buy a used previous-generation white wireless/numberpad bluetooth keyboards after mine bit the dust, and paid a hefty premium for it.

During this ordeal, I discovered that nobody seems to care about making keyboards that look nice, are actually somewhat ergonomic, and use bluetooth wireless. Apple's pretty much the only game in town, and typing on those "chicklet" keys is a miserable experience.
posted by schmod at 10:04 AM on May 2, 2011


I've been using a Matias Tactile Pro (the original version) for going on seven years now. I love the feel, love the noise, love the whole springy ting ting ting they make in the aftermath of each keystroke like a tiny little gamelan orchestra at play, and love the detailed labeling that makes it easy to use lesser-known characters that I enjoy using to be precise with my spelling.

Mine's of the generation where the case is clear, which means it becomes a conservatory of lint, dog hair, skin flakes, crumbs, and anything else in the air, so I thoughtfully dismantle it about once a year to give it a really good cleaning. Well, actually, I'm not so diligent with the cleaning, but fate ensures that I pour a half a bottle of diet Mountain Dew in there about every eight to ten months, so higher forces are looking out for cleanliness in my workspace. I've undergone this cycle of death and rebirth at least nine or ten times since I've had the keyboard (the last one about a month prior), and it's still plugging along.

These days, when I've managed to misuse a diet Mountain Dew in this manner, I've simplified the cleaning process, in that I immediately unplug (your key to saving any wet electronic item), fill the tub with a few inches of lukewarm water, extract the works from the case, and schloosh it around in the water. After schlooshing, I take it into the back yard, spin it around and around until I almost vomit, then put it somewhere secure for a couple weeks to let it air dry, periodically giving it a shake and/or a spin along the way.

In the interim, I use a standard keyboard, and am filled with the bone-buzzing tuning fork hum of an electric rage as I try to hammer out some decent prose on the sallow, lifeless misery of the kind of keyboard that most people in the world are content to use. Worst of all are those flat, elegant, blade-thin ones Apple sell now, which are like typing on a photograph of a keyboard or the chiclet keys on a first generation Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer. It shure is purty, but I'm surprised Apple's not trying to skip the horrors of physicality altogether and give us the streamlined typing environment of the Atari 400...except they sort of are.

Mind you, since I figured out that doing my first drafts on my beloved Hermes 2000 or one of its tickety stablemates (the 2000 is simply the most divine smelling machine this side of a Citro├źn DS, so it's usually at the top of the heap) is the single best way to keep me from doing things other than writing while I'm writing, I've strengthened and trained my digits to the point that even the best computer keyboard feels like giving a hand job to someone who is really, really not into you.
posted by sonascope at 10:04 AM on May 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's a hard technique to master if you don't have some good old-school typing education under your belt.

Since people don't generally get formal typing schooling, they don't know,


Does a semester of typing in high school on electromechanical typewriters count as "formal"? They didn't mention anything about this. Then again, maybe they did. I have no idea. I got a D in typing.
posted by DU at 10:07 AM on May 2, 2011


DU: “The keys are sooooooooo slow. The travel of each key like like twice as far as a more modern keyboard and if you don't strike the key straight down it scrapes against the side or something and kind of jams.”

ardgedee: “That's because you're doing it wrong.”

Well, not entirely. DU is totally right about the stickiness – it's a real problem with Model-M keyboards, I've found; there's a lot of friction between the keys, and sticking is sometimes hard to avoid. Buckling springs are great for some things, but they unfortunately don't really guarantee directionally true motion.

“The Apple chicklet keyboard works okay enough - I can get through a day of work without problem, but it's not as comfortable as a good old-fashioned keyboard... Incidentally, if you think, for some reason, modern keyboards are quieter, stand behind somebody who taught themselves two-finger typing and watch them hammer the bejezus out of a short-travel keyboard.”

The chicklet keyboard is not a "modern keyboard," and the choice at this point is not between Model M and laptop monstrosities. There are a lot more choices than buckling springs. And buckling springs do make a lot of noise – a click on the downstroke and a click on the upstroke. Topre keys travel just as far, tend to stick less, and do not click. They are, without doubt, much quieter.
posted by koeselitz at 10:09 AM on May 2, 2011


I so miss having the function keys on the left. Hey, folks, did you know that doing one-handed keystroke combinations is faster than doing two-handed ones?!
posted by Melismata at 10:13 AM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


A bit of a tangent, but why do people like wireless keyboards? If you're using it for an HTPC, that makes sense, but for a regular desktop? I never move my keyboard around.
posted by kmz at 10:13 AM on May 2, 2011


kmz, wireless keyboards are great if your desktop machine is your laptop plugged into an external monitor. Less things to plug and unplug = better.

Also it's pretty nice to be able to pick it up and put it aside without fiddling with a cord if I want to plop my sketchbook onto the desk for reference or pull out the scanner or whatever.

In addition there can be aesthetic considerations. Cords snaking everywhere are not pretty.

(Me? I used to have an Apple Extended II on my Mac a decade ago. These days I'm quite happy with the ones Apple builds into their laptops, and their external boards. Short-throw keyboards are awesome if you are a girly girl who has long fingernails and mostly types with the tip of the nail rather than the pad of your finger!)
posted by egypturnash at 10:20 AM on May 2, 2011


"if you don't strike the key straight down it scrapes against the side or something and kind of jams." - DU

That sounds like a worn out keyboard to me, I use a Unicomp and I can't make the keys jam even if I practically push them sideways.
posted by Lanark at 10:26 AM on May 2, 2011


I like Das Keyboard. This one's mine.
posted by sensate at 10:26 AM on May 2, 2011 [6 favorites]


Seriously that whole "you're doing it wrong" thing is annoying as hell and people really shouldn't do it unless they have some actual reason to believe that the person is really "doing it wrong."

The reason there's friction when you strike the key is not because you're bottoming it out, it's because unless you use the keyboard like your piano teacher taught you, you're going to put some lateral force into the keys, and if they wiggle there's a good chance they'll strike the edge of the hole they're mounted in.

(I had a friend who used to spray his keyboards with teflon mold releaser to avoid this.)

Also, I'm not sure what the relationship between long travel and typing lessons is supposed to be. Is it supposed to be that if you've had formal typing lessons* you take longer strokes and so will bottom out on a shallow-travel keyboard? Or is it that if you've had the lessons you push only as far as you need to in order to register the keystroke? Either way, a trained typist should prefer a shorter travel to registration; a soft bottom would be a good thing, too. Personally, I type fastest using a keyboard with medium travel, soft resistance, consistent registration, and no mechanical feedback. I've had several keyboards over the years that fit that description; all of them were dirt cheap.

--
*I have a certificate from a secretarial school, so I've had a few of those.
posted by lodurr at 10:28 AM on May 2, 2011


Back in the day, before young people had been invented, you used to be able to walk into just about any thrift store and find a Model M maybe 50% of the time. I got cocky. I had tons of them, so I gifted them to friends, because I thought they'd always be there.

No more, though. I haven't seen one in a thrift store for years and years.

I have I think three or four left, total, and they all have quirks.

Same thing happened with Henry Dreyfuss designed telephones.

I am shaking my fist at the universe. I am shaking it SO HARD.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:29 AM on May 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


I even swapped the D-F keys and the J-K keys to move the home row buttons under my first fingers.

Home key nubs belong under your middle fingers. They're longer, so it's easier to feel for the nubs and your hand can be in a more relaxed position over the home row while maintaining contact with the nubs.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:32 AM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is a great thread as I've been scoping out a new keyboard. I didn't like the chicklets on my TRS-80 CoCo back in 1983 and I still don't like them on my iMac in 2011.
posted by bondcliff at 10:42 AM on May 2, 2011


Did pb just do something magical to the servers? Mefi was straining all morning (presumably over the Osama thread) but all of a sudden everything is nice and speedy.
posted by kmz at 10:45 AM on May 2, 2011


I honestly don't understand how typing on a chiclet keyboard can be comfortable at all. There's almost no travel. What next, pure touchscreen? (Did anybody ever actually use one of those laser projected keyboards? They seemed like my worst possible keyboard nightmare.)

I've had this argument many times before - The whole point of the chiclet keyboard is that you no longer have to POUND the keys like your trying to punch an Olivetti into submission. A light touch is all it takes. Thus the kind of "Zen" approach people think Apple seems to have: touchscreens are sensitive and light.

Admittedly, it takes a little getting used to. And people don't like to change their typing habits. But the best thing about the chiclet keyboard, in my mind, is how low it is to the desk. People often rest their wrists on the desk with regular keyboards, which is the worst thing you could do because you're bending your wrist backwards in order to reach the keys. (Hello, carpal tunnel!) With the chiclet, the keyboard lays so flat to the desk that this is no longer an issue.
posted by fungible at 10:45 AM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Between my unlabelled, (lovely-clickety) Das Keyboard, Hungarian localization for most software and websites, and my penchant for running Vim in full screen mode, my computer is pretty much mine.
posted by Wolfdog at 10:49 AM on May 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


I, too, am a Das Keyboard user. I have the original one with no screening on the keys. My wife hates typing on it (since looking at the keyboard doesn't help) but I find it perfectly cromulent.
posted by tmt at 10:49 AM on May 2, 2011


A few months ago I got a rather unfortunately-named Noppoo Choc Mini straight from China. It has Cherry brown switches, so it has the nice old-fashioned travel of a Model M and tactile response, but it doesn't click! If you don't bottom out it's pretty darn quiet. So if you want some old fashioned keyboardin' action but don't want to deafen yourself and the neighbors, something with Cherry browns might do the trick. Want more info? The GeekHack wiki has an absurd amount of detail. By the way, when ardgedee said DU was "doing it wrong," that was regarding the long travel, not the friction that occurs with off-center presses. Bottoming out is bad and it takes some practice not to do it.

Despite my fondness for mechanical keybaord, I actually also like the short-travel scissor switches used on laptops, especially those used on Apple's keyboards. Calling Apple keyboards "chiclet" is a total misnomer. They're nothing like the awful, mushy chiclet keyboard that computers were cursed with in the early 80s. There was no way to tell the activation point by feel or sound, so you had to mash the keys down. They didn't tolerate off-center presses very well either. A better term for the Apple style that I've heard is "island."

I honestly don't understand how typing on a chiclet keyboard can be comfortable at all. There's almost no travel. What next, pure touchscreen?

Following on to fungible, the very short travel combined with a light touch means you can type extremely fast. I can absolutely fly on an iPad on-screen keyboard but the lack of any tactile hints as to where the keys are means I make a lot of typos, though.
posted by zsazsa at 10:51 AM on May 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


I find touch screens horrible for typing. But I've recently talked to several people who insist that touch-typing on their iPads is a wonderful experience, so...?

(A good capacitative touch screen isn't objectively bad to type on, it just feels really wrong to me. I think the old "it feels wrong but it's faster" finding from the PC Jr days may hold. and if you're less invested in a particular feel, it might not even feel wrong.)
posted by lodurr at 10:51 AM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Apple chicklet keyboard

Please stop this now. The current apple keyboards are laptop-style short throw scissor keyboards. Chicklet keyboards are chicklet-size keys with a fairly stiff membrane, such as on the early blackberries.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:53 AM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Please stop this now.

Okay, but you'll need a catchier name.

Can I also give some love to the current touch-sensitive Apple mouse? I didn't like it at first - but now every time I switch to someone else's PC, I'm like "Oh shit, I've gotta use a wheel now? How lame!"

(Although admittedly the wheel thing is still much more useful in FPS games.)
posted by fungible at 10:59 AM on May 2, 2011


Metafilter: it sounds like I'm going twice as fast

sorry, couldn't help myself
posted by spinturtle at 11:00 AM on May 2, 2011


Isn't it spelled "chiclet," anyway?

fungible: “Okay, but you'll need a catchier name.”

I like "scissor-switch." I could say it all day long.

scissor-switch scissor-switch scissor-switch
posted by koeselitz at 11:02 AM on May 2, 2011


I have a couple Filco tenkeyless keyboards and I love them. A Cherry MX Brown for work and a Cherry MX Blue for home. They're smaller than the Model-M so I have more room on my desk for papers/books.
posted by formless at 11:07 AM on May 2, 2011


Nothing has ever come close to the IBM Selectric Typewriters I learned to type on.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 11:11 AM on May 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Another Das Keyboard user here -- although I have the one with the keys printed on it so other people can use my computer too. I demo'd it in the office and was not shocked when my coworkers vetoed getting another clicky one for work, but I'm considering getting the silent one for there. Mechanical action is just sooo much nicer.
posted by wildcrdj at 11:19 AM on May 2, 2011


MeFi's own Dan has been known to expostulate on clicky keyboards at length
posted by Confess, Fletch at 11:21 AM on May 2, 2011


Sorry, failed to include links
1
2
3
posted by Confess, Fletch at 11:22 AM on May 2, 2011


Please stop this now.

This is what our mac consultant calls them. He's been maintaining macs professionally since the early 90s.

Anyway, it doesn't have the negative connotations it used to.
posted by lodurr at 11:22 AM on May 2, 2011


LSK: You can try and find an IBM Model M13, the only model which came in black. Also includes a clitmouse if you're into that sort of thing. They generally fetch between $100 and $200 on ebay, depending on condition, as they're a bit rare. I managed to find one for $75 that was a bit beat up, but still works perfectly.

Interesting timing on this post. As we speak, I'm in the process of trying to get one of these enormous beasts to work properly in linux. So far I've got all the keys producing scancodes, but i'm having trouble remapping the keys. Apparently X disagrees with the kernel's interpretation of the keys.
posted by inedible at 11:23 AM on May 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: Also includes a clitmouse if you're into that sort of thing.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 11:24 AM on May 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


I can absolutely fly on an iPad on-screen keyboard but the lack of any tactile hints as to where the keys are means I make a lot of typos, though.

What's the point of typing super-fast if there's lots of typos?

Please stop this now. The current apple keyboards are laptop-style short throw scissor keyboards. Chicklet keyboards are chicklet-size keys with a fairly stiff membrane, such as on the early blackberries.

That may be the original meaning but the boat has long sailed on the new interpretation. See also cracker/hacker.
posted by kmz at 11:28 AM on May 2, 2011


NPR covered this back in 2009 - Old-School Keyboard Makes Comeback Of Sorts features an interview with Neil Muyskens the engineer who founded Unicomp.
posted by Lanark at 11:31 AM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are there any good notebook keyboards? I've heard people praising ThinkPad keyboards, are they still good? I have an Acer at the moment, and the keyboard is painfully bad, plus it has the annoying Canadian-Bilingual setup.
posted by Harpocrates at 11:33 AM on May 2, 2011


I soooo miss my IBM M2. I gave the computer away and immediately wished I had kept the keyboard. My current fave is a cheapo "chiclet" style GE Wireless keyboard I bought at Target a few weeks ago. I'm not much of a typist but I can fly with those short keystrokes.
posted by MikeMc at 11:34 AM on May 2, 2011


Whatever Toshiba's using is pretty good. They used to use Fujitsus, I think.
posted by lodurr at 11:35 AM on May 2, 2011


What's the point of typing super-fast if there's lots of typos?

That's true. There isn't much of a point, but feels fun and pretty damn awesome when you type a perfect sentence at 100+ WPM on a freaking piece of glass, though. Perhaps with better software, i.e. more than the simple autocorrect that iOS uses now, it could be better. For example, if someone hits the space between the O and P keys, pick the outcome that's most likely, based on several factors, including that user's past typing, dictionary words, etc. Maybe even move the on-screen key boundaries around based on how the person types.
posted by zsazsa at 11:35 AM on May 2, 2011


By the way, maybe Mefight Club should make a TypeRacer group...
posted by zsazsa at 11:37 AM on May 2, 2011


Harpocrates: Yes, ThinkPad keyboards are great. I just sold a bunch of ThinkPad Edge's (the cheap ones that barely qualify as a thinkpad), and it was by far the best keyboard on any laptop I've used in years.
posted by inedible at 11:53 AM on May 2, 2011


I found a couple of adapters and now I have a Wang terminal that I sometimes plug into my desktop PC at work. (My laptop has a Happy Hacking Pro keyboard on it, the antithesis of that giant Wang plank.)

I only use it sometimes because it irritates everyone on my floor. *big grin*
posted by wenestvedt at 11:55 AM on May 2, 2011


MetaFilter: That giant Wang plank.
posted by Wolfdog at 11:57 AM on May 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have a box of genuine Model Ms. MeMail me if you need 1.
posted by theora55 at 12:10 PM on May 2, 2011


Foci for Analysis writes "Also know as LOUD KEYBOARDS!, these are great to drive co-workers, family members and especially enemies insane with the 120 dB noise they make."

This a s feature when doing phone support; the users know you are working even when there is a long pause in the conversation. I took up the habit of hitting the shift key on occasion when I was engaged in a support task over the phone that didn't require much typing just to reassure my users.

codacorolla writes "They're cool, but I think there's definitely a reason that membrane keyboards are the defacto choice now-a-days."

Membranes are defacto because they cost like a $1 (even a cheap american buck) to make.

MetaFilter: "filled with the bone-buzzing tuning fork hum of an electric rage"

1970s Antihero writes "Nothing has ever come close to the IBM Selectric Typewriters I learned to type on."

The Model M is a Selectric keyboard without all the messy mechanical bits.
posted by Mitheral at 12:16 PM on May 2, 2011


Sometimes when nobody's around I sneak downto the basement and play with my old Model M that I have stashed on top of my tower... and for some unknown reason I feel almost as guilty as I did when I was fourteen and went down into the basement to... well, you know.

CLICKETY CLICK CLICK!
posted by Ron Thanagar at 12:22 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have mentioned it before, but you will pry my 84-keyModel M (with crappy abused-off paint job) from my cold, dead hands.

As for the people complaining about the noise they make, there is something deeply satisfying about the sound of 80wpm on a buckling spring keyboard.
posted by namewithoutwords at 12:22 PM on May 2, 2011


The Model M is a Selectric keyboard without all the messy mechanical bits.

That's kind of like saying a Cadillac is a Rolls Royce without the messy extra six cylinders. The model M couldn't replicate the feedback you would get of the typeball striking the page.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 12:28 PM on May 2, 2011


Anecdotally, some people say that Model M and other clicky keyboards are better for wrist fatigue than modern-era keyboards.

I've seen this myself; when my wrists are getting sore, a month or two on a Model M will clear me right up. It's not an instant thing, it's a gradual one; apparently it has to do with the fact that it's actually harder to press the keys. You build muscle, and your muscles start taking more of the load. Eventually, your ligaments stop hurting.

However, when you first switch to a hard-strike keyboard like a Model M, you're at real risk for injury, because your muscles are still weak, and you're having to hit the keys a lot harder. So you need to be very, very careful if you have wrist pain when switching to one of the old beasts. After a few weeks, assuming you haven't damaged yourself too much already, your pain should diminish or vanish, but you can really screw yourself up if you don't break yourself in real, real easy.
posted by Malor at 12:30 PM on May 2, 2011


Oops, hit post too soon -- I intended to add, in small print, "This comment typed on a Model M."
posted by Malor at 12:30 PM on May 2, 2011


Anecdotally, some people say that Model M and other clicky keyboards are better for wrist fatigue than modern-era keyboards. Something about getting the more tactile springback, rather than your motion being absorbed in a thud. I'd be curious to see research about this.

Anecdotally, when I started working at an office and had to use the regular spring-loaded keyboards, my tendonitis came flamingly out of full remission within a few days. Scissor keys saved my life.
posted by invitapriore at 12:30 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love the feel of my Model M. We are a single, tapping, clicking, mechanical organism. We are one.


Plus, if a Puma came at me, I could kill it with one solid whack.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 12:31 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and another couple of comments: I've owned two of the Das Keyboards, and they just aren't reliable. They break easy and often, in my experience. The Kinesis Ergo is similar; it has a wonderful feel, and the layout is just superb once you relearn how to type (it takes a good couple weeks), but it just breaks way too easy.

Still looking for something to replace this Model M. I love it to death, but my P8P67 motherboard doesn't quite supply it enough power, and it's a little flaky on powerup.
posted by Malor at 12:33 PM on May 2, 2011


As a former computer typographer and keyboard user since the age of 7, I'd say the BEST keyboard I ever typed on was for a Quadex Typography system ca. 1984. Best springy feel, best clicky sounds, best everything. Solid as a rock. Sadly, this is an obscure and long-lost piece of specialized equipment.

There are few things more arcane than the conversation between old phototypesetters... I've participated in long, heated debates over the keyboard feel of various CompuGraphic and Singer Perforator models. Perforators were a blast mainly for the sound they made as the machine punched the paper.

I love Macs, but hate their keyboards.
posted by kinnakeet at 12:37 PM on May 2, 2011


namewithoutwords: I'm jealous. I've always wanted a space saver. Even if it looked like that. I should have bought one ten years ago though, they keep going up in price. Lately, they've been going for $300 or so on ebay. Here's one with six days remaining (!!) going for $230: http://cgi.ebay.com/IBM-Model-M-Keyboard-Space-Saver-Saving-1391472-Oct-87-/130515643625?pt=PCA_Mice_Trackballs&hash=item1e6356ace9
posted by inedible at 12:40 PM on May 2, 2011


The keyboard on Selectric typewriters aren't really Model M keyboards, for what it's worth, though they may share keycaps and a corporate look and feel. With the exception of the word processor and Composer derivatives, Selectrics are purely electromechanical, and the key linkage is entirely mechanical, with the lone electric motor basically running the typeball mechanism.
posted by sonascope at 12:57 PM on May 2, 2011


I want someone to make an ergonomic keyboard in clicky-style. I (theoretically) like the clicky keyboards, but I'm not willing to twist my wrists back around to type on a straight-style keyboard.
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 1:14 PM on May 2, 2011


Galaxor Nebulon: They made those for a while. Too bad they're exceptionally rare, and whenever they're found on ebay they get bid up to the $600+ range.
posted by inedible at 1:23 PM on May 2, 2011


We buy up all the Model Ms we can find at thrift stores so we always have a spare in case something happens to one of them, like a pet knocking a glass of beer over into the keys or something, which happens about once a year. I'm typing on one right now. (We also have two working Selectrics and an assortment of manual typewriters in stacks and on shelves throughout the house. I think we might have a packrat problem.)

My partner uploaded a short video of my hands typing on one of the Model Ms for a thread on Something Awful once, and it remains the video with the most views and the most comments on either of our Youtube accounts. I don't even.
posted by titus n. owl at 1:23 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Programmers and writers should own their own keyboards for the same reason musicians should own their own instruments.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 1:33 PM on May 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


I switched from a model M a few years back for the Apple chicklet style keyboard and haven't looked back.

As for numpads, I never had a numpad on a typewriter or my C64, so I don't miss it at all.
posted by furtive at 2:10 PM on May 2, 2011


I thought the Extended Keyboard II was a great keyboard, but hate the current Mac keyboards. Of course, I use a Kinesis Advantage.
posted by grouse at 2:42 PM on May 2, 2011


I just love typing on a Model-M. Even when it's not plugged in, it's fun. There is a totally sensual aspect to them which nothing else, including the Apple Extended Keyboard II that I use on my Ubuntu machine at home, can match.

I've got two, both of which are broken at the moment, but have never really been able to use one at work (too noisy for the cows) or when I'm off writing my long form stuff on vacation, as they're not really portable enough to take on long journeys.

When I write a novel using one, I'll know I've finally got my life right. And it will be a much better book for having been written thus: prose is better, code is tighter and more reliable.

(But when will Apple learn about the # key? Misery)
posted by Devonian at 3:41 PM on May 2, 2011


What's the best way to configure a Model-M for a Mac? I have a bunch of them, but you can't really cope without a command key.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:46 PM on May 2, 2011


I too used my Apple Extended Keyboard II (AKA the Nimitz) with an iMate USB adaptor until I got a new desk at work and there just wasn't room for its aircraft carrier form. For the past couple of years, I've used a Matias Tactile Pro and have been very happy with it. My typing is so slow and intermittent that the clacking doesn't seem to bother anyone in the office. (Maybe there's something they're not telling me...)
posted by a humble nudibranch at 3:55 PM on May 2, 2011


I am happy with my Happy Hacking keyboard. It has more travel than a laptop keyboard and a minimalist layout and arrangement that is well suited for Unix.
posted by zippy at 3:57 PM on May 2, 2011


My work keyboard is a MS Natural 4000, and I couldn't do without it. The split layout with the slight hump in the middle is oh-so comfortable. I've become so accustomed to a split keyboard that when I have to type on a standard board, my hands feel cramped and my wrists hurt.

I did love the build quality and keystroke feel of the old model M (with the coiled cord metal modular plug at the keyboard end, right?), but I just never could get used to the layout. The slightly concave layout always made my wrists and fingers hurt.
posted by xedrik at 3:57 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


And wow, I just had a memory of popping the keycaps off several Model Ms in the school computer labs and rearranging them so the home row spelled SHITABRYCK.
posted by xedrik at 4:04 PM on May 2, 2011


(But when will Apple learn about the # key? Misery)

Huh? It's on the 3.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:05 PM on May 2, 2011


My mother currently uses my last clickity clackity keyboard. I love typing on it. Everything feels so definitive.
posted by Malice at 4:24 PM on May 2, 2011


"I want someone to make an ergonomic keyboard in clicky-style. I (theoretically) like the clicky keyboards, but I'm not willing to twist my wrists back around to type on a straight-style keyboard."

I'm in a similar position and have been eyeing off the Kinesis Advantage for ages. $300 is a big gamble if I don't like it though.
posted by markr at 5:13 PM on May 2, 2011


eschatfische: "the magnificent Northgate Omnikey."

The Omnikey was a nice enough keyboard, but it lacked the durability of the Model M. I hit my Omnikey with something in a fit of rage once and it broke the circuit board. I've used my Model M as a hammer on more than one occasion and it works fine.

My Model M is actually from an RS/6000, so it has the built-in speaker. Unfortunately, there's no way to make that work on a PC. :(

Also, the Unicomp version types quite nicely, but also lacks the durability of one of the old-school IBM jobs. My friend had one and it died when he spilled a drink in it. A real IBM keyboard would laugh at such tame treatment.

On laptops, I much prefer whatever it is they use in the older Thinkpads. They use a couple of different brands. My ALPS works pretty well and, most importantly, has excellent tactile feedback (for a laptop) It doesn't make nearly enough noise, however.
posted by wierdo at 5:14 PM on May 2, 2011


I have two mechanical keyboards: The Unicomp Customizer and an Acer 6311-KW.
I love them both but I prefer the Acer. After looking for a picture of it I saw what they were going for now and didn't know I'd gotten such a good deal. I picked mine up at a thrift store for $2 when I started looking for a mechanical keyboard. I had to get a din-PS/2 adapter and a PS/2 to usb adapter to use it but it was worth it. The action is quick, sloppy, and flirtatious. I've yet to feel anything else I like typing on as much as it.

Thankfully, I use two computers fairly often so I have reason to use my Unicomp quite a bit as well. Any Unicomp or Model-M users ever notice that you can use the indentation behind the function keys to display business cards? Also, if you look closely at the Unicomp grey keys they are imbued with a light dusting of sparkles. Typing on it feels like typing on something made in Soviet Russia; unfortunately, in Soviet Russia, something made types on you.
posted by coolxcool=rad at 5:32 PM on May 2, 2011


This might be the thread to mention: I occasionally look around for a keyboard that's (a) blank, except for (b) physical braille bumps (the idea being that as a touch typer I could quickly teach myself a good part of braille that way.) So far, I haven't found it.

If it had a Mac layout, and was strapped to a pony, that would be ideal.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:52 PM on May 2, 2011


The Matias Tactile Pro 3 is the current version of their ALPS keyswitch keyboard.
posted by Revvy at 6:21 PM on May 2, 2011


ChurchHatesTucker, check out key overlays.
posted by Revvy at 6:25 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Joe in Australia writes "What's the best way to configure a Model-M for a Mac? I have a bunch of them, but you can't really cope without a command key."

You'd have to reprogram some other key, Cap Lock is an obvious choice though I don't know if you can map it to non latching under MacOS.

ChurchHatesTucker writes "This might be the thread to mention: I occasionally look around for a keyboard that's (a) blank, except for (b) physical braille bumps (the idea being that as a touch typer I could quickly teach myself a good part of braille that way.) So far, I haven't found it. "

If would be pretty easy to add braille to a key board. Get a one hole punch the diameter you want your bumps (I use a 1/16th punch for rivets on ork tanks) and use it to make buttons out of sheet polystyrene (available in model shops) of the thickness you want your bumps. Then just glue the bumps in the correct pattern on each key.
posted by Mitheral at 6:38 PM on May 2, 2011


The Happy Hacker keyboard can be ordered with blank keys.
posted by zippy at 6:39 PM on May 2, 2011


ChurchHatesTucker, check out key overlays.

Yeah, I've seen them but I'm looking for actual keys. Count Zero with tactile feedback.

If would be pretty easy to add braille to a key board. Get a one hole punch the diameter you want your bumps (I use a 1/16th punch for rivets on ork tanks) and use it to make buttons out of sheet polystyrene (available in model shops) of the thickness you want your bumps. Then just glue the bumps in the correct pattern on each key.

I was thinking I'd probably have to buff a keyboard and then add spots of superglue. I was hoping there was a readymade option.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:32 PM on May 2, 2011


Unless you score the keys really well and degrease them really well, superglue dots (even the "gel" kind) 1- wear/pop off easily, 2 - don't actually form numbs but kinda slouch into patches.

Dipping a dot from a sheet (polystyrene will melt, iirc, in superglue) might be too thin unless you have really fine fingertips. Maybe if you can get your hands on thick acetate? I've seen some transparent (3-ring) binders that have covers that look like they're an acetate of some kind and are 1/2-3/4mm thick.

I'm thinking tiny tiny round head screws (ie., ones used in modern miniature appliances - phones and pdas and such) screwed into tiny holes touched in with a fine(r) dremel bit.

Best bet might be to re-mould keys with braille - or get a braille keyboard and glue those keys on top of the existing keys.

--

The model-M is really romantic, but I'm just as fast and can get by with sloppier typing on a Thinkpad keyboard. Almost/Just as good, is my Logitech diNovo Edge - according to this, it's a scissor switch keyboard.

Lovely.

Then again, according to the description, my old, stolen, Dell C400 had scissor switch keys as well (based on having heavy things fall on the keyboard and me jury rigging it back to life) and that keyboard wasn't nearly as good.

The same technology can be used in multiple products; how the technology is executed makes a big difference.
posted by porpoise at 9:06 PM on May 2, 2011


porpoise writes "Dipping a dot from a sheet (polystyrene will melt, iirc, in superglue)"

Nope, at least not to any significant degree. Sheet styrene is available in many different thicknesses. A decent model shop will have it starting at .010" and going up to at least .1875" thick.
posted by Mitheral at 9:49 PM on May 2, 2011


Surely there are braille keycaps available for the model m. They just pop off from the keys themselves.
posted by wierdo at 10:31 PM on May 2, 2011


Mitheral: You'd have to reprogram some other key [as Command], Cap Lock is an obvious choice though I don't know if you can map it to non latching under MacOS.

You can easily map any of Caps Lock, Control, Option, or Command to any of the others in the Keyboard preference pane. I keep Caps Lock turned into a Control key, and it sensibly stops latching.
posted by JiBB at 11:44 PM on May 2, 2011


After many years of replacing my keyboard every year or so with ever more expensive rubber membrane 'gaming' keyboards that, I finally bit the bullet about 6 months ago and bought some proper mechanical switch keyboards. And it's glorious.

I've never been a big fan of the model-M - the force required to type on those bucked springs was just too high for me for comfort, even typing properly without full force.

If you want the stiffness of an old-style buckling string keyboard without breaking the budget - and in a slightly more modern look - then cherry blacks are probably where it's at, they have the same force all the way down, while still being stiff. Also supposed to be good for gaming.

Cherry browns and cherry blues both have about half the activation force needed of a cherry black, so you can type more easily, while still having the key activation about half way up with a definite 'feel' when the key activates. Browns are much quieter, unless you bottom them out completely; blues have a 'click' when they hit activation point, but it's still quite a bit quieter than a model M. Frankly, they're both about the same level of noise of a cheap rubber membrane keyboard bottoming out.

I've got a filco majestouch UK cherry brown at home, and it's simply the nicest keyboard I've ever owned. Even more expensive now VAT's gone up, but combined with a filco leather wrist rest, it's finger heaven when I get home from the office. Works nicely for gaming too. Going back to a soggy membrane keyboard is basically torture, it feels like I'm wearing jelly filled gloves.

Being able to pull off the keys to be able to clean underneath is just a bonus.

I also have a UK cherry blue based cheaper G80 (made by cherry themselves) for the office. Would have gone for cherry browns, but they don't do it in UK layout. Keyboard is quite a bit bulkier but it does the trick, and it's half the price - about the same as a 'premium' membrane keyboard. Co-workers haven't complained yet, and I have asked.

I'd love to try out a topre based keyboard, but that's a bit beyond my price range. Some people really like the scissor switch based keyboards, like the current apple one. They're not bad for feel, but a couple of decades on full-travel keyboards means I end up bottoming them out way too much for comfort for me personally.

If you're the sort of person prepared to buy a nice mouse, rather than just use the cheap crap optical that came with the compute (including PC gamers), it's definitely worth looking into a mechanical keyboard. Even if you use a laptop as a kinda desktop. In fact, especially if you do a lot of typing on your laptop. They're not that expensive relative to a good mouse (especially if you want one in US layout), and frankly they're well worth it if you spend any time at a keyboard. You just won't want to go back to a soggy membrane one afterwards.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:23 AM on May 3, 2011


True story: My current boyfriend is a Linux-user/sys-admin who has a very loud clicky keyboard and he's a very fast typist. He also has a studio apartment, and one of the reasons why he thinks we'll be able to live together is that he can work on his stuff late at night while I'm sleeping in the bed next to the computer.

If there was a way to combine the clicky keyboard and the nouveau old-school typewriter machines that I saw in an FPP a few months ago, I'd be in heaven.
posted by TrishaLynn at 5:12 AM on May 3, 2011


These are pretty good keyboards. I was raised on Model M keyboards, so they just "feel" right to me. No buckling spring, but the action feels good.

Thinkpad keyboards: I see no difference between them and the keyboard(s) on my Dell Latitudes. Standard scissor switch. Nothing wrong with them, but sometimes depending on the design of the particular system, you need to pull up the keyboard and reinforce the back with folded up index cards to make it stop swaying.

Chicklet: I always assumed these were the Mac-style boards where the key itself is rubber and square like a chicklet. The only upside is that there is a bigger space between keys so you don't misfire as often.
posted by gjc at 6:08 AM on May 3, 2011


Chicklet: I always assumed these were the Mac-style boards where the key itself is rubber and square like a chicklet. The only upside is that there is a bigger space between keys so you don't misfire as often.

This is why (us old) people complain about the term chicklet w/r/t Macs. Those mushy rubber keys are nothing like the Macs'. They use plastic keys and scissor switches.

I freaked out when I first saw them, I must admit. But if you actually use them they're just fine. If you think of them as just the very top millimeter or so of an old school keyboard it makes more sense.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:48 AM on May 3, 2011


gjc, they look like standard scissor switches, and for the most part they are, but at least one of their suppliers makes the switch part in such a way that it gives a good 'break' when the key activates, but before it bottoms out entirely. As I mentioned, they use(d) three different keyboard suppliers and they're all different in feel.
posted by wierdo at 12:12 PM on May 3, 2011


I really like the new style chiclet keyboards, but haven't been able to find a great wired Windows one with UK key mappings. My search continues.
posted by seanyboy at 1:36 PM on May 3, 2011


If it's not NKRO it's crap. That is all.
posted by Chuckles at 6:58 PM on May 3, 2011


ArkhanJG: “I'd love to try out a topre based keyboard, but that's a bit beyond my price range.”

Yeah, the Happy Hacking Pro (and other Topre boards) are a bit too rich for my blood, too. (Particularly the $4,400 Limited Edition Wajima-lacquer Red Anniversary Edition.) I have the Happy Hacking Lite 2, which is pretty much fantastic as well, is very durable (I've had mine for three years now) and has the added benefit of costing only $69.
posted by koeselitz at 7:25 PM on May 3, 2011


« Older You may say I'm a dreamer...   |   AV explained for cats Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post