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Inside the World's Greatest Keyboard
June 22, 2009 8:57 AM   Subscribe

From the satisfying click of its keys to its no-nonsense layout and solid steel underpinnings, IBM's 24-year-old Model M is the standard by which all other keyboards must be judged. (previously)
posted by Joe Beese (106 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hell yes. I have nothing else to say about that, but I say it in a remarkably clacky way.

(And Model M's are a clack rather than a click, surely).
posted by jaduncan at 9:04 AM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wish these were still made. I'd own one. The fact is that there are no keyboards on the market that I really like but just live with. Oh, except one, the Apple Slim keyboard is nice.
posted by bz at 9:05 AM on June 22, 2009


The fact is that there are no keyboards on the market that I really like but just live with.

Yup. Absolutely.
posted by blucevalo at 9:07 AM on June 22, 2009


I have three of them, plus a Unicomp on the Mac, which is almost as good -- the springs aren't quite as strong, so it's not quite as crisp, but it's lightyears ahead of the rest of the crap that's out there.


Buckling spring FTW!
posted by eriko at 9:08 AM on June 22, 2009


I've tenaciously hung onto my Model M. It has such a satisfying tactile feedback even if it is a bit noisy. Clack clack clack.
posted by CheshireCat at 9:09 AM on June 22, 2009


With every keystroke, the keys produce a satisfying click-thunk-click via a patented mechanism called the "buckling-spring actuator."

Those springs also took a lot of force to buckle, making this keyboard a noisy disaster for anyone with problems with RSI. I'm impressed by how sturdy the thing is, and people like the solid click the keystrokes make. But personally, I need a keyboard with a lighter touch or else in a few months my wrists ache and my fingers alternately tingle and go numb.

It also strikes me as weird at the time how the AT keyboard was really its own separate computer with a microcontroller and a complex signaling protocol. It made a lot of stuff more complex than you wanted. These days we accept USB and all the processing necessary to be a USB device, but back in 198mumble it was a bit much.
posted by Nelson at 9:11 AM on June 22, 2009


I was going to continue my grouchy "this isn't good enugh" curmudgeon -- but a line like

If necessary, the Model M can also function as a battering ram or makeshift ballistic shield.

pretty much DEMANDS its own new post. Thanks.
posted by cavalier at 9:12 AM on June 22, 2009


Ditto the Apple Slim. When I got my first one I thought I'd hate it (it was different). Turns out it feels great, requires a light touch, has an incredibly small footprint, and looks good too. This was the first keyboard for me that felt substantially different from the clackers of yore. Now other keyboards feel prehistoric.

That said the M stands up well (for a 24 year-old keyboard).
posted by mazola at 9:12 AM on June 22, 2009


The lack of USB on these mean there are piles of them at most big companies, if they haven't been thrown out yet.
posted by smackfu at 9:13 AM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I appreciate the nice, solid, well-built feel of the Model M's, but that's just so much more physical exertion to repeat 50,000 times per day that my fingers would hate me.

I'm a much bigger fan of the silky-smooth keyboards, and yes the current thin-metal Apple keyboards are amazingly so much nicer to use than they look like they'll be. The stroke is tiny but accurate, it makes it easy to glide.

I thought I would hate them in that form-over-function round-mouse way, but nope. They rock.
posted by rokusan at 9:14 AM on June 22, 2009


I think the Apple Extended Keyboard II (which I'm using to type this) gives the Model M a run for its money, but it's a matter of taste which is better. The AEKII uses an "Alps switch" instead of a buckling spring, so it has a bit less 'click' and a softer feel, but still a definitive 'break' when the key actuates.

It's that tactile response that you don't get on a lot of cheap membrane keyboards; the keys just sort of mush downwards until they eventually make contact. I find that leads to me striking them much harder than I actually need to. With an Alps or buckling-spring, you quickly train yourself to only strike with the force necessary to actuate the switch.

Apparently Alps switches are only rated for 10m cycles while Model M style buckling springs are good for 25m, but mine hasn't given out yet.

Also, you can still buy Model M-style buckling spring keyboards, made by Unicomp, here.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:14 AM on June 22, 2009


I don't see the appeal, personally. I can achieve higher speeds* with less effort on a notebook-style keyboard (low profile, not very clicky). In fact, last year I replaced my desktop's keyboard with a slim Macally one and I love it. I also like being able to type without waking up the neighbors.

* I know this because of my ridiculous scores at finger frenzy.
posted by knave at 9:19 AM on June 22, 2009


I'm typing this on an Apple Extended Keyboard II as well, mostly because my Model M has the old style connector and I already have an ADB-USB converter around. The PS/2-USB converters I've tried never seem to work with my Model M and Macintosh, so it is relegated to use on the windows box.

The reason I like clicky keyboards is I learned to type on a manual typewriter. We had two electrics in typing class and after a few sessions, I took my name out of rotation for them because they were so sensitive and twitchy.
posted by Tacodog at 9:21 AM on June 22, 2009


Released by IBM the same year: The World's Least Great Keyboard.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:22 AM on June 22, 2009


I have one of these right under my desk. I'll be completely honest though, I vastly prefer my Logitech keyboard. But that's probably because this particular model (MX5000) has a close enough feel. It's as loud as the IBM but squishes JUST a bit more.

And it has a nice thing for my wrists so they don't die <_<
posted by Askiba at 9:24 AM on June 22, 2009


Yeah, the typing purist in me longs for a Model M, but the just-a-shot-away RSI typist in me settles on his MS Natural Multimedia Keyboard 1.0A, which is the only keyboard he's found in the past few years to actually have a bit of feedback as well as not shred his fingers to smithereens.

You Apple Slim folks.. any RSI out there? I was this close to buying a mac book, but that keyboard scared the crap out of me. I expected to do maybe 100, 200 words, pounding on those huge flat blocks, before my wrists exploded.
posted by cavalier at 9:26 AM on June 22, 2009


BTW, I like the calculator button on my Microsoft keyboard.
posted by smackfu at 9:27 AM on June 22, 2009


Further dittoing the apple slim. I bought it as I needed a new keyboard and it was actually the cheapest keyboard at Best Buy. It makes no satisfying sound, but I type faster and my hands are much happier, now the Model M I have on the PC feels like a manual typewriter.
Now, saying I prefer typing on the apple slim is not the same as saying it's the worlds greatest keyboard, there's no way this thing is going to last five years, let alone 20, but I really can't go back to typing on those oldies any more. I hope someone mates the construction of an M with the user experience of the light touch, short throw-yet sufficient tactile feedback of this apple slim.
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 9:28 AM on June 22, 2009


I had one of these. I must say, it IS a very satisfying 'clack' when you hit those keys.. I love keyboards that make a prominent 'clack'.
posted by Malice at 9:30 AM on June 22, 2009


Am I the only one who doesn't need to hear and feel a clickety-clack to know I've just typed a key?
posted by Deathalicious at 9:30 AM on June 22, 2009


If you like the Apple Extended Keyboard II and want that same feel with modern USB 2.0 features, you might want to check out Matias's tactile pro line. I use a tactile pro 2.0 for mac (which they no longer have, because they're working on the 3.0, but the mac/pc one is still available) and enjoy maximal clicky goodness.
posted by The Bellman at 9:33 AM on June 22, 2009


"You Apple Slim folks.. any RSI out there?"

I haven't had any problems in over a year of daily, lengthy use. The typing force is low and the key travel is short on the Slim which, to my RSI-details-ignorant self seems to be the right thing.
posted by bz at 9:34 AM on June 22, 2009


Still my favorite keyboard.
posted by box at 9:34 AM on June 22, 2009


CLACKETYCLACKETYCLACKETYCLACKETYCLACKETYCLACKETYCLACKETYCLACKETY

What?
posted by furtive at 9:37 AM on June 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


It may not be detachable, but this thing had the best keyboard ever.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:37 AM on June 22, 2009


"You Apple Slim folks.. any RSI out there?"

That was the big surprise for me, just how much stress it took out of typing.

I did not expect that.
posted by mazola at 9:39 AM on June 22, 2009


Ditto the Apple Slim.

Yeah, it's funny how my two favourite keyboards are so completely different. The IBM M weighs a few pounds, covers a third of my desk, is noisy as hell, has a big spiral cable and keys that can go in the wash, while the apple slim weighs a few ounces, is smaller than my notebook, hardly makes a noise, doesn't have any cables and only 2/3 the keys.
posted by furtive at 9:40 AM on June 22, 2009


Back in the day I was all about a nice micro-switch keyboard. Then there was a while when I was using whatever cheap piece of crap would see me through.

Last time I got a chance though, I wound up looking for a keyboard that would basically match my laptop keyboard, so I didn't have to adjut all the time (and 'cause I preferred the smaller travel on the keys) and wound up trying a Coolermaster Q.
Liked that thing so much I grabbed three of them in case I stopped being able to get them, and wound up with one set up for Pro Tools (well, with stickers affixed). They seem fairly indestructable it has to be said - still using my first one.
Plus they look quite nice.
posted by opsin at 9:41 AM on June 22, 2009


I think something like this would probably outlast the IBM keyboard.
posted by delmoi at 9:42 AM on June 22, 2009


I also am a huge fan of my Apple Extended Keyboard (the original, baby!). I have a box of them in my attic to keep in reserve, but now that I note that Grffin has quit making the iMate, I'm more worried that my adapter will fail than the keyboard.

Is this how the guy feels when he breaks his can opener in his fallout shelter? I fail at redundancy, apparently.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 9:43 AM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Okay, I'm sold, I want one. Is the Unicomp more-or-less universally accepted as the spiritual heir?

Also, I'm planning to get a Mac Mini soon. Does anyone make Command and Apple key-covers for these things?
posted by roll truck roll at 9:48 AM on June 22, 2009


"You Apple Slim folks.. any RSI out there?"

It reduced mine substantially.

(I use the Extendeds so they have all the keys. Wired, though.)
posted by rokusan at 9:50 AM on June 22, 2009


(Typed on a Model M.)

Some claim that Model M's help prevent RSI:

Then there is the less immediately noticeable, though perhaps more important benefit. The springs in each key act as shock absorbers for your fingers. When you complete a keystroke, it has been slowly absorbed by the spring. Unlike today’s keyboards, your fingers never bottom-out on a hard surface. The result? You can type faster, and longer. Your hands don’t tire the way they do with today’s keyboards. And I would think that this makes the potential for repetitive stress injury (RSI) much lower.
http://www.ryancramer.com/journal/entries/model-m-keyboard/
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:50 AM on June 22, 2009


I used a Model M back in high school, and I understand the appeal. But are they dishwasher safe?
posted by Western Infidels at 9:52 AM on June 22, 2009


When programmer-blogger Mark Pilgrim wrote his kiss-off to Apple, a real fucking keyboard was one of the items he went elsewhere to buy: "OK, technically it's called the Customizer 104/105 Black. But at lunch today I was trying to describe to Brett exactly what sort of keyboard it was, and I said something to the effect of 'Do you remember those IBM Model M keyboards that you had to push real hard and they clicked when you pressed a key, and if you could type 100 words a minute it sounded like the world was coming to an end?' And Brett said, 'Oh! You bought a real fucking keyboard!' So in this house, it shall henceforth be known as 'the real fucking keyboard.'"

Nostalgic as I am for old-school keyboards, I'm tempted by the 104/105. Unfortunately, its Windows-centric layout and lack of extra USB ports makes me hesitate. On the other hand, at $149 the key-switch Tactile Pro 2.0 seems like overkill, but there was something satisfying about the industrial sound of typing back in the day that makes me wonder if it isn't worth the premium.
posted by Doktor Zed at 9:52 AM on June 22, 2009


Those springs also took a lot of force to buckle, making this keyboard a noisy disaster for anyone with problems with RSI.

Exactly. I used a model M for a long time. There are lots of good things about them.

They're plain terrible in terms of ergonomics. Really awful. Like a pack-a-day habit for your wrists.
posted by Justinian at 9:54 AM on June 22, 2009


You still find a few Model M's at investment banks and other places that emply model monkeys. I love my Model M (13H6705) but I still haven't figured out how to eliminate the trackpoint latency that occurs when I team it with my T60p and Advanced Dock.
posted by Kwantsar at 9:58 AM on June 22, 2009


Chalk me up as another who thinks the Alps-switch behemoths of yesteryear -- the Apple Extended Keyboard II and the Northgate Omnikey -- are greater than the Model M.

The issue is that the Model M was -- and still is -- stiff. You really have to exert some force to buckle the spring holding up the switch, and that can lead to fatigue over time. While the EKII and the Omnikey shared the battleship construction and clicky response with the Model M, they'd break in and get a certain looseness over time that would fit the owner's typing style like a well-worn leather jacket. On the Model M, you have to type with force, whereas the Alps keyboards would allow you to graze the clicky keyboard, with a light but definitive touch being all that was necessary to cause the click.

The Apple Slim isn't Apple's worst keyboard -- I'm typing this on a Macbook, which has the equivalent as its built-in keyboard, and it's fine -- but it doesn't hold a match to the comfort of the EKII. The keytravel is so short that you end up feeling your fingers bang into the bottom of the keyboard at the end of the stroke, even if you type lightly. Fine for small things, but bad if you're constantly typing.
posted by eschatfische at 10:04 AM on June 22, 2009


One of the guys I lived with in an apartment in undergrad had a Model M. He loved it so much, just typing away all night and all day. He played a lot of WoW, so he was going pretty much all the time. CLACKETYCLACKETYCLACK.

God, I hated that motherfucking keyboard. I could hear it all the way across the apartment, a good 40+ feet away, through 4 solid-core doors. I really wanted to just bust into his room when he wasn't there and smash it into a thousand pieces, and then set the pieces on fire, cackling maniacally as I cleansed my home of the evil.

I have never even remotely understood the appeal of these keyboards, having only known asshats who seemed to like them because the horrifying noise irritated other people. How are they with tendonitis or other RSIs? I'd think because of the pressure required to click the keys and the key travel they'd be really bad for your wrists.
posted by malthas at 10:05 AM on June 22, 2009 [8 favorites]


Thankfully my colleague (cheers for 2-3 people offices with doors!) tolerates my M (21. Feb 1988 manufactured in the UK). There is enough space in there to fit in a PS/2 -> USB converter and a 4 port USB hub.

Some people who tried it have said that it is like typing on piano keys.
posted by mmkhd at 10:05 AM on June 22, 2009


I've given a lot of thought over the years to people's ferverent love of this keyboard. Its nice, but IBM stopped producing it for a few reasons: better, cheaper, faster reasons. Complain all you want that no keyboard sounds like it or has the same action, and I'll give you a nod for each of those points, but if those were the dominant and necessary traits which dictated keyboard utility, then you'd still see them in production today. Its a gimmick, its like Barbie's friend Skipper... From a cost perspective, its more hardware, more labor, higher technical expertise required for production, more waste disposal, several additional parts to source, and yet - at the end of the day its just a keyboard.

Engineering wise, if you want a loud mechanical click every time you press a key, get thee to a 7-11 and purchase a snapple bottle, glue the bottle cap on the counter about oh, 6 inches to the right of the keyboard, ringside down. Let the glue dry. Every time you type a letter with either hand, smash your forehead against the bottle cap dimple as hard and as fast as you can press a key: same loud sound.
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:09 AM on June 22, 2009 [6 favorites]


Metafilter: CLACKETYCLACKETYCLACKETYCLACKETYCLACKETYCLACKETYCLACKETYCLACKETY           What?
posted by mazola at 10:16 AM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hummn!! Might just have to buy a Mac anyhoo. Or maybe I'll rent one. I would have sworn the blocky keyboards would be damned.... interesting....
posted by cavalier at 10:18 AM on June 22, 2009


Complain all you want that no keyboard sounds like it or has the same action, and I'll give you a nod for each of those points, but if those were the dominant and necessary traits which dictated keyboard utility, then you'd still see them in production today.

The "dominant and necessary traits" for a keyboard are keys you can push to put stuff on the screen. Arguing that should be good enough for anyone is silly.
posted by smackfu at 10:18 AM on June 22, 2009


The easily replaceable keys were a PIA when I taught computer courses at a community college. The students would steal their initials and what ever else they wanted to spell.
posted by shnarg at 10:20 AM on June 22, 2009


>"IBM stopped producing it for a few reasons: better, cheaper, faster reasons... From a cost perspective, its more hardware, more labor, higher technical expertise required for production, more waste disposal, several additional parts to source, and yet - at the end of the day its just a keyboard. "

IBM's decision to discontinue the Model M doesn't necessarily make its successors better, cheaper, and faster. IBM may have just wanted to cut costs (and you hint at that after my ellipsis). Also, think about how much time people spend on their computers these days; it's true that the Model M is "just a keyboard," but you can also say that your mattress is "just a mattress." We use these things for hours every day. Features like audible and tactile feedback, better build quality, etc are important to individual typing preferences in the same way that coil gauges and choice of filling are to sleeping preferences.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 10:26 AM on June 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


I also heart the Apple Extended Keyboard II; quieter and requires less force than the Model M. At the campus where I used to work, someone was throwing out a stack of them which I retrieved so I could have a source into the distant future. I use it with a Griffin iMate ADB-USB adapter and it works fine; the function keys even map correctly (for Expose, power off, Eject, etc.). I had a Mattias Tactile Pro for a while, but didn't like it quite as much. And it was a real pain to take apart and clean when it got liquid inside.

Lastly, I'd like to give credit to the originator of the AEKII's (and most full-size keyboards) layout, the DEC LK201 first found on the VT200 terminal.
posted by foonly at 10:27 AM on June 22, 2009


Full disclosure: these comments typed on an '88 Model M.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 10:27 AM on June 22, 2009


I would pay several hundred dollars for a keyboard that combines the Model-M feel with a more ergonomic layout. Sadly, I have yet to find one.
posted by cmonkey at 10:27 AM on June 22, 2009


From a cost perspective, its more hardware, more labor, higher technical expertise required for production, more waste disposal, several additional parts to source, and yet - at the end of the day its just a keyboard.

Not when you use one that has literally been dug out of a dumpster by a junkie. Recycling at it's best. These things are durable. This is a piece of computer hardware manufactured more than 20 years ago.

Using a Model M is like driving a classic car. It's not really as good as a new one but you feel good when you're using it. I wouldn't use one for work, though, just like I don't want to drive a classic car for work. But for using at home, I like it. You just don't get the same feel with any other keyboard.
posted by Authorized User at 10:28 AM on June 22, 2009


God, the Model M love is weird to me. I mean, I get it. I get how you can treasure something so durable and lasting. But then things go into weirdo-land pretty quickly.

You go from "this thing is built like a tank and I love that" to:

1. keys that perform other functions (such as controlling media players or shortcuts to applications) are awful.

oooookayyyy. I pretty much think of them as convenient, but hey not everyone has to like them.

2. this thing is the loudest keyboard ever, and that is awesome.

this is really more of a "I've grown to love the clacky volume of the thing BECAUSE I love the keyboard" kind of thing, right? not the other way around?

3. the windows key is a monstrosity, and it should never have been put on a keyboard. ipso facto, all keyboards that have it are worse than this keyboard.

this one never comes with any explanation of what's wrong with the windows key. I mean, shit, I think we all thought "really? did we need a new miscellaneous key on the keyboard?" when it first came out, but since then it has developed some simple functions -easily ignored- and there really isn't any downside to having it besides a kind of "if I don't use it, it shouldn't be there" crankitude. It's just a key. it's useful to some, harmful to none.

and when it comes down to it, I really do admire the engineering muscle of the thing. It really is a fantastically built keyboard for its time.

but that's for its time. at this point, when you start getting into the functionality available to people who have things like bluetooth, media shortcuts and -yes- that windows key, I find it hard to make these blanket judgments in favor of the M anymore. sure, it's a great little monster. but it's the model t ford when we've moved on to everything from the mini cooper to the bugatti veyron.
posted by shmegegge at 10:46 AM on June 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


Put me into the Model M fan camp. I use a clicky model at home, and a rubber-dome "quiet" Model M at work. The latter has all of the heavy-duty engineering and construction as a clicky keyboard, but with rubber domes instead. Indestructable -- it's lasted 15 years of heavy use so far -- and a much nicer tactile feedback than from the average newer mushy keyboard.
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:51 AM on June 22, 2009


The M was designed for people who were trained to type on manual typewriters, which in the business environment of 1980 would have been nearly everybody. It's meant to have the feel of a Selectric electric typewriter, and it's meant for the keys to be struck, as you must strike the keys of a manual typewriter if you want it to work right.

If you use the M correctly it reduces RSI, but if you use it like a modern keyboard, mushily pushing the keys down, it will cause problems. Of course most modern typists would end up with a hopeless jumble of hammers if they tried to use an actual manual typewriter.
posted by localroger at 10:53 AM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Some claim that Model M's help prevent RSI:

"
Then there is the less immediately noticeable, though perhaps more important benefit. The springs in each key act as shock absorbers for your fingers. When you complete a keystroke, it has been slowly absorbed by the spring. Unlike today’s keyboards, your fingers never bottom-out on a hard surface. The result? You can type faster, and longer. Your hands don’t tire the way they do with today’s keyboards. And I would think that this makes the potential for repetitive stress injury (RSI) much lower.
"http://www.ryancramer.com/journal/entries/model-m-keyboard/"


This is definitely the case for me. A couple hours on a membrane keyboard, or worse one of those super short stroke laptop torture devices, and my fingertips are crying out with pain. I've never had a RSI problem with a model M even during 12 hour days for weeks on end.

I idea that IBM stopped making model ms because something better came along is laughable IMO. Something 150X cheaper came along.

Full disclosure: Typed on a 1981 Model M
posted by Mitheral at 10:56 AM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


"this one never comes with any explanation of what's wrong with the windows key."

It's too easy to strike accidentally and then bad things happen, especially if you aren't looking at the screen. The interkey blank space on a 101 key keyboard wasn't a design error.
posted by Mitheral at 10:59 AM on June 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I really am at sea trying to understand why that clacketyracket is touted by so many as selling point. In an office environment (read, multiple users, concentration required) I would have no issue murdering anyone using one of these.

"Oh I'm sorry, could you speak up? The 3 people in the next row of cubes all happen to be working at the same time."

The tactile benefits are rarely missed. Been typing for about 20 years, no RSI. I've grown to like the action on my macbook. Didn't at first, but it only took a week or so to adapt. Now I love it, but I do feel the bottoming out people are talking about, and sometimes that hurts if I roll a fingertip at just the right angle.
posted by butterstick at 10:59 AM on June 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


the Tactile Pro looks pretty nice, but I'm a bit worried that the only model they're selling has something called an "Optimizer" key instead of the Caps Lock key. Anyone know what the deal is with that thing?
posted by xbonesgt at 10:59 AM on June 22, 2009


I love my unicomp model M-alike. Typing is very precise and my emergent RSI went back into its cave since starting with it four years ago. (I went through a Datahand, Touchstream, Microsoft ergonomic and many others in my quest).

Also, unicomp do a Linux layout with caps and control switched and esc above the tab key. It even has all the windows keys. Programmer heaven.
posted by ny_scotsman at 11:00 AM on June 22, 2009


Yes, the Unicomp is deemed the spiritual heir. Nevertheless, there are model Ms still floating around craigslist and ebay. I have one that my father gave me; one day I hope to deed it to a geeky girl or boy of my own.
posted by spaceboy86 at 11:01 AM on June 22, 2009


Durability and a non-disposable outlook are great. I had the opportunity to try one out a few years back, I'd been thinking of buying one for the "its bulletproof" cool factor.

I hated the keyfeel. Probably because I grew up with soft touch keyboards, but to me it felt like I needed to hit it with a hammer just to make it register a keystroke.

And the noise. I can't imagine being around a Model M user, usually noise I make doesn't bug me but the constant clicking from the Model M drove me bats.

I gave up using it after about ten minutes, saved myself about $100 for a mail order M.

For those of you who absolutely must have the loud, annoying, monstrosities, you can still buy 'em from ClickyKeyboards.com. Please don't tell anyone who must suffer the miserable experience of being within 100 feet of you typing on those things that I gave you the link.

As for durability? My cheapass membrane keyboard, purchased for $10, nice and quiet, no need to hammer the keys to get a character on the screen, has lasted me about 5 years. It ain't bulletproof, and I'd love to get a bulletproof QUIET keyboard, but until then I can live with replacing my keyboard every decade or so.
posted by sotonohito at 11:04 AM on June 22, 2009


Posting in this thread to wave the Apple Extended Keyboard II supremacy flag.

(But the Model M is pretty badass.)
posted by Mikey-San at 11:07 AM on June 22, 2009


I get that people who've never used -- perhaps only heard -- a Model M might think that it's something less than what many people claim. It's not. I've used hundreds, if not thousands, of keyboard designs over the years, and this is one of the few that I don't develop any soreness with. The others were the Northgate keyboard and the Apple Extended II. Most others give me sore hands within an hour or two.

Note that I learned to type on an IBM Selectric, and while the Model M has a different feel, it does have the same deliberate nature as the Selectric. That might have something to do with people's preferences. I also note that people who type slowly seem to never understand why a "good keyboard" is an investment. If you type < 80wpm, then it's likely you can survive with an average keyboard. If you hunt and peck, then likely even a PC Jr keyboard is fine. If, however, you are 100wpm+, then what you type on is the biggest impact on your ability to sustain the speed and also maintain correctness.

This was written on a circa 1998 Model M that was one of the last that Lexmark built(in the UK) with the IBM design and name.
posted by petrilli at 11:08 AM on June 22, 2009


The Model M I'm typing this on is old enough to vote.
posted by deadmessenger at 11:11 AM on June 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


The sound and the fury.
posted by mazola at 11:11 AM on June 22, 2009


I've used an '88 model M for the last 7-8 years and still do every day and it's the best thing ever, and I have 3 spare ones. When I don't want to make so much noise at night, I use an "ABS I mechanical keyboard". It doesn't feel much like model m but it's also solid and somewhat quieter.

By the way, used model M's are still available and I think will always be, because they're almost invincible, were used very widely, and places like schools and banks throw them away / sell them when they get new computers.

I bought about 9 of them for $40 8 years ago.

I find it very hard to believe you can type as fast as model M without the loud click - and the reason is that, ok, you may be able to type as fast but when you make a typo you won't be able to notice just by the sound and correct it automatically. You'll have to look and check in the editor display. Also, when you're looking at a piece of paper and typing it down, (which is useful if you like to keep notes by hand or have to make notes away from a computer, etc), you can detect most typos without having to look at the screen at all. For me the difference is that with Model M you can type as quickly when not looking at the screen, but with a regular keyboard you have to slow down to half the speed, at the very least.
posted by rainy at 11:15 AM on June 22, 2009


Rare is the computer keyboard that can double as a sturdy and effective bludgeon. For this the Model M deserves our respect.
posted by Spatch at 11:15 AM on June 22, 2009


I wanted to love the Apple slim keyboard when I got a new iMac at work, but after about a month the joints in my fingers started to feel like I was rubbing the cartilage right out of them by typing, and I had to go the Microsoft Natural route which I'm much happier on, even though it doesn't fit so snugly under the screen. Perhaps I could train my fingers to not hit so hard when I'm typing but old-school typing muscle memory would be a hard thing to overcome.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:18 AM on June 22, 2009


I hate all this going through menus (or in TeX, typing 6 letters to get an α).

Logitech G-series are your friends, although they neutered the G15 about a year after I picked mine up.

Athough I do wish they were a little more robust.
posted by rodgerd at 11:19 AM on June 22, 2009


One keyboard I still remember loving is the Apple IIGS keyboard, like the apple slim but with some meat behind the keys and a very satisfying clean clickity sound.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:19 AM on June 22, 2009


About Apple keyboards: I quite liked this one -- enough that I got a second one for my linux machine at home. It has one huge flaw though -- the open tray design is a crumbcatcher, and they get filthy, and eventually sticky.

I'm looking forward to the Apple slim that's coming with my new iMac (which is replacing my linux machine at home, because I'm basically just fed up with linux still not working after all these years, but that's another story...).
posted by rusty at 11:20 AM on June 22, 2009


Call me a philistine, but I remapped the caplock key on my Model M to act as a Windows key.
posted by exogenous at 11:24 AM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


EXOGENOUS IS A PHILISTINE.
posted by Authorized User at 11:32 AM on June 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


I associate hard keyboarding with grunting and mouthbreathing.

One thing I like about MacBook's combination of touchpad gestures and flat keyboard is that it encourages to adopt a gentle, caressing and playful touch.

There are different kinds of computer lovers.
posted by Free word order! at 11:34 AM on June 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


I appreciate these keyboards and in fact have one sitting in storage. However I use 2 logitech diNovos on my main systems because I'm not a big fan of carpal tunnel. I'll use the 101 for a MAME box some day. Either that or I'll keep it next to the bed, in order to bludgeon home invaders.
posted by autodidact at 11:37 AM on June 22, 2009


sotonohito: You need some time with it. Of course you're not going to adapt to a completely different feel in a few minutes. I don't remember how long it took me, but my guess would be that a few days of a few hours typing each would do it.

In general, in regard to noise: yes, it may be quite annoying in a quiet office. I did use one in the office before, but I had a technical job and the office was extremely loud with constant sales-related and customer-related calls, and in fact the noise of keyboard helped me a bit to establish my own aural space and block out the other noise. No one ever complained. My policy on noise is that if nobody's around, Model M is the best thing you can use, if someone is around, use the closest alternative, which for me is the ABS I mechanical.

Why do Model M fans love the clack-clack? At first, I think, it's just a matter of hating the alternative: the mushy silence that hides your typos from you when you type quickly. Eventually it becomes pleasant in itself, almost relaxing like a sound of surf or a brook, a reminder that the instrument you're using to type is a real, substantial thing with springs and knobs and almost (maybe?) a steam engine and a boiler built in.

The windows key is an abomination because, if you use ctrl and alt- shortcuts a lot, they're much easier to hit quickly with a 101-layout. If you have a windows key you adapt by either not using shortcuts as much or by hitting them slower. You really need to use a windows-key-less board for a few weeks to *really* appreciate it.
posted by rainy at 11:38 AM on June 22, 2009


I love all of my Model M's (I have several), but none more than my custom-painted and battle-worn compact Model M.

as far as RSI goes, I will echo others that I can (and do) type all day long on a Model M with no issues, but a few minutes on a cheap mushy dome keyboard and my wrists feel like they're being sliced open.
posted by namewithoutwords at 11:50 AM on June 22, 2009


I would pay several hundred dollars for a keyboard that combines the Model-M feel with a more ergonomic layout. Sadly, I have yet to find one.

I picked up the Model M15 at a garage sale and it's awesome.
posted by pantsrobot at 11:58 AM on June 22, 2009




2. this thing is the loudest keyboard ever, and that is awesome.

this is really more of a "I've grown to love the clacky volume of the thing BECAUSE I love the keyboard" kind of thing, right? not the other way around?


No, it's really not. I personally am on laptops most of the time nowadays, but the M Clack is just satisfying. It's like when you first get your hands on a zippo lighter and fiddle about with the lid.
posted by juv3nal at 12:06 PM on June 22, 2009


Loves me the big M and the EKII. Oddly enough I've been using a slim form factor Dell at work (whatever it is they send along with new boxes these days). It's clacky and has decent feel but I think the noise is at least half due to the pounding my M/EKII-trained fingers deliver with each key stroke. Once you're used to that kind of travel you tend to push right through the keyboard on these slim form factors. My wrists are a little happier but my knuckles feel like I've run a marathon at the end of the day.

I've been using a Logitec G-series keyboard at home about half the time and while I like the key placement and the programmable function keys, it is overly mushy IMO. Like onefish, I live in fear of not being able to replace my increasingly aged collection of iMates. There were lots of decent Apple peripherals--my trackball e.g.--that use ADB but cannot be married to my new hardware due to lack of ports without this brand of chicanery.
posted by Fezboy! at 12:19 PM on June 22, 2009


rainy I'm sure I could get used to the "hit it with a hammer to get a keystroke" feel, but why would I bother?

I type at 90+ wpm and I've got no problem with typos. I don't understand the argument that somehow a loud key sound is beneficial in preventing or noticing typos. Isn't that what your kinesthetic sense is for?

My sole interest in the Model M was that it was bulletproof, both the keyfeel and the noise were not selling points but rather obstacles to my becoming a Model M user. I knew, after only a short exposure, that, for me, the drawbacks outweighted the benefits.

If other people like 'em, and never (ever) use them in earshot of others, that's their concern. Its a lot like smoking, I don't understand it, but as long as you keep the pollution (whether noise or noisome) away from others its your concern.
posted by sotonohito at 12:27 PM on June 22, 2009


At home I use an old AT keyboard that is now on it's 5th computer. But the best keyboard ever was the 83-key model that came with the original IBM PC. Function keys down the left side meant the spacebar and the letter keys were dead center. That's design. Keyboards today have to be offset to the right (which no one seems to do) which is doubly stupid because most people are right handed, setting the mouse even further to the right, or worse, in front of the keyboard.

The noise of these keyboards is beautiful. RASHCRASHRASHCRASH. That's the sound of words flying out of your mind and smashing against the screen. It's the sound of composition, like contemplating creation with the waves of the ocean crashing at your feet.

When you're writing pauses, the room falls deathly quiet. You almost have to overcome whatever writer's block you had, because the silence of the idle keyboard is deafening.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:27 PM on June 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


Another nice clicky is the Fujitsu FKB-4700/Tandy Enhanced. Same idea of buckling springs and heavy construction, but not as loud as the Model M. I like the keypress feel of the Model M somewhat better, but the Fujitsu FKB-4700 has the tradeoff of a much nicer case design
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:32 PM on June 22, 2009


I stand corrected. The Fujitsu FKB-4700 is a wierd amalgam of springs and rubber domes, and not a buckling spring design (scroll down for pics of how it works).
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:36 PM on June 22, 2009


Model M's have a neat feel, but for me the best keyboard ever is the Gateway AnyKey. In the late 90s I bought several old 486s which came with these amazing input devices. The computers I ended up barely using but the keyboards stuck with me for years.

Investment tip: Start a company to manufacture these in wireless form and you'll have at least one guaranteed customer.
posted by bunnytricks at 12:57 PM on June 22, 2009


"Why do Model M fans love the clack-clack?"

Besides the feedback to you if you are doing phone support it lets the client know you are doing something during pauses in conversation.
posted by Mitheral at 1:19 PM on June 22, 2009


I find the best thing about the Apple slim to be... that it's slim. It requires no wrist rest. Carpal tunnel, I believe (sorry, I'm no expert), often comes about when people put their wrists down on the desk and then bend their hands backwards to reach the keys, thereby overstretching the thin finger muscles that run all the way down the forearms. (You know you do it, we all do.) The slim eliminates this problem by making the keyboard practically even with the desk.

Now, if only people can learn not to type as if they're John Bonham playing "Kashmir", we'd be home free.
posted by fungible at 1:32 PM on June 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


I've been searching for years for my favorite keyboard. It was an early-90's Xerox. Instead of springs, each key was at the end of a long arm. Pressing on the key pushed the arm down giving you a really satisfying physical feel for each keypress.
Looking between the keys you could all the dozens of long slender arms meshing with each other. It looked like something like an old manual typewriter.
The feel was very similar to a Model-M, but no loud click. I remember the action being a bit softer. You could also easily keep a key half-pressed which was really useful for playing Wolfenstein.
posted by Eddie Mars at 1:36 PM on June 22, 2009


Pastabagel: "But the best keyboard ever was the 83-key model that came with the original IBM PC. Function keys down the left side meant the spacebar and the letter keys were dead center. That's design. "

Amen to this. Really the only beef I have with the Model M is that when they designed it, they ditched the Model F layout in favor of the now-standard one. There are a lot of things to love about the old layout, including the centering of the spacebar so you don't have to offset it. (At the time this probably didn't seem like such an annoyance, since the mouse didn't really exist, but today it forces the typical right-handed user to reach a lot further for the mouse than they should have to.)

Other things to love about the layout are the Ctrl/Alt/Caps key positioning. Placing the modifier keys there makes them much easier to use, and easy-to-use modifiers basically means more functions at your immediate disposal.* I've always felt that if modifier keys had been given top billing up there with Shift on more keyboards, we'd have more chord-oriented user interfaces rather than the scant use they currently get. (Alt really gets the shaft these days.)

The layout of the number pad is superior, too; it looks like it was designed by someone who had actually spent significant time using an adding machine or comptometer, rather than just laid out blindly on a grid for visual appeal. The modern grid-pad layout forces you to curl your thumb into your palm to hit the zero; the Model F's puts it in a natural position, and gives you a nice big adding-machine-style plus key to boot.

About the only thing I don't think was done exceptionally well about that layout was the backspace key. Perhaps it was just designed for use by more accurate typists than are common today (it's been my experience that people who learned to type on actual typewriters have an accuracy far greater than people who learned on computers, although sometimes not the overall speed), but I'd have made BKSP bigger and easier to hit from the "home position" since it's one of the more frequently used keys.

Throw a pipe and maybe a meta key (in place of the caps lock) on there, and you'd be pretty close to what I've always felt would be the ideal layout.

* Of course, taken to an extreme, you get the Space Cadet.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:53 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Call me a philistine, but I remapped the caplock key on my Model M to act as a Windows key.
Philistine! Though at least that's still better than leaving the capslock alone. The true remapping of the capslock key is as Control. I do this remapping on every computer I use.
posted by kmz at 2:29 PM on June 22, 2009


I've got a buckling spring keyboard from an aftermarket terminal manufacturer that is switchable between tn3270 and AT. If features both ten function keys down the side and a double row of 24 function keys across the top. One of these days I'm going to write a driver for the thing to access all those keys.
posted by Mitheral at 2:29 PM on June 22, 2009


I've done a lot of typing on Model M's or essentially similar IBM products, and I liked them. And yes, they are a little stiff.

But they're nowhere near as stiff as most of the Apple or Mac-marketed keyboards I've used. It's always seemed to me that keyboards marketed at Mac users have a feel that's different in a pretty consistent way, and that way has a lot to do with what I'd call (for lack of a better term) inconsistent stiffness: They're not just stiffer, but there's a lack of consistency to the touch. I've found that to be true of most of the Mac-marketed keyboards I've used.

Curiously enough, the only PC keyboards I ever found that had what I thought were similar characeristics were ones based on the Alps platform. I've used a couple of those for long periods of time and several others in passing, and they all felt stiff and inconsistent -- and I'm not confusing them with the piece-of-crap dome-cap keyboards that started to be sold cheap in the late '80s. I know those (too) well from maintaining old-style CD-ROM database workstations in libraries. They also had hideously inconsistent touch -- so bad that patrons would routinely leave characters out of their search terms.

To me, the beauty of IBM's switch-operated keyboard products was that they were consistent. The touch on one key was just like the touch on another key. Fujitsu had a line of mechanical-switch keyboards, mostly OEM, that had that same consistency but a much lighter touch. I've had several of those (four, I think) under different primary branding. They have usually been built around a solid metal plate, so they have a similar "quality" feel to them.

But I have to say that the "fastest" keyboards I've routinely used, and the ones with the most forgiving touch in terms of pain, were cheap-ass OEM products that came with my old c. 1987 Amstrad PC and an HP consumer-grade desktop I bought in 2001. They were fairly consistent on touch, but they had this soft, almost mushy feel with no tactile feedback at all and a pretty short travel. Fast, fast, fast. Largely pain-free. But I let the HP/OEM get away from me when I switched to a Mac in '05. Now that I'm switching back off Macs for personal work, I wish I still had it.

These days I tend to look for scissor-switch keyboards. I feel like I get more consistency (usually) out of them, and I like the light touch on the ones I've mostly used. If I'm able to see the manufacturer of the main keyboard component, I favor ones from Fujitsu, because I've really liked theirs. I'm not at all crazy about the ones Apple is using right now; they ones they were using on the pre-unibody aluminum PowerBooks and MacBooks I really liked. It hurt my hands to use them for very long, but that had more to do with angles than anything else.
posted by lodurr at 2:48 PM on June 22, 2009


kadin2008:
The layout of the number pad is superior, too; it looks like it was designed by someone who had actually spent significant time using an adding machine or comptometer, rather than just laid out blindly on a grid for visual appeal.
I always assumed it had more to do with target marketing: I think they originally expected the PC to be used by people who'd be using it like an adding machine, and that later the IT-focused people on the design team won out when they designed the "AT" keyboard.

What I've thought was fascinating about the keyboard design was that the number pad placement is arguably backwards. I spent several years in the late 80s working in a university department and got to watch people use IBM PCs and ATs as administrative tools, using Lotus and Symphony and crap like that (I sometimes shudder when I think about what we used to think of as "powerful"). Almost invariably, they'd shove the thing over the left so they could work the numeric pad with their left hand (that's how it's laid out, like an adding machine), while they held a pencil or a pen in their right and checked stuff off spreadsheets or forms....
posted by lodurr at 2:58 PM on June 22, 2009


sotonohito: I agree that some may like certain things while others don't care for them. But.. 15 minutes is not enough to get used to a different feel of a keyboard. It's as if I sat down to learn to play a piano for the first time and, after half an hour, got up and said "I guess I just don't have talent for piano-playing, it doesn't come out good, I'll learn drums instead". It's just stupid. Model M doesn't feel anything like using a hammer once you get used to it. It feels like you're using precisely the right amount of force, not a iota more or less. I don't know the speed of my typing, I just know that if I use a rubber dome one, I'm about 30% slower and it feels about 70% more annoying and I make roughly 85% more typos. (I did use a rubber dome for months so I know it's not just a matter of not being accustomed to it). I'm not sure what you mean by not having a problem with typos.. you never make typos? You only make one for a thousand pages of typed text? Anyway.. enjoy what you like, that's what matters.

By the way, for me it really doesn't matter much that Model M is solidly built. If they lasted only a year and then had to be replaced, I'd still use one and happily pay for a new 'board every year. It'd still be well worth it. The build quality is just a nice bonus for me.
posted by rainy at 3:22 PM on June 22, 2009


I said I have an '88 model M but actually I was off by 4 years.. I have a 1984 model. I was 5 years old at the time :-).
posted by rainy at 3:23 PM on June 22, 2009


I still have mine, but it is not being used currently. It needs a cleaning badly, and although I really like the keyboard, the noise does tend to get on my nerves a bit if I'm just doing casual stuff. But I'm thinking of cleaning it and just putting up with the noise, as I really hate most newer, cheap keyboards ...
posted by krinklyfig at 4:40 PM on June 22, 2009


I'm typing this comment on a 1987 compact Model M. As with all but one of my Model M's, it's from a thrift store, and it cost less than five bucks. Unless somebody buys me one of the ones with the Trackpoint built in, I expect to use it for the rest of my life.
posted by box at 4:49 PM on June 22, 2009


I use a Unicomp, with no Windows key. Don't see why I would ever switch to anything else. I type quickly on it, it is very comfortable to use, and minor beer spillage has so far not killed it.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:36 PM on June 22, 2009


I associate hard keyboarding with grunting and mouthbreathing.

So.... for programmers, then?

(Ducks, hides, updates firewall...)
posted by rokusan at 6:16 PM on June 22, 2009


My model M (currently in storage)
posted by furtive at 7:30 PM on June 22, 2009


The newer slim Apple keyboards are nice because they're practically flat. I'm able to lay my forearms flat on my desk and type by barely moving my fingers.

With a few weeks of use I found that my over all stroke became much gentler because it simply wasn't necessary to type all that hard. It's a very gentle typing experience. I like not having to keep some ugly foamy wrist-rest on my desk or having to carefully float my arms in the air as I type.

Now, when I see keyboard trays with built in wrist-guards I feel like I'm looking at some bizarre antique from a primitive era - like a container of mimeograph fluid.

The other nice part about the slim Apple keyboards is that they are very quiet.
posted by device55 at 8:22 PM on June 22, 2009


I had an old Northgate Omnikey. That push-clack keystrike sound-feel was equal in pleasure to popping bubble-wrap bubbles for me. I let it go after much resistance, because, on this new computer, the AT-to-PS2-to-USB connections it just don't work. I tried. RIP.
posted by wobh at 8:41 PM on June 22, 2009


If you've got it wobh a powered external USB hub can sometimes make this kind of daisy chain work.
posted by Mitheral at 8:54 PM on June 22, 2009


I'm stunned this thread has gone on so long and nobody has mentioned the daskeyboard
posted by filmgeek at 9:36 PM on June 22, 2009


rainy I make plenty of typos, and notice them either through kenesthetics (ie: feeling where my fingers are) or by seeing them. What I don't get is how a loud noise helps with typos.

Anyway, each to their own.
posted by sotonohito at 4:31 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Lord, I miss working on a Model M. They were indestructible, and the weight meant the keyboard wouldn't move around on your desk.

smackfu: The lack of USB on these mean there are piles of them at most big companies, if they haven't been thrown out yet.

Tons were made with PS/2 connectors, and since PS2 to USB adaptors were and are still inexpensive, it's likely that they would have been kept in service for a while. The older model M's require an AT to PS/2 adaptor which would then fit into a PS/2 to USB adaptor. Purists would probably put up with that to have a Model M they could work on.

No, the most likely reason these would have been declared obsolete is their lack of a Windows key. However, Unicomp is still making modified Model M's, in the (now) standard 104/105 key format. Sadly, they're not as good as the original.
posted by zarq at 12:06 PM on June 23, 2009


Yup, AT-to-PS/2 and then PS/2-to-USB. Do they even still make AT-to-PS/2 adapters?
posted by box at 2:24 PM on June 23, 2009


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