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Hardware Hacking Input Devices Build

USB NeXT Keyboard With an Arduino Micro 115

coop0030 writes "Ladyada and pt had an old NeXT keyboard with a strong desire to get it running on a modern computer. These keyboards are durable, super clicky, and very satisfying to use! However, they are very old designs, specifically made for NeXT hardware: pre PS/2 and definitely pre-USB. That means you can't just plug the keyboard into a PS/2 port (even though it looks similar). There is no existing adapters for sale, and no code out there for getting these working, so we spent a few days and with a little research we got it working perfectly using an Arduino Micro as the go between."
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USB NeXT Keyboard With an Arduino Micro

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  • For ADB NeXTs (i.e., Turbo 33/color workstations) - wouldn't an ADB to USB adaptor work?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Couldn't you just use an ADB to USB adapter? Guess that would be less amusing than reverse engineering the standard.

    • Sometimes, she documents a reverse engineer for legal reasons. She reverse engineered the Apple 'heartbeat' led sleep mode, not because its hard, but because then she can use it without Apple being able to raise a stink about it.
      • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

        ADB has its innards extremely well documented by apple in the IIGS Hardware reference (page 121) []

        It never changed, and ADB was used by other companies such as NeXT, Sun and a few others, this is simply a case of doing a bunch of work cause they didnt know what to google for

        • Except that Apple Desktop Bus documentation won't be of much, if any, use decoding the NeXT keyboard bus.

          Since they're not related in the least.

          • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

            yea totally not related, besides almost all the machines used it

            • Submitter screwed up the summary, article says pre-ADB and pre-USB and non-PS/2. So not related.

              • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

                oh well, if the article says (nevermind ADB predates next by 2 years, and the first 2 models of next computers use ADB, laday ada has it covered)

                • Nitpicky. ADB (introduced with the Apple IIGS, in late 1986) predates the NeXT Computer by ~2 years (NeXT Computer was introduced in 1988).

                  NeXT (the company), predates ADB, as the company was founded in 1985.

      • Kinda sad that a company would raise a stink over something so trivial, then again Apple being control freaks isn't exactly a new development here.

        That said I can understand why they'd want to save the keyboard, those old clacky keyboard were really built like tanks and work great. I keep telling myself next load of clacky keyboards that come through the shop I'm gonna put aside a couple for spares in case anything happens to my old clacky boards I have at home and at the shop but every time my friends find

    • Re:ADB (Score:5, Informative)

      by Misagon ( 1135 ) on Saturday December 08, 2012 @08:09PM (#42229213)

      Not all NeXT keyboards talked ADB, but rather some proprietary NeXT protocol.

      The commercial USB-to-ADB adapters, such as the Belkin iMate are not that easy to come by.
      The best option might just be to use a small microcontroller board and load it up with custom firmware.

      Most keyboard hackers use the Teensy [] instead of an Arduino, but the boards have more similarities than differences.
      You can find open source ADB adapter firmware made for the Teensy over on the [] forum. It was made by a guy with the handle "Hasu".

  • by rnturn ( 11092 ) on Saturday December 08, 2012 @07:07PM (#42228753)

    ... that I may, someday, be able to find a use for that old 3-button DEC hockey puck mouse I have down in the basement. Cool.

    • by Longjmp ( 632577 )
      Geez, do you really, I mean really, want to go through the process of cleaning the wheels inside again?
      Over and over? ;)
  • If a Next keyboard is the same as an AT PC keyboard, this is a trivial hack; you can do it with a PC LPT port (it's a single bit TTL signal that just needs a bit of waggling).

    Much harder now there are no simple I/O ports on a PC.

    • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

      its not like an AT keyboard, its ADB which is a sinlge wire bit cell timed serial protocol that allows daisy chaining of devices, but thanks for playing

  • by CuteSteveJobs ( 1343851 ) on Saturday December 08, 2012 @07:19PM (#42228853)
    I love the "old" clicky keyboards. They feel much better on the fingers and the tactile freedback is wonderful. You can still buy them from UNICOMP who bought out the IBM keyboard factory upgraded with USB: []

    You can also pick them up on 2nd hand on eBay from these resellers: []

    When I buy a laptop they're all equal EXCEPT FOR THE KEYBOARDS. Some are better than others, but none compare to this: [] Know people who type whole novels on their iPhone, but is it really the best way to do it?
    • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

      I agree, as I type from my 92 model M... On to laptops, I was surprised that the dell work gave me actually has a almost acceptable keyboard, ok sure its still like sticking your fingers into dough, but they actually have a decent travel and a nice solid base to thunk down on... unlike most laptops where its like typing on rubber attached to a thin plank of balsa wood only being held on its ends bouncing around

    • by antdude ( 79039 )

      Me too, but my colleagues and others hate when I type s loudly like a machine gun -- [] ... :(

    • When I buy a laptop they're all equal EXCEPT FOR THE KEYBOARDS. Some are better than others, but none compare to this: []

      Do you really want a portable computer, where the keyboard alone weighs about two kg and is five cm thick?

      • by dbIII ( 701233 )
        That would actually be cool - but yes, I'd rather see somebody else carry it around and then tell them how cool it is.
  • Working on these at NeXT was an absolute pleasure. The key response allowed for longer sustained typing and fewer mistakes. I miss this keyboard as it sat at the right ergonomic angle.
  • When things lasted (Score:5, Insightful)

    by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Saturday December 08, 2012 @07:35PM (#42228967)

    Back in the 90s, a company called Northgate Computer Systems, based out of Minnesota, ranked right up there in terms of marketshare, etc as Dell, HP, etc. They had several government contracts which were exceptionally lucrative. They also made keyboards that everyone at the time lusted for because they were super-reliable, very comfortable to use, and quiet despite the snappiness of the keys. You simply couldn't find a better keyboard. Everything was looking great for them, until senior management made a series of horrible and totally avoidable blunders and within a year the company tanked. The one thing to survive the company's demise was their patents on keyboards -- bought out by a company called Avant Stellar (if memory serves). They charge a fortune for their keyboards, and they aren't as reliable as those old ones are.

    I can understand why these guys decided to hack together a microcontroller assembly to get it working on modern hardware: human interface equipment back in that day and age was built to last forever. It could even survive contact with 5 year olds, as my keyboard frequently crashed onto concrete floors, was pissed on by animals, and crushed by falling monitors (remember: Back in the day, a 19" monitor weighed a good 50 pounds). Things that would kill today's keyboards dead, it simply brushed off as a non-event.

    I wish things were built like that today, rather than this planned obsolesence bullsh*t. There's some things in this industry that just don't change: The power cord, the mouse, the keyboard, and the cases. Build those things to last guys. Really.

    • I'm actually glad people didn't stop with the old one button Macintosh mouse, or those first Microsoft two button pieces of crap, with the rubber ball that needed regular cleaning and a cord that was frequently in the way. The current optical mice, even in planned obsolescence form are lightyears better in my opinion.

      I'd almost say the same with cases. The old metal shells case covers, with hard to access drive bays, no front panel access, and poor ventilation are also dinosaurs that I'm glad have become

      • I do prefer to buy things that last, but really, the frequent upgrades that have been forced upon us in some ways have been a blessing.

        If something is truly better, people will buy that instead, and the things that aren't as good will eventually go extinct. There's no need to force customers to upgrade, and in most cases this fails miserably with poor results for all involved. Remember when Microsoft tried to force people and corporations to upgrade to Vista from XP? It was such a horrible cluster-fuck that at one point they were offering free downgrades to XP with the purchase of a Vista license! They had to extend their support agreement

      • by dbIII ( 701233 )

        I'd almost say the same with cases. The old metal shells case covers, with hard to access drive bays, no front panel access, and poor ventilation are also dinosaurs that I'm glad have become extinct.

        The sharp edges on those dinosaur cases seemed to demand a blood sacrifice every time I worked inside one of those cases.

        • by v1 ( 525388 )

          The sharp edges on those dinosaur cases seemed to demand a blood sacrifice every time I worked inside one of those cases.

          I made my sacrifice last Friday on one of those lovely stamped steel EMI covers on the top of a laptop's motherboard, manufactured circa 2000. And it wasn't even unscrewed from the computer!

          Still have a bit o duct tape on the left thumb to hold the gash closed. Amazing how clean and deep of a cut raw stamped steel can saw into your flesh!

    • by Nimey ( 114278 )

      I'd thought about picking up one of those Stellars, but I despise L-shaped Enter keys and the design compromises associated: either shrink down the Backspace key or move the backslash/pipe key. Well, that and the fact that I'd need an adapter to make it USB.

      • Those keyboards are overpriced shit. They bought the one thing that was worth anything off of the Northgate brand, doubled the price, and never invested in the brand after; No advertising, no redesign, they just bought it and murdered it. These days nobody even knows that good keyboards ever existed; they think the "jello touch" Microsoft split-keyboards are the best the industry has to offer. And now all the rage is "touch" displays because Apple's doing it. Well, good for them... but it's 30 year old tech

    • by Eil ( 82413 )

      I wish things were built like that today, rather than this planned obsolesence bullsh*t.

      You can get a good quality keyboard that will last you many years, but you have to pay good money for it. As in, at least $100.

      Computer manufacturers bundle cheap keyboards with their computers because computers themselves are cheap too. Makes no business sense to ship a good keyboard with a computer that's going to be obsolete in three years. (And I'm sure the manufacturers know well that users will eventually crave tha

    • Things that would kill today's keyboards dead, it simply brushed off as a non-event.

      I wish things were built like that today, rather than this planned obsolesence bullsh*t.

      My Leopold keyboard was pretty cheap (~$100), has hard PBT plastic key caps (which are a widely used standard design and replacable), the switches are guaranteed to last at least 50 million presses *for each key* and are mounted to a thick steel plate that feels stronger than the desk it sits on top of. The switches are also commonly available and can also be replaced with a bit of soldering, but i've never heard of them failing (monitor falling on them might do it). I dunno about cat piss but liquid genera

  • ... how much has the price of NeXT non-ADB keyboards jumped on eBay since this was posted?

    ... and anyone got one they want to let go cheap? I miss my black hardware keyboard.

  • The PS/2 connector predates NeXT computers by a year, according to Wikipedia.

  • I used to love the old fashioned keyboards. My favorite was some PS/2 IBM model that I still have in the attic somewhere. When PS/2 ports started disappearing, instead of reaching for the soldering iron, I looked for a USB keyboard.

    After much trial and error I discovered the Logitech Illuminated Keyboard []. It is the best keyboard ever made. Less fatigue, awesome key action, silent and it's backlit. It's not cheap, but you get what you pay for.
  • The original NeXT keyboard was a bit clicky but not as clicky as an IBM Model-M. The ADB NeXT keyboards though were squishy, not clicky. Layout ergonomically they were a bit better but they felt much worse. I much prefer the IBM M15: []
  • I am a keyboard snob. The keyboard is the part of the computer with which I interact the most, so I hate the mushy feel of membrane keyboards that are based on the same technology as VCR remotes.

    If you want to be a keyboard snob too (in a good way), then start by going to and buying their sampler kit (""). For $8, you get eleven keycaps in different colors, four Cherry MX switches (blue, brown, black, red), and fifteen dampe

  • by Anonymous Coward

    For quite a while I've been using the Matias Tactile Pro 3 (or thereabouts) keyboard. It has a Mac layout (similar to the older Apple keyboards) and uses microswitches for a clicky good time. And it's quite a bit more compact than the IBM PS/2 keyboard although it boasts more keys (including, of course, the Command and Option keys etc.). It's not the cheapest keyboard in town but if you like clicky and use Macs than it's probably the way to go.

I'd rather just believe that it's done by little elves running around.