October 22, 2010
As a guy who spends most of his day typing words on a screen, it's hard for me to take touch computing seriously. I love my iPhone 4, and smartphones are the ultimate utility belt item, but attempting to compose any kind of text on the thing is absolutely crippling. It is a reasonable compromise for a device that fits in your pocket … but that's all.
The minute I switch back to my regular keyboard, I go from being Usain Bolt to the Flash.
Touchscreens are great for passively browsing, as Scott Adams noted:
Another interesting phenomenon of the iPhone and iPad era is that we are being transformed from producers of content into consumers. With my BlackBerry, I probably created as much data as I consumed. It was easy to thumb-type long explanations, directions, and even jokes and observations. With my iPhone, I try to avoid creating any message that are over one sentence long. But I use the iPhone browser to consume information a hundred times more than I did with the BlackBerry. I wonder if this will change people over time, in some subtle way that isn't predictable. What happens when people become trained to think of information and entertainment as something they receive and not something they create?
Because we run an entire network of websites devoted to learning by typing words on a page, it's difficult for me to get past this.
But I'm not here to decry the evils of touchscreen typing. It has its place in the pantheon of computing. I'm here to sing the praises of the humble keyboard. The device that, when combined with the internet, turns every human being into a highly efficient global printing press.
My love affair with the keyboard goes way back:
Maybe I'm biased. As I recently remarked on programmers.stackexchange.com, I can't take slow typists seriously as programmers. When was the last time you saw a hunt-and-peck pianist?
I've been monogamous with the Microsoft Natural Keyboard 4000 for a long time. But in this supposedly happy marriage, I was accidentally neglecting one of the most crucial aspects of the keyboard experience.
The vast majority of keyboards included with white box systems or sold at office supply stores are rubber dome or membrane keyboards.
They are inexpensive, mass produced, relatively low quality devices that are inconsistent and degrade the user experience. Most users don't know this, or simply don't care. The appeal of cheap rubber dome or membrane keyboards is that they're usually available in a variety of styles, are included "free" with a new system, and they may sport additional features like media controls or wireless connectivity. But these cheap keyboards typically don't provide users with any tactile feedback, the keys feel mushy and may not all actuate at the same point, and the entire keyboard assemblies themselves tend to flex and move around when typed on. Not fun.
All this time, I've been typing on keyboards with least-common-denominator rubber dome innards. I was peripherally aware of higher quality mechanical keyboards, but I never appreciated them until I located this absolutely epic mechanical keyboard guide thread. It's also the source of an entire forum of people at geekhack.org who are mechanical keyboard enthusiasts. These kinds of communities and obsessions, writ so large and with such obvious passion, fascinate me. They are the inspiration for what we are trying to do with Stack Overflow and the Stack Exchange network.
If you don't have time to read that epic guide (but you should!), allow me to summarize:
- Almost all computer and laptop keyboards today use cheap, low quality switches -- rubber dome, membrane, scissor, or foam element.
- Mechanical switches are considered superior in every way by keyboard enthusiasts.
- Because the general public largely doesn't care about keyboard feel or durability, and because mechanical switches are more expensive, mechanical switch keyboards are quite rare these days.
Mechanical switches look, well, mechanical. They're spiritually the same as those old-school arcade buttons we used to mash on in the 1980s. You push down on the key, and the switch physically actuates.
Yes, we are rapidly approaching the threshold of esoterica here. Mechanical keyboards were already becoming rare even before the internet, so I'd wager many people now reading this can't possibly know the difference between a typical cheap membrane keyboard and a fancy mechanical model because they've never had the opportunity to try one!
We should rectify that.
If you want to dip your fingers into the world of mechanical switch keyboards, start by asking yourself a few questions:
- Are you willing to spend $70 to $300 for a keyboard?
- How noisy do you want your typing to be?
- Do you want a tactile "snap" when the key is depressed?
- How much force do you type with -- do you have a light or heavy touch?
- How much key travel do you want?
Next, there are further subtleties to consider, like how the keys are printed
- Pad Printed -- the standard cheap stuff. Little more than stickers. Keycaps will wear off fast.
- Laser Etched -- permanent, but leaves tiny surface scars on the keys due to the characters being literally burned into the keys. May also be a tiny bit blurry.
- Dye Sublimated -- dye set into plastic; expensive but nearly optimal.
- Injection Molded -- two keys in different colors are physically bonded together. Very expensive but considered as close to perfect as you can get. Notably, NeXT keyboards used this method.
And what about the shape of the keycaps? Cylindrical? Spherical? Flat? And if you're an avid keyboard gamer, you might want to consider n-key rollover, too. I warned you this rabbit hole was deep.
Let's start looking at a few likely candidates. The one you may already know is Das Keyboard.
Das is a good, reliable brand of mechanical keyboards. They have two primary models. Each is available in the "blank keycaps" versions if you are the sort of ninja typist who doesn't need to look at the keyboard -- you type by chanelling the Force.
The "silent" mechanical switch distinction is an important one: mechanical switches can be loud. How loud? The DAS website actually sells honest-to-god earplugs as a keyboard accessory. I'm sure it's slightly tongue in cheek. Maybe. But consider yourself warned, and choose the silent model if you aren't a fan of the clickety-clack typing.
If you want the most old-school IBM-esque experience possible, and a true classic buckling spring keyboard, then Unicomp is your huckleberry. The common models are the Customizer 104/105 and SpaceSaver 104/105.
Next up is Elite Keyboards, but I can only recommend the (slightly expensive) Topre Realforce model due to the cheap pad keycap printing used on their other models.
Finally, Deck Keyboards -- I remember writing about these guys years ago. They have a full sized keyboard now with a lot of attention to detail: The Deck Legend.
It is also the only keyboard in its class that is backlit, if that's your bag.
Of course, none of these premium fancypants mechanical switch keyboards are really necessary. The most important aspect of writing isn't the keyboard you use, but the simple act of getting out there and writing as much as you can. But if, like me, you accidentally fall in love with the keyboard and everything it represents -- then I think you owe it to yourself to find out what a great keyboard is supposed to feel like.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
If you like your function keys on the left, the way God intended them to be, you want the Avant Stellar. I have two; they are both over ten years old and going strong.
Bah. Not a single ergonomic keyboard in the bunch.
If you gave me one of those, it'd be in the trash can five minutes after you left my house.
You'll take my ergonomic keyboard away from me when you pry it from my cold dead hands.
I've gotten hooked on the TypeMatrix keyboard. The layout is slightly different, with the enter backspace, and delete keys in the middle of the keyboard. It takes about a week to get used to, but the payoff is worth it. My wrists feel great and my typing speed is up.
love this post. would also be interested to hear your thoughts on the humble mouse? am finding the lack of precision available on touch devices to be equally crippling to productivity and creativity.
Agree with poster #2 about natural/ergonomic keyboards. I would absolutely use one over _any_ straight-line keyboards. I have a Microsoft Natural 4000, and love it love it love it.
The no-keycaps Das Keyboard is actually really useful for visual people who dislike qwerty. My wife, for example, types in Dvorak (as I do), but seeing keys with qwerty keycaps seriously confuses her, so on her laptop, she actually pulled out the keys and swapped them around to be Dvorak layout. With a no-keycaps keyboard, you won't even have to bother. (She can touch-type well enough, so, not having the keycaps is no impediment.)
I on the other hand, aren't quite so visual, so I can easily disregard the keycaps. In that regard, I have more options as far as which keyboards to pick. :-)
I'm going to second Kent on the Avant Stellar, I have one and it's quite impressive. I'm surprised it wasn't in the epic thread there, considering it's a pretty popular mechanical keyboard.
However, I type 120 WPM, and I have typed on both a Das and an Avant Stellar, and I currently prefer the Das. There are some things that are better about the Avant Stellar, though--injection-molded keys, for one.
That's honestly the main thing keeping me from going straight mechanical... the lack of an ergonomic mechanical keyboard.
If the MS Nat 4000 came out with buckling spring keys, I'd shell out $300+ for it, easy.
Until then, I'll just have to wait and drool over the Razer Black Widow Ultimate
I have a Topre Realforce at work and a Das Model S (cherry brown) at home. Initially, I wasn't really feeling the Realforce and absolutely loved the Das Model S. Every single key I type on the Realforce is shifting this balance, though. It's just so... different. Individual keystrokes combine into a rolling wave of tactile beauty. I don't know how else to explain it.
It's a shame Topre doesn't market their products better.
I love my tulip keyboard. It is over 20 years old now. Similar to the old ibm keyboards but not quite as loud. Gets used all day everyday, and still works just the same as it did when it was new. Doesn't look so new!
Razer blackwidow gaming keyboards are mechanical. Haven't used one myself but I gave it a whirl at best buy and it had a good feel.
You guys who want ergonomic, check out the Kinesis line:
I've been using an Advantage for 5 years now, and I won't touch another keyboard (I own two -- at $300, it's inexpensive for a real professional's tool).
Besides the beautiful mechanics, the layout is ingenious. Also hardware re-programmable (remap + macro).
I must be a crappy programmer because I don't quite type fast. Since when has any programming language follow a qwerty flow? What's the longest keyword? I hate the clicky sounds of keyboards. I would love a silent keyboard. Also touch screen keyboards can be good, but you will never know if you stick with Apple since they don't let you choose your keyboard.
I has a Unicomp bucking spring keyboard that I bought in 2003 or 4. Its loud, made in the USA, and weights around 5 pounds. I love it.
I use a Matias Tactilepro V3 on my Mac at home (and have a spare just in case they stop manufacturing it, as they did with the V1):
I rotated my old V1 Tactilepro to my office. Some keycaps are fading on the V1, but the V2 is laser-engraved.
For Mac users, it's pretty much the only game in town.
I'm typing this on a real IBM classic - they puzzled at work when I brought in my unicomp "you're the only person who has ever brought in his own keyboard" I just smile - I have a stash of Unicomp/IBMs, with both PS2 and USB interfaces - sigh
I actually have a 1993 IBM Model M stashed under my desk now. I don't use it because it's way too loud. I get complaints about the sound of my typing even with a membrane keyboard because I mash the keys pretty hard when I touch type, and I touch type pretty quick. I'd feel as if the neighbors could hear me. Maybe I should check into the Das Keyboard Pro Silent model.
I did use the Model M at my last job where I had my own private office. Since I kept my door open and the programmer pit wasn't that far from me, they still commented on the sound. Handily, the Model M has a steel backplate that also doubles as a bullet shield and offensive weapon should the need arise.
I am actually sitting in front of an 1987 IBM keyboard here. No stupid Windoze keys for me.
Also got a 1986 Cherry here. Took it apart a few weeks ago because I spilled tea over it, and didn't yet find the time to put it back together to look if it's still working.
One of the side benefits of working for IBM is that you can find as many IBM Model M keyboards as you want if you know the right places to look. I have about 10 of them (spares for the future) stashed under my desk at work. They work fine with PS2->USB converters. I even found one that has a trackpoint built into it!
On the ergonomic question ... I used to get carpal tunnel problems from typing. Then I discovered the real problem was the cheap rubber dome keyboards. I have not used anything but my trusty Model M's for the last 5 years and have had no problems. I chalk it up to the tactile feedback of the buckling spring keyswitch allowing me to type with less impact. On a dome keyboard you have to press the key all the way down to guarantee the keystroke registers, so you hit bottom. With the buckling spring keyswitch you know it will register as soon as the key is down far enought to get through that initial resistance.
There are ergonomic mechanical keyboards. I have one in the closet right behind me (along with over a dozen other mechanical keyboards). Now, the "high class" ergonomic keyboards can be expensive (IBM M15 goes for >$800, Cherry MX5000 goes for >$200, Kinesis >$150, Maltron >$400), but you can find the Chicony KB-7000 and rebranded versions of it for very cheap; mine was only $56, and has clicky white Alps switches.
But I dare you ergonomic fans to try a high-end Cherry-switch keyboard (doesn't mean manufactured by Cherry; just using their switches), even if it isn't ergonomic. I guarantee you'll love it.
Hmm, looking up the Model M on Wikipedia, the one I have here /is/ actually a Model M, only with a German layout (1391403 instead of 1391401) :)
WTB a mechanical MS Natural Keyboard 4000. That form factor & precise layout > mechanical keys, especially since the 4000 is still high quality for a rubber-dome keyboard. My last one lasted 3 or 4 years before a single key stopped working.
Typing on touch screen tablets; or, at least typing on the iPad; isn't all that bad. My buddy and I wrote a typing trainer app for the iPad (www.flairify.com). We encourage people to use a full, two handed, no-looking typing style (the term "touch typing" doesn't quit fit for virtual keyboards). We have a leader board: the fastest virtual keyboard typists are well over 100 words per minute. Tons of people are above 50 wpm.
Me personally? I type around 90 wpm on my DAS Keyboard Ultimate S and 60 wpm on my iPad. This gives me enough confidence to grab my iPad as my only device for flights with wifi or coffee shop runs.
I think virtual keyboard typing is something that people will eventually discover IS possible and IS worthwhile. They just need to give it a chance.
"I can't take slow typists seriously as programmers."
That seems rather silly. The speed of typing has nothing to do with programming.
I've seen good programmers that use the two finger method of typing. Just because it takes them a bit longer to put down (even so, barely, apparently if you do it a lot, you become fast regardless), it doesn't affect the quality of their code.
I consider myself quite fast, but I'm not super fast. I don't do a full ten finger type, I'm slower like that... and I prefer to look at the keyboard. Yet I was best in my class, which isn't saying that much since most of the competition was pretty weak.
Personally, I'm in love with my Logitech Illuminated keyboard:
It has laptop style scissor switches under the keys which makes it a nice light touch to type on. However, unlike a laptop it has slightly longer travel, so it's not too hard on your fingers and feels good to type on.
It also glows ;)
I type molasses slow and consider myself a competent programmer. In fact I consider my slow typing an asset as it allows me to actually think about the code while I write it, maning less time on the delete key overall.
So right. Passive computing is so...degenerate. Why do I long for the days of WordStar. When computing grows up, it will be greatly segmented. It will be modular. It will include complex apps that use only the keyboard and that enable great power and creativity. I'm standing here on the corner with my cardboard sign: "Won't someone please code a real word processor?"
P.S. Best keyboard I've owned was a $15 scissor-switch cheapy from NewEgg. It went bad after two years of heavy use, and the company no longer exists. It was glorious - very low keystroke, total laptop feel, and completely silent. I could listen on the phone and take notes at high speed, and the caller would never know - it was that quiet. (Sigh)
Guess what? You can still get a keyboard with function keys on the left. Remember those "WordPerfect" keyboards. Guess who scrapped that idea? Hint - first name starts with "B," last name is Gates.
I’ve been using a Das keyboard for about a year, and just put the family desktop on a Unicomp Spacesaver a couple of months ago—they love it, klacky sound and all. Most may consider the typing sound as noise, but it's a lovely, crispy sound I could fall asleep to.
I just wanted to mention that a quick Google Product search (http://www.google.com/products?q=mechanical+keyboard) reveals mechanical keyboards that can be had for as low as $44. After factoring shipping and other costs I think that would still work out to slightly above $50 for many people, which is significantly lower than the $70-$300 you mentioned.
Disclaimer of sorts: I have not used any of these budget keyboards so I have no idea what kind of switches are used in them (product pages seem equally scant on useful details), but I guess they would at least serve as an introduction to mechanical keyboards.
Whether touchscreen typing is the wave of the future or not, I'm sticking to my mechanical keyboard guns. Perhaps something might change when we finally get haptic touchscreens.
All those old school keyboards have too much key travel, as nice as the clackity clack feedback is.
The current Apple keyboards have ruined me for everything else. Extremely low travel for the win.
Why is everybody so happy with the 'default' keyboard layout? With a 'normal' keyboard, the first thing I do is pop out the Caps Lock and the Insert (near the Backspace) keys, because although those keys enable a different mode (something you don't want to do by accident), they're right beside other keys. When I want one capitalized letter and aim for Shift and miss, I don't want every letter from then on to be capitalized. If I made a typo and roughly hit for Backspace and miss, I don't want to be in overwrite-mode (without any visual feedback beside status bars in some apps).
Why don't Num Lock, Caps Lock, Scroll Lock and Insert get their own island on the keyboard? And why isn't there a LED for Insert mode?
Cherry also do a mechanical keyboard, which is really good to use. albeit a bit noisy!
I used to have one, but I need a split layout or else I pay with pain! Now use the MS Natural, which is okay, but I find the key action not very nice to use.
The Lenovo USB keyboard is my favorite http://bit.ly/arnJdN .
Basicaly it's a 14" thinkpad without computer and screen in it. It feels great (as thinkpad keyboards always do!), and by using the track point (which rocks anyways) you never have to take your hands of the keyboard.
@Pixelbart: Although I won't miss Caps Lock (I never use it), I use Insert a lot and would miss it terribly. Not because I ever use overstrike mode (I don't), but because I use it for copying (Ctrl-Ins) and pasting (Shift-Ins). To me, any keyboard that lacks an Insert key in a readily-accessible location is broken.
(And no, I never use ^X, ^C, or ^V for cutting and pasting. On Dvorak, those keys are in somewhat awkward (and definitely non-adjacent) locations.)
I've been aware of those keyboards in some (only some) detail for years, and regarded them as very interesting and promising... but I've been attached to my MS Ergo 4000 the same way you have. Ever since the original MS Ergo came out I haven't used anything but one of those on my desktop computers.
Typing on a straight keyboard gives me tendonitis after a single day of heavy use. I just don't have the option of using a Das Keyboard, no matter how much I would enjoy their investment in Cherry switches and the cool factor of blank keycaps.
I always get a little sad when I read something like this. You're tempting me with these nice things, but... until somebody puts them in a curved body, I just can't use them. Any post comparing an Ergo 4000 to a straight keyboard is talking apples and oranges to me!
Right, it will always be Thinkpad keyboards for me - because I love the TrackPoint (some call it the nipplemouse or erasermouse), and because Thinkpad keyboards have the feel I like. And finally because I want the same typing experience on my laptop as on my main computer.
So my laptop is my main computer, and I use its keyboard always. Docked at my desk, the laptop screen sits below my main screen. Whatever app I am focusing on is at eye level on the main screen, and the laptop screen is the place for windows that I need but are not in my primary focus, such as email, web, docs, etc.
It is facinationg how people get stuck into one idea and can't get out of it.
Why would anyone want to type code on a touchscreen the same way he used to do on a keyboard?
I am actually thinking to make an ide for the ipad that eliminates typing of letters and words one by one. Getting your code into the machine should have much more freedom, than stooping in front of a keyboard and typing each word and symbol after another. It would definately be more healthy... There must be some next level ui to autocomplete/typing in the world of multitouch.
If you're going to opine on the creeping demise of keyboarding, then surely you must also mourn at the cold-hearted death of handwriting. And in truth, I do. It saddens me greatly that some schools feel the need for Powerpoint to be part of the curriculum even at the Kindergarten level (I kid you not) yet nearly none make even a cursory pass (pun intended) at teaching cursive writing to children.
There's a cognitive connect with the experience of writing notes by hand that is missing entirely from keyboarding. But even beyond that, the ability to write without the aid of a machine is a fundamental human capability, right up there with conscious thought, not a quaint nostalgic "technology."
But back on point, I cut my teeth keyboarding on an IBM green-screen dumb terminal (attached to a S/36) so I vividly recall the mechanical clacket-clack of the IBM keyboards. Even the nicely tactile IBM PS/2 keyboards paled in comparison to the feel of those IBM "big iron" keyboards.
I had hoped that Apple could save handwriting but unless handwriting recognition is forthcoming with the 2nd gen iPad, that seems to have been in vain. Pity.
You won't have to type so much if you are a visual dataflow programmer. Oh, but there aren't any serious visual dataflow programming languages out there... and nobody seems to care. Well, I do care, and so would you, if you think seriously (without feeling threatened or something) about end-user programming. Which is what could make using the touchscreen a mostly active experience. Which would basically, um, change the world.
Just looking at those giant punchy keys makes me cringe. Once you get used to Apple's low profile keyboards the amount of extra work you have to do punching those giant keys on a PC defeats any gain over mechanical or rubber... I also thought Apple's keyboards were magnetic - with the keys floating due to the paired polarity - but I couldn't find any link to back that up. Either way... they just seem to have that perfect amount of crispness.
I like the tips on quality keyboards, but have to disagree on the comparison of hunt-and-peck to virtuosity. Speed is not a measure of ability in this regard. If we were talking about 70's era typists whose skill was measured in words per minute, okay.
Maybe I can't jam out the code like you can, but I know at least as good a programmer as you. Code is more like art in that regard. When was the last time someone said the fastest artist was the best artist? Michelangelo took 4 years to paint one ceiling. Bob Ross could've knocked it out in a day.
I can't fault the Microsoft Ergo 4000, I'll be gutted when they stop making them. I do, however, love the idea of the Das Keyboard but refuse to buy something that isn't ergonomic. This keyboard is the only thing stopping me from getting RSI (I spend a good 9 hours a day on a computer).
Are there any other manufacturers who make good ergonomic keyboards which are affordable?
If you ever get a chance to type on an old Selectric typewriter, try it.
It's the best keyboard ever built, and the one IBM was trying to emulate with their buckling-spring keyswitch.
I use a Unicomp Model M, but I actually prefer the Cherry keyswitches-- they're just really hard to find if you don't know where to look (and some Cherry-branded keyboards use other kinds of switches).
I heard a while back that Unicomp was having financial problems, because their product lasts forever, and the market for premium keyboards is small. I hope they're still doing OK.
Does anyone make a laptop with good long-stroke mechanical keyswitches?
I know they want to minimize the thickness, but I can't stand typing on modern laptops-- I always end up taking a separate keyboard with me (usually one without a number pad).
Another happy user of the Avant Stellar keyboards, although I wish they would update them to USB so the programming software can be used.
However, this is actually being typed on a Northgate Omnikey Ultra--the keyboard on which the Avant Stellar is based. I have long since lost track of how old this thing is and it's my last one that works well but since it still works I haven't had any reason to replace it.
Cool. This article is going to make me spend money today :).
If you want one of these l33t keyboards, but don't want to lose the functionality that the Media Keys on your current keyboard provide, check out http://www.autohotkey.com/.
AutoHotKey will let you program your own keyboard shortcuts to do almost anything, so you won't need your Media Keys.
I've seen commentators say they won't consider a mechanical keyboard until someone makes an ergonomic version.
Personally, I'd go back to mechanical keyboards in a heartbeat, if someone made a wireless version (RF, please, not IR).
Maybe instead of an iPhone or an iPad, you should consider using mobile devices with keyboards? Besides, then you aren't as limited to what you can do with your device as one man will allow.
I second the Kinesis Advantage mentioned above, I have one now, had one years ago, and loved both.
A note on Dvorak, I put a key chart up on the wall, and taught my self to use Dvorak when I wasn't looking at the keyboard, and to use qwerty when looking at the keyboard, this kept me from being crippled on a computer that did not have a remapped keyboard. I don't think you are much faster on a Dvorak, but I think you get fewer errors, and it's easier on your hands. It needs to be updated though, it is for typing, not computers.
Low-profile, keyboards, like the one on my Thinkpad, are great because of short key travel. However, Aeron, flat keys such as the ones on the Apple keyboards, suck. There's no feedback as to where you are on a key.
/This post was touch-typed on the PS2 IBM KB-9930 from 2000, the best keyboard I have ever used as evidenced by the fact that I STILL use it, and a decade later, it works just as fine and the labels have not rubbed off even a bit, even though some of the keys have been mirror-polished by my fingertips. http://www.google.com/images?q=kb+9930 I have a white one.
They don't make 'em like they used to.
I loved the Logitech Ultra X Premium flat keyboard. Perfectly washable in a dishwasher, sturdy and heavy enough to not wobble.
Now I'm enjoying the Macbook keyboard quite a lot as well. It took me a while to learn the function key combos that replace keys such as Home/End/PgUp/PgDown but after a while I find myself using those even on a full keyboard. And having the trackpad built in right under it is also very nice.
Oh, and I guess it would probably qualify as a shameless plug to mention my touch typing practice game Type Raiders, right? Check out www.typeraiders.com
I know it was Adams' line, not yours, but ...
What happens when people become trained to think of information and entertainment as something they receive and not something they create?
When people become
trained to think that? Hate to break it to you, but the vast majority of people has always
thought that. Most people will never post regularly to a blog. Most people will never post anything to YouTube. Most people will not have more followers than followed.
Hell, that last one is simple math. The reason phones don't fit this mold is that use doesn't fall into an "entertainment producer" model, but a communication model. So the upper limit on producers of content on YouTube and other publicly available sources will be communication intended for a limited audience, that just happens to be available to the rest of us, if we care to look.
Don't overlook Keytronic. I have two $19 Keytronic classic 101s (http://www.keytronic.com/home/index.html) that work great. Also note that mechanical keyswitches, while they feel great, can lead to RSI. A softer touch is safer. Whatever you do, keep a few mouse pads under your keyboard to help absorb shock and ward off RSI.
There's a huge gearhead vibe going on in these comments: "I've got a 52 small-block v8 with titanium springs and vanilla flavored valve covers!"
You have an old keyboard. Congrats.
Also I think the article totally missed the ergo aspect. Many many developers care about ergonomics -- would you trust a tennis player who didn't care whether his racket strained his ... uhhh ... whatever muscle that's called.
Partly I'm amazed at the issue of how people are so defensive - "I can't type quickly and I'm such a good programmer". Fine, if you're genuinely so good be a good programmer and show everyone how wrong they are. Anyone can say they're good at stuff - I'm a brilliant intergalactic space pilot.
I think there's a issue of being taken seriously and being technically accomplished being slightly different things. You can be an amazing programmer - maybe you can even solve NP problems in polynomial time - but if you can't quickly find the e key on a keyboard I'm going to feel nervous about trusting you with work. To my eye the very least difficult problem you'll have today is finding the keys on your keyboard. It's also a question of "how much experience can he have and yet not know where that key is?" It looks very bad to outsiders who don't think you're an amazing coder because they don't know everything about you like you do (or maybe you're just not quite as good as you think and say you are).
I completely agree that people who hunt and peck cannot be taken seriously as programmers. That doesn't mean they can't be good but exactly how much of a leap of faith do you want to take with your [insert substantial, expensive, mission-critical project here] ?
Thanks Ronny, that's exactly the keyboard I want! I love typing on my Thinkpad and using the trackpoint (over 100wpm since Grade 8 when they taught us at school 30 years ago), and getting what I'm thinking straight onto the page. Although I do wish I was a little more accurate. As long as the keyboard isn't the worst around, I'm happy.
I've got a Filco Majestouch. It thought it was hideously expensive before I got it, but after using it for several months, I vastly prefer it to any other keyboard I've used. Also, if somebody with a knife tries to sneak up behind me, it's sturdy and heavy enough to use as a weapon :)
Mladen Mijatov on October 23, 2010 8:07 AM said:
"To be honest I find it strange not a single one was mentioned in that document."
That'd be because the document is clearly titled "Mechanical Keyboard Guide". Logitech keyboards are not mechanical, despite being similarly priced. You're probably not quite getting what you pay for :)
Jcollum on October 23, 2010 2:35 PM said:
"Also I think the article totally missed the ergo aspect. Many many developers care about ergonomics -- would you trust a tennis player who didn't care whether his racket strained his ... uhhh ... whatever muscle that's called."
Many many other developers realize that the word "ergonomic" could be replaced by "body-fitting". A wide split keyboard is not required to be ergonomic, if your body is not wide. The point of the split keyboard is so you're not pulling your arms inward. If your shoulders aren't wide, then you're probably not pulling your arms in on a standard keyboard. Would you trust a programmer who always used some
keyboard library only because the name was a buzz-word instead of some other more efficient keyboard library?
Casey McLaughlin on October 23, 2010 8:44 AM said:
"If you want one of these l33t keyboards, but don't want to lose the functionality that the Media Keys on your current keyboard provide, check out http://www.autohotkey.com/.
AutoHotKey will let you program your own keyboard shortcuts to do almost anything, so you won't need your Media Keys."
Personally, I prefer 3RVX :)
@Ronald: Ooh, what changes to Dvorak have you in mind? I'd love to see changes would make it a better keyboard for a broad range of users, and not just programmers, for example. :-)
To me, seeing Dvorak succeed is very important. I liken it to Firefox vs Internet Explorer---the success of Firefox in chipping away at Internet Explorer's market dominance in recent years was very heartening, and anything we can do to help Dvorak do the same against qwerty is well worth it.
Or maybe, you're an of old fogy who simply is too set in his outdated ways in order to change. (When I was your age, computers didn't have memory. You had to etch your programs using clay tablets and a stylus, and we liked it!).
I, another ancient fogy, cannot type very fast on an iPhone or iPad, but my three sons certainly can. On an iPad, they can easily maintain 40 words per minute, and watching them text on an iPhone simply makes me dizzy.
They don't like Android because the virtual keyboard isn't as good. I know this to be true because when I watch them text on an Android phone, I can actually see their fingers as they type instead of a mass motion blur. They haven't tried W7P yet.
I didn't start using computers until I was in my 20s. All of my sons used computers before they could read, and have been touch typing since they were seven. To them, a virtual keyboard is just another keyboard. Then again, I knew several of my father's friends who didn't like electric typewriters because they didn't have that solid feel an Underwood typewriter had.
As one of my sons loves telling me "Get out of the way Grandpa. You're being replaced."
I remember my grandparent's IBM clickey clacker. Worked darn well but damn was it ugly.
I don't know if I'll spend the same amount on a keyboard than my new video card... but maybe sometime. I like my Logitech G15; it's still pretty loud for a "modern" keyboard but I love the backlight and LCD screen.
Put me down as another Apple keyboard user who has been ruined for any other keyboard. I have the same reasons that have been mentioned: short key travel, perfect crispness.
But there’s another factor too, which came as a complete surprise to me.
I bought the numpad-less USB (cable-bound) version. It may be the smallest keyboard with full-size keys in existence. It is astonishingly tiny. And I discovered that with a keyboard this tiny, the mouse can stay so close to your mouse wrist, it negates most of the costs of reaching for it. You twitch your arm over to the mouse, flick it two or three places, and go back to furious typing, with barely a moment of lost time.
So I am now additionally ruined for any keyboard larger than this one.
Those keyboards in the photos? They aren’t keyboards. They are battleships.
I would like to try some of these, especially the blank Das Keyboard, but I really need a keyboard with Swedish layout (yes I know that the swedish characters aren't needed for programming, but the Swedish layout is the one I am fast at typing on).
I can't seem find any of the models with Swedish layout. Are there any that does and also supports mechanical switch?
I live in the UK and every keyboard I've ever had has been a mechanical one, even on this cheap laptop.
Does anyone else in the UK have this problem?
I have been using original Apple Extended keyboards for 3 or 4 years. These are Apple's original Alps switch keyboards and as much a cult favorite among Mac users as Model Ms are elsewhere. Some people prefer the Extended II, which also uses Alps switches but is slightly quieter but I find slightly more... mushy.
I paid $2 for each of my Apple Extended keyboards ($1 for each keyboard, $1 for each ADB cable) and $40 more each for ADB-USB adapters, so this is a pretty inexpensive solution too. Any electronics recycling place should have piles of these things lying around (as well as a variety of other mechanical keyboards from ancient times, all similarly priced).
There are a couple of downsides:
- Some systems don't recognize the device, through the ADB-USB adapter, as a proper USB keyboard device early enough during boot to allow doing anything before the OS is booted (this was a problem I experienced on earlier Intel Macs, but isn't a problem on either of my most recent machines);
- It's downright enormous, and heavy enough to be used as a weapon, so it's not very portable;
- It's pretty ugly, unless you like 80s beige plastic, and grime shows up on them just like it did on anything from that era;
- No nice new features like USB hubs, if you care about using your keyboard that way.
Overall though, these things are tanks and they'll probably survive the zombie apocalypse, and I miss it every time I type on another keyboard, especially a laptop.
Oh, one downside I forgot to mention (which can also be an upside): on the Apple Extended, the Caps Lock key actually mechanically *locks*. This makes reassigning the Caps Lock key pretty useless, but if you use Caps Lock for its stated purpose at all, it is nice to be able to physically check if Caps Lock is engaged without looking at the keyboard.
> On an iPad, they can easily maintain 40 words per minute, and watching them text on an iPhone simply makes me dizzy.
I can type 150wpm+ on a keyboard, so even a 'breezy' 40wpm is less than one third of my normal typing speed.
Hooray, Jeff has finally seen the light!
I'm an incredible keyboard nazi, myself. I too started off with boring rubber-dome keyboards, eventually moving to the Gateway Anykey (which was basically the ultimate rubber keyboard, being fully programmable and very versatile... but still mushy and physically not very durable). Eventually I moved to an ancient Suntouch mechanical-switch board that was lying forgotten in a closet, which was quite satisfying, but it had a nasty tendency to launch the keycaps back into my face while I was typing. And no macros.
I'm fourthing the CVT Avant Stellar. Not only is it mechanical, but it also has remapping and macro functions built into the board. It also has a second set of function keys for your enjoyment. Extremely expensive... although IMHO, having a keyboard constructed mostly of steel is worth it.
I can type faster on a laptop keyboard, but I make fewer typos on a good old battleship keyboard.
"It's also the source of an entire forum of people at geekhack.org who are mechanical keyboard enthusiasts. "
Other way around - Geekhack was the main source for that guide.
I understand the appeal of buckling springs, but I'm with Kevdog on this one: TypeMatrix make the best ergonomic keyboards. Any keyboard that has staggered keys can not be called ergonomic; they are simply terrible for your fingers. The latest TypeMatrix keyboard is their third iteration, and it really is a very well thought out layout, almost perfect in my opinion.
After 20 years of Qwerty touch-typing, I switched to Dvorak and my speed is up 40%. But it's not so much about speed as efficiency, and Qwerty is horribly inefficient. I take a TypeMatrix keyboard with me if I anticipate having to type away from the office or home. They easily fit in a small bag.
I used to be a Model M user, I still have a Model M from 1984 that I used to use all the time. I also loved my SGI "graphite" keyboard but after I got a wireless Apple keyboard, the current alu model, I've been hooked. It's basically like a very good laptop keyboard, short key travel and a very good feel...
An ergonomic layout is more important to me than a mechanical feedback. The MS Natural 4000 keyboard may not be mechanical, but I can feel very well, when I pressed the key deep enough and I don't need to feel when I released the key far enough, because I simply release the key all the way. What annoys me most about all your candidates is the space key. Look at the space key, it's "edged". That means my thumbs rest on an edge and when I press it, the edge pushes itself into my flesh and that will hurt if you type on the keyboard 6-8 hours a day. A space bar must be rounded to be comfortable, everything else might have been good in the 80's, but it's not good enough for this century any longer. Look at this old Apple keyboard:
I loved it, because the space bar was really good (and also the ALT/CMD/CTRL keys). Then Apple replaced it by this keyboard:
I hated this one, because all the keys in the lowest row were so edged, that it was really unpleasant to use it. A keyboard doesn't have to be split, to be ergonomic, but it must have a rounded/flat spacebar, it needs keys that you can push down with little force and that are softly decelerated. I once had a keyboard where the key was stopped abruptly. I used to type on this for two weeks... then I had a sinew inflammation and couldn't touch a keyboard for 6 weeks! That's because all the "motion energy" is pushed back into your finger, if the key is stopped abruptly. It's the same difference as stopping a car by hitting its breaks (decelerating it) and stopping a car by driving it against a concrete pillar (stopping it abruptly).
I expected the usual ergonomic complainers, but sometimes the switch makes all the difference in ergonomics. You have to use one before you know what a difference it makes.
I hate typing on laptops anymore just because of the difference of mechanical switches versus the scissor-switch rubber domes used on laptops.
I find ShapeWriter soft keyboard has no problem understaing the smudging motion of my drunken left thumb - it took a while to get used to but it's very effective. Perhaps not quite as fast as a real keyboard, but not far off.
I personally love my Logitech MX 5500 Revolution set; I consider it the both the best keyboard and mouse I've ever had.
The keyboard isn't made of mechanical switches, of course, and though I've yet to try a Cherry-switch board, so far my experiences with mechanical keyed boards haven't impressed me.
The logitech has a good key feel, acceptable volume, and I've come to totally dig the Home/End, PgUp/PgDwn, Delete layout. As a programmer, I feel like the MX 5500 put those buttons in the exact right locations.
The real bonus with the set is the Revolution mouse. It fits in my hand and makes me feel like a surgeon holding a scalpel. The hyperscroll is amazing for scrolling through long code files and/or web pages, and this is the only mouse with electronically controlled hyperscroll, giving me one more useable button and better options for switching in and out of hyperscroll mode.
As for the touchscreens, I find as a reasonable typist I can get some speed with Swype. Guess you iFans don't have that tho, right?
Get a grey logo Model M. You won't be disappointed. Mine was built in 1990 and I got it in 1994 and I haven't regretted it as a purchase ever. My dad used to comment on the fact that it sounded like I was using a machine gun in my bedroom, but I didn't care as I could get up to 115 WPM when I was angry (I don't think fast enough to type that quickly otherwise). Until I started working for a big company and got tossed in a cubicle, I typed a lot and never hurt. I suspect that most of the pain I've got now, isn't just from not using an ergo keyboard, but using a keyboard that you have to work so hard to use as I don't type nearly as fast or as much as I used to.
My dad has a first run Model M (1988?), as he ordered his PS/2 Model 30 the day the shop let him. I'll admit that I kinda learned to touch type on a TRS-80 Model 3, really learned on an IBM Selectric III and did most of my programming on the school's PS/2 Model 25s. Thus, I might be a little bit biased.
That's 5 minutes I'll never get back
Thanks for the mention of n-key rollover. I wish I had known that term before now. I have an HP laptop that suffers from key ghosting when using the "Control+Shift+Tab" key combo, repeating the Tab key multiple times. Never could quite get their tech support to understand the problem and how annoying it is for tabbed web-browsing/other GUIs.
I love Scott Adams Blog. It's often under rated - but I believe he is one of the more open minded thinkers out there.
I really wish one of these came with dedicated media keys, I don't care if they are rubber dome to save cost. Nothing out there is really perfect.
My Perfect keyboard:
* Cherry MX Blue switches
* n-key Rollover
* No number keypad (87 key layout)
* 2 x USB ports
* dedicated media buttons, at least for volume
* Very minimal housing
As a fellow natural keyboard lover, I lament that none of these nice keyboard have the same shape that I've come to love. It looks like there are some nice split keyboards which I might try, but none like the (near perfect) MS Natural shape.
I only skimmed the comments, so apologies if someone already mentioned it... Unicomp will throw in a set of Mac keycaps if you ask for them (I think it was $10 extra). Now I get to work on my Mac with the old-school clacky keyboard, and the keycaps are correct.
I'm a die-hard Model-M fan, and I found the Unicomp was about 95% correct. The plastic is slightly different, feels a little lighter. The quality of the molding is slightly off. But overall - it beats the pants off any stock Dell, HP or no-name keyboard.
I just ***LOVE*** a keyboard with no printing whatsoever on the keys. I mean if you can touch type, why do you need printing on the keys?!
Plus you get that smug status when someone else tries to type on YOUR keyboard, hehhehe :)
I have a good mechanical, and I love my tick tick tick, but if you want the rolls royce of the keyboards of all times, and if you're willing to spend A LOT, then watch this: http://datamancer.net/
I don't know if they're good for programming, but they're so damn beautiful!
(this is not spam!)
Your friends obviously have not tried Swipe on android. You will be surprised to learn that the current texting world record is held by an android phone the Samsung Galaxy S using Swipe and not by an iphone.
MS Natural Ergonomic 4000, all the way.
If you can't type, you are not a developer, you're not even a Power User.
Long live the model M. A space saver M and a logictech trackman are the one true path. ;)
My next keyboard will be a kinect hooked up to my PC and i'll just do sign language
I'm another vote for the Apple aluminum keyboards.
I hate noisy keyboards (literally, a coworker with a buckling-switch keyboard made it impossible for me to work while he was typing rapidly).
I see no need for such extreme feedback, either; the Apple Keyboard provides more than enough, and more than enough travel.
Jeff: 150wpm? You do realise that makes you an insane outlier, right?
(And, Dvorak, people? That myth's been busted, you know. Train as much for QWERTY and you'll get equivalent results.)
@Sigivald: It's no myth; Dvorak is clearly a better layout. There are fast typists on Qwerty and Dvorak, but as a reasonably fast Qwerty typist, I made the switch and I can feel the difference, and my speed has improved. Barbara Blackburn holds the world record for touch typing, and she uses Dvorak. There are loads of websites out there with facts about the layout, but here's a pretty good summary: http://workawesome.com/productivity/dvorak-keyboard-layout/.
I had forgotten why I did not like your blog. Unfortunally, it is very popular and Google shows it at the beggining of the search results.
The whole thing of typing speed is just ridiculous, and the pianist analogy is absurd. Obviously playing music is a total differente thing where TIMING actually matters.
I definitely would not hire someone who says dumb things like that and I am not coming back to read this blog.
@Michael: Yes, it is a myth. I brought it up not because I'm ignorant about the "facts" about the Dvorak layout, but because I've done skeptical research on the subject.
http://www.utdallas.edu/~liebowit/keys1.html ("The consistent finding in the ergonomic studies is that the results imply no clear advantage for Dvorak")
That YOU personally prefer Dvorak, as well as the current record holder, suggests nothing at all; previous record holders did not use Dvorak, after all.
At the time, would that have "proven" that Dvorak was inferior, because "the record holder uses Sholes"?
If not, why not? If so, then isn't the proof-by-record-holder-of-the-moment move invalid? (I maintain it is.)
I've never seen evidence that - with equal training - one or the other of the two is significantly superior to the other in ergonomics or speed that did not involve cherry-picking. If you cherry pick, you can "prove" that Dvorak is a lot better than QWERTY/Sholes. And if you cherry pick, you can "prove" the reverse.
None of the serious studies suggest enough benefit to either to be worth re-training - or that the "inherent" benefits of Dvorak are all that great. (See #2 link above; Dvorak himself didn't know about every ergonomic issue involved, unsurprisingly.