Klackity Klack

I make my living by typing stuff on a keyboard, all day long, so it makes sense that I use the best equipment I can find for the job. Keyboard manufacturers have other ideas, and for the most part just seem to be throwing junk against the wall to see what sticks. I’m convinced that the majority of keyboards not really designed, but rather simply mutated to test what sells. And most people don’t know how to type, so we’re in a vicious cycle that’s going to wind up with me being unemployed because all available keyboards will have degenerated to F1, arrow keys and a “Goto Porn” shortcut button.

So to help stave off this bad eventuality, a while ago I created an objective point-based system for evaluating keyboards, and I thought it would be useful to share it.

20 points. Where is the capslock key? Yeah, I already know where capslock is going to be, so except for exactly one keyboard I’ve ever used this is always -20 points, but hope springs eternal that keyboard designers will finally get a bloody clue and put capslock where it belongs, wayyyy up there on the right, next to those keys that nobody knows what they do (SysRq and PrtScn, natch). Illuminate the fucker and when it’s enabled make it strobe fast enough to give you an epileptic fit because you NEVER want that thing on.

10 points. Is the ESC key a first-class citizen? Or is it a diminuative nub located in the hinterlands, hanging its head in shame because keyboard designers (who went to art school or had their minds broken up for parts and sold in MBA school) were afraid of its mystery? “Escape from what? That sounds subversive.” I can see the conversation in marketing: “Who ever types ESC? Why would we trust them? Do any of YOU ever use escape? Apparently we need it for legal reasons, but we don’t have to like it.” Naturally none of these people would be caught dead using EMACS or vi or really anything other than PowerPoint, so they’ve never been acquainted with the joys of hitting ESC every third of fourth keystroke. ESC needs to be right around squiggle, or the keyboard can go to hell.

20 points. KLACKY keyboards feel great but they will get you knifed in the back by the people who work near you. The opposite — mushy — will get the keyboards broken in half and thrown into the microwave on DEFROST. TWO POUNDS. KEYBOARD. I prefer something with a slightly klacky feel, enough that I know that the key was registered, but not noisy enough to get me pushed into the elevator shaft onto some bullets.

5 points. Utility in an emergency. Can you paddle your canoe across the newly created Lake Server Room to reach the UPS control panel and still get all the servers back online by hitting ESC at the right time? If so, you’ll be a hero. Be prepared!

5 points. Inverted-T arrow keys, thanks.

5 points. No shifty magic. Page up, down, home and end without involving some arcane FN shifter (which is always colored blue for some reason).

30 points. Split Ego. A sensible “split” ergo angle or I can’t type on you. (I can’t paddle across Lake Server Room with one of these, but then again I have a set of nunchucks. Life is full of trade-offs like this).

5 points. No funky modes (e.g., “alpha mode” or “F-key mode” or “mysteriously type random shit without any way to turn the mode off other than rebooting the computer, unplugging the keyboard and jumping up and down on it in shitkicker boots” mode).

10 points. Comfy when used as a pillow? Unfortunately no keyboard has ever passed this test. 5 points for being drool-resistant, then.

5 points if there are no helpful bullshit MAIL and WEB or WEIRD ICON buttons (“that looks like three Lego minifigs having wild and uninhibited . . . brunch”).

100 points. Longevity. Keyboard will last at least a decade, and I’ll be able to buy another one then. I need to specifically exclude the Microsoft keyboard division, since it hasn’t made a worthwhile keyboard in over a decade (and I’ve exhausted my stockpile of classic Microsoft Natural keyboards).

—-

This was typed on a Kinesis Freestyle 2 split ergo keyboard, with only a couple critical key remappings (capslock, and duplicating ESC onto F1).

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22 Responses to Klackity Klack

  1. David says:

    Greatest keyboard of all time? The original Atari 800, of course.

  2. Mitch says:

    I preferred the Sun 3 and early Sun 4 keyboards. You know… where they put the CTRL key in the proper place and were still mechanical. With some key remapping, I’ve found the Logitech G710+ more than acceptable.

  3. Lucian says:

    The numpad must die! I really hate when my desk is occupied by unused things … like the numpad.

  4. RogerBW says:

    Caps Lock can be useful!

    setxkbmap -option compose:caps

  5. Martin says:

    Which keyboard does not have “Inverted-T arrow keys”?

    Do you know the CODE keyboard? http://codekeyboards.com/

    I’ve missed:

    Ctrl at the bottom left: 50 points (-> Thinkpads are doing it wrong)

  6. Mark says:

    My current favorite keyboard is the Macintosh version of the Das Keyboard. It’s got an awesome feel. I’ve used it at two companies, both cube farms, and nobody has complained about the noise.

    http://www.daskeyboard.com/model-s-professional-for-mac/

    If the Code keyboard had come out before I started this job, I’d have requested on of those.

    http://codekeyboards.com

  7. Franky says:

    Personally, I use a clicky Cherry g80-3000 at home. Ugly as fuck but great feel and sturdy as hell. Use it now since about 1 1/2 years and in that time other keyboards normally already get quite worn out on the space key, this one shows no change at all (except it gets dirty at which time its easy to disassemble and clean because the mx-switches are actually built for replacing caps).

    The only thing I initially missed are media player controls but I just put that on my mouse instead which has an modifier-key for switching functionality -> modifier + mouse wheel = volume up/down (scroll), previous/next track (tilt), and mute/unmute (press)

    Also in contrast to other mechanical keyboards the g80 is cheap to no end with 60€ compared to other mechanical keyboards which start around 100€.

  8. Franky says:

    PS: personal turn-offs:
    - no 3×2-block for Ins, Del, and so on … some manufacturers think they are cool and make it into a 2×3 version which is even worse than not having that block at all
    - no f-keys
    - weird fn-key that somehow squeezes itselt into the left lowermost row so you have a good chance to always hit that instead of win, ctrl, or alt
    - keyboards without printed special characters … because did you ever try to code on a mac?

  9. Gary says:

    I’ve had good luck with SharpKeys (Windows) or PCKeyboardHack (Mac) to treat my caps lock key as the ESC key. That gives every keyboard a +30. Although once you are used to it, typing on anyone else’s keyboard makes you look like a crazy person who randomly shouts.

  10. kwk says:

    So what are some good options for something that’s basically a regular keyboard but more ergonomic? I try to research it every so often but always get frustrated and give up. The Microsoft Comfort Curve looked good until I saw that it has a huge delete key that displaces the insert key (which I unfortunately do use).

    • landon says:

      I’m actually really happy with the Kinesis Freestyle 2 keyboard. You lose the multimedia buttons, which I do find useful, and the “web crap” buttons on the left are useless (and unfortunately unmappable, since they generate multiple keystrokes and are not programmable).

      But the key feel is good, and it’s split and tilted like the MS Natural planks were, before Microsoft fucked them up. It took about ten minutes for my fingers to get to know it, and my typing rate was back to normal within a day.

      If Microsoft were to reissue the original Natural line with decent key switches, I’d buy a round dozen of the things. (Is there anyone at Microsoft listening to this? Seriously, you’d sell a metric crapload of those to people who (a) need ergo keyboards, and (b) care about keyboard quality).

      • kwk says:

        I like the idea of the Freestyle but it looks a little too unusual (particularly ins/del/home/end/pgup/pgdn) to work for me. I don’t plan to bring a personally purchased keyboard to the office due to the high risk of liberation and I’m too stupid to transition between drastically different keyboards.

  11. Xelous says:

    Oh you made me chuckle, I hate the plastic pieces of shit I’m given to use… And I’m loath to point to my own crappy blog from your excellent one, but I’ve expressed my frustrations before (http://megalomaniacbore.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/keyboard-woes-and-obsessions.html).

    I’m currently at work, typing on a spongy Dell piece of plastic shite, at home I have a really nice Cherry G80-3000 I’d recommend them…

    Of course I’d love a Das Keyboard… (http://www.daskeyboard.com/products/index.php?filter=.keyboard)

  12. Stan says:

    You forgot “should not require a special driver” which again disqualifies anything by Microsoft.

    And while we’re on split keyboards, I was taught to type the number six with my right hand, but all split keyboards put that sucker on the left. I can’t type 6 on one of those without suffering a little seizure.

    • landon says:

      I never had a problem with Microsoft keyboards needing drivers. I did, however, have problems with the drivers they installed (c’mon guys, a 60MB download for a fucking *keyboard*?)

      If Microsoft’s mouse/keyboard group did more time doing quality keyboards and less time doing crappy software, they might make good keyboards. (I think I’ve finally given up on their mice now, too. Sigh).

      Getting promoted != making a good product. Say that to yourself every day.

  13. TRX says:

    Right now, I’m using an IBM PC/AT-339 keyboard. The sticker underneath says it was made in 1985. It weighs as much as a modern laptop computer, has long springy mechanical key travel, and sends the keycodes before the keys snap over-center.

    Until a few years ago I used a 1982 IBM PC 84 key keyboard. I finally had to give it up because I got tired of reprogramming X configuration files that didn’t understand it didn’t have that nasty inverted-T arrow pad, too many applications that differentiated between left and right ctrl and alt keys, and BIOSes that wanted F12 keys.

    The AT-339 board was the best of a bad lot… but that doesn’t mean it is good. Not much uses function keys any more, which is good because they’ve been exiled way up into the Arctic, with a whole blank row between them and the number keys, putting them too far from the home rows to reach easily. I can hit numlock and enable the arrow pad on the right so I can have arrow keys that make sense, but the pad is way over there on the right, so I have to move my whole hand over there instead of just my little finger. In fact, the whole keyboard is ridiculously lopsided and right-handed, extending [gets ruler] a full *seven inches* past the Enter key… which has been downsized and turned horizontal.

    Furthermore, the AT-339 keyboard is highly curved… the wrong way. It was evidently made for typists with the board positioned on their lap, typing down at it. I type with the board up on a desk, like most people do, which means I want a board that curves the other way; domed instead of dished.

    I don’t care about the “click” at all, but that’s all some people seem to notice.

    Foam-button and rubber-membrane boards have uncertain triggering; using one, I can look up and see characters missing. No way to tell if a keystroke went through without watching the screen. With my antique IBM board, I *know* without having to look; when the key goes over-center, it has already happened. I can rest my fingers lightly on the board while thinking, and not look up to see a screen full of “………” or “yyyyyyyyy” scrolling because a finger had juuuuust a little too much pressure on one of the wobbly keys.

    I use the keyboard a *lot*. Since the mid ’90s, I’ve saved outgoing email – not counting header information, I send 512 to 1024Kb per month, the equivalent of a large novel. That’s not counting real work. I understand that most people just use the board to type an occasional password or credit card number, but when you’re hammering out text, a keyboard that feels like poking a puppy in the eye just doesn’t hack it.

  14. Ekim Yrruc says:

    I love my old IBM Model M. I have four of them on ice.

    I hear these are nice since they use Cherry mechanical switches =)

    http://www.diatec.co.jp/en/det.php?prod_c=775

  15. Ekim Yrruc says:

    Oh, here’s a fancy ‘Ergo’ keyboard, I understand you can get one with your choice of silent or noisy Cherry switches (both have tactile feedback.)

    http://www.trulyergonomic.com/index.html

  16. Nop says:

    IBM/Lenovo Model M, & fuck the haters or work from home. A USB version would be nice, but even my shiny new PC still has a PS/2 port, so I’m happy.

  17. GDR! says:

    I’m surprised nobody cares about large (two-row) Enter button any more. They were so popular some 15 years ago and it’s still one of the main criteria for me.

  18. Tim says:

    For laptop users:
    +10 points: spacebar operates reliably along its full length — so often not the case especially with cheap laptop keyboards
    +20 points: keyboard can be removed for re-education after it drank too much coffee
    +10 points: matt keytops for use in a darkened room so glare doesn’t make key labels illegible. I know, “learn to touch-type, fool”. Hey, stop judging me, I use a lotta keyboards, you never know where that tilde’s gonna show up next. Ah screw this I’m gonna start my own blog, with blackjack and hookers…

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