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Input Devices IBM

The Greatest Keyboard Ever Made 304

HughPickens.com writes Adi Robertson argues that IBM's Model M keyboard, soon to turn 30 is still the only keyboard worth using for many people. Introduced in 1985 as part of the IBM 3161 terminal, the Model M was initially called the "IBM Enhanced Keyboard." A PC-compatible version appeared the following spring, and it officially became standard with the IBM Personal System / 2 in 1987. The layout of the Model M has been around so long that today it's simply taken for granted, but the keyboard's descendants have jettisoned one of the Model M's most iconic features — "buckling springs," designed to provide auditory and tactile feedback to the keyboard operator. "Model M owners sometimes ruefully post stories of spouses and coworkers who can't stand the incessant chatter. But fans say the springs' resistance and their audible "click" make it clear when a keypress is registered, reducing errors," writes Robertson. "Maybe more importantly, typing on the Model M is a special, tangible experience. Much like on a typewriter, the sharp click gives every letter a physical presence."

According to Robertson, the Model M is an artifact from a time when high-end computing was still the province of industry, not pleasure. But while today's manufacturers have long since abandoned the concept of durability and longevity, refurbished Model Ms are still available from aficionados like Brandon Ermita, a Princeton University IT manager who recovers them from supply depots and recycling centers and sells them through his site, ClickyKeyboards. "For the very few that still appreciate the tactile feel of a typewriter-based computer keyboard and can still appreciate the simplicity of black letters on white keys, one can still seek out and own an original IBM model M keyboard — a little piece of early computing history," says Ermita. As one Reddit user recently commented, "Those bastards are the ORIGINAL gaming keyboards. No matter how much you abuse it, you'll die before it does.""
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The Greatest Keyboard Ever Made

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  • Unicomp (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @12:35PM (#48093213)

    Still makes a buckling spring keyboard. Might be worth checking out if you want to purchase one.

    http://www.pckeyboard.com/

    • Re:Unicomp (Score:4, Informative)

      by symbolset ( 646467 ) * on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @12:56PM (#48093473) Journal
      This is actually the same keyboard, made in the same factory by the same people. The molds are the same. This is the Model M. Sadly, no Bluetooth version though.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        It is not 100% identical. The build quality is slightly inferior. Place a Unicomp next to a white or silver badge Model M and you will notice a difference upon use.

        Not to say Unicomp is bad, by any stretch of the imagination. But we all know as products mature they trend toward using cheaper materials, and this is no exception.

        • Re:Unicomp (Score:5, Funny)

          by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @02:03PM (#48094443) Homepage Journal
          I came here to say this. I bought a Unicomp for its USB goodness and extra keys, expecting to get a newer Model M. The keys were nice but it weighed maybe 2/3 as much as the original. Worse - and this is the real travesty - I was able to flex it by twisting either end. God himself couldn't twist a real Model M with his bare hands. He might not be able to create an unmovable boulder, but Big Blue made a keyboard He couldn't break.
    • by gnupun ( 752725 )

      I don't get what all the hype is about. I bought a used model M from ebay, and the keys were much harder to press than a cheap squishy keyboard. It was also quite loud. Disappointed...

      • I don't get what all the hype is about. I bought a used model M from ebay, and the keys were much harder to press than a cheap squishy keyboard.

        I briefly used what I realise (in retrospect) was a Model M keyboard at a job I had in the late-90s. At the time I found the fact the resistance was half way down and very obviously "click switchy" (i.e. requires relatively high amount of pressure to get through, then suddenly breaks) to be strange and unnatural. I'm no millennial membrane-weaned weenie; I'd been using computers since the 80s, most of which had mechanical keyboards back then, and while some had been mediocre, some I really liked. They all w

  • My nephew showed up with a clean, original model M at robotics meting the other day. He might have gotten it from his dad, my twin brother, a fellow with way too many ancient IBM PCs. Like these [selectric.org].
  • Still being made... (Score:5, Informative)

    by hubang ( 692671 ) on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @12:36PM (#48093229)
    http://www.pckeyboard.com/ [pckeyboard.com]

    I prefer a mechanical keyboard myself (although with Cherry Blues). The Apple Extended Keyboard 2 (with Alps switches) was pretty good too.
    • I was about to post the same thing - but name the business as well - Unicomp

      It's a good choice, especially if you want a foreign Moldel-M keyboard.

    • by gbjbaanb ( 229885 ) on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @12:54PM (#48093453)

      The thing is, its more than the keys.
      A good keyboard must have weight to it, so its solid and won't wriggle or bend. It must have a decent size so its not slightly cramped to save plastic, It must have decent legs to raise the typing angle up, and it should have a little runner to store your pencils without resting them on the top of the function keys.

      Cherry keys are a good thing, but there's more to it than just those.

      Myself, I use an ancient compaq keyboard that I'm sure will be classed as a deadly weapon if I ever have to beat off burglars with it. Best thing is it doesn't have those 2 crappy Windows keys either!

      • There are still good alternatives that have the keys and the feel and heft, even beyond the Unicomps. Deck keyboards with Cherry Blue switches, for example. Or maybe Razer (they have the switches, don't know about the weight). Or for Macs, the Matias keyboards.
        • Biggest problem for me is that I'm in the UK and the layout is different from the standard US-style keyboards (and far superior :) )

          So Deck, Code and similar new manufacturers just don't cut it.

          • by dj245 ( 732906 )

            Biggest problem for me is that I'm in the UK and the layout is different from the standard US-style keyboards (and far superior :) )

            So Deck, Code and similar new manufacturers just don't cut it.

            Have you not been on the Unicomp [pckeyboard.com] website? They will custom-build pretty much any keyboard you want, with or without windows keys, with a large choice of language layouts (UK included).

          • by Cinder6 ( 894572 )

            Leopold and Filco make some very solid Cherry-based keyboards (and in Leopold's case, some Topre options). They come in ISO variants, IIRC.

        • by JackAxe ( 689361 )
          I use Corsairs options on my current Mac and PC. You can use any Windows keyboard on a Mac now days. I use my Corsair K90 is on my MacBook Pro. The "windows-key" just becomes the "command-key" and the "alt-key" becomes the "option-key."

          I won't touch any newer Razer product -- especially their keyboards -- with a 10-foot-pole, not until they "truly" make their bullshit-cloud-based-drivers optional where as absolutely no log-in or online connection is needed; the offline mode is a joke, since you're forc
      • by Trogre ( 513942 )

        Wait, did you say legs? You mean those things that angle the keyboard towards you?

        They force the wrists into an awfully extended position that shouldn't be maintained for any length of time. I'm pretty sure they're designed to help hunt and peck typists see the keys a little better.

        I often break them off before deploying new keyboards.

        Other than that, I agree with your post wholeheartedly!

    • by JackAxe ( 689361 )
      The Apple Extended Keyboard 2 was my favorite keyboards for years until Apple phased out the ADB port. Now days I'm really happy with my Corsair K90( Cherry Reds ) and newer K70( Cherry Blues ).
  • So if these keyboards are so durable, why do you need to refurbish them?

    I kid, I kid... I have an Model M at the office that I love to pieces.

    • Because they get gummy and black with congealed hacker sweat--saw this at Brown where we had these glorious keyboard but they were filthy
      • if they can be taken apart, you can put the mechanical bit in the dishwasher (detergent not really recommended). Do not put the electronics in though, some people say it works if you leave it to dry out, but I think it's probably not as guaranteed as they think.

        I did it with the keyboard part of my old compaq, when I spilt beer on it (sticky keys... for sure). Came out squeaky clean.

      • The key caps pop off. The little plastic overlays, not the depressable keys themselves. Send them through the dishwasher in the small-items tray. With detergent. Viola! Fresh clean keyboard.

  • by Ed Avis ( 5917 ) <ed@membled.com> on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @12:39PM (#48093249) Homepage
    Model Ms are great. I have about a dozen of them. But the earlier Model F (based on capacitive switches underneath buckling spring) is even better. The Model F keyboard included with the original IBM PC excels in being heavy and clicky, but it has an awkward layout. The PC-AT introduced a much better layout, and the keyboard is electrically compatible with the later PS/2 plug (you just need a $2 adaptor). I am typing on a PC-AT keyboard now.
    • by Cinder6 ( 894572 )

      Came here to say this. The Model M is great because it's an inexpensive mechanical keyboard, but the Model F trumps it. And what trumps that are IBM's beamspring offerings. I'm typing this on a Displaywriter Keyboard [imgur.com] I modified to output via USB. It's not the easiest solution for a nice keyboard, but on the plus side, it's fully programmable, has doubleshot keys, and is the closest I've been able to find to the feel of a Selectric. (On the downside, it's nonstandard, gigantic, and expensive.)

  • Unsurprisingly, none of my colleagues wanted to be in the office with me while I was doing that. They bought me a "modern" IBM keyboard with a touchpad, USB ports, etc earlier while I was in grad school but it wasn't the same - and it died before thesis writing began - so I ended up going back to a model M when it came time to really truly be productive.

    I now have two model M's with trackpoint, and USB adapters for both. They work on everything, including killing varmints or zombies.
  • Love my model M, love my Northgate OmniKey/102 as well

  • The clack isn't the same in the Kinesis Freestyle 2, so not nearly as satisfying, but it is there.

    And since my tendinitis isn't anymore... it is a trade up. Sorry M. :(

  • Straight keyboards are really poor ergonomically, but I do love the mechanical feel of these old IBM models (and their newer imitators).

    Might as well use this as an impromptu Ask Slashdot: are there any ergonomic one-piece mechanical wireless keyboards out there? I periodically Google for it (to replace an old Logitech one that's nearing EOL after a decade or so) but have never been able to find anything suitable.

    • by Average ( 648 )

      How 'ergo' you looking for?

      Kinesis, who makes the Advantage series (crazy bowl shaped keyboard that I'm typing on right now and love to pieces) also makes the Freestyle (two halves), and they make the latter in a Bluetooth configuration. Amusingly, a wireless keyboard with a wire (between the two halves).

      https://www.kinesis-ergo.com/s... [kinesis-ergo.com]

      • Kinesis, who makes the Advantage series (crazy bowl shaped keyboard that I'm typing on right now and love to pieces) also makes the Freestyle (two halves), and they make the latter in a Bluetooth configuration. Amusingly, a wireless keyboard with a wire (between the two halves).

        No good for me - I gotta have a number pad. Okay - I see they have an add-on keypad available, but it looks like the tilt stands are all add-on options too. So that makes the Freestyle a little to pricey. Not sure from the description about the keys, either. I'll probably just have to stick with getting another ErgoMagic [comfortkeyboard.com] keyboard when my current one wears out.

    • IBM also made an ergonomic buckling spring keyboard: the model M15 -

      http://www.clickykeyboards.com/index.cfm/fa/items.main/parentcat/12675/subcatid/0/id/125888 [clickykeyboards.com]

      Why won't anyone make a copy of that? (nudge-nudge Unicomp!)

  • I have one (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @12:47PM (#48093365)

    I have a Model M in the closet. It's old, yellowed and the plug wont work without at least 2 adapters in-line.

    But, you can still get nice switched keyboards if you like them as much as I do. Look for "Cherry" switches or in my case I got reproductions because they were cheaper. There are various colors but basically it comes down to if you like the "clicking" sounds, the Cherry Reds are the loudest and the Cherry Blues are the quietest. I have the Blues and it still drives my wife nutz. You can get an all plastic keyboard for around $50... If you want it to be build like a tank link the IBMs were, expect to spend $80 or more. If you want actual Cherry switches they can go as high as $300.

    I've got a keyboard with reproduction Cherry Blue switches and a steel back plate. I got it off Newegg for about $85 and it's fantastic. I was ordering a new keyboard about every 6 months until I got a mechanical one. Works great for games to.

    • I got a Monoprice.com-brand buckling-spring keyboard (with Cherry switches) for about $50 (on sale), and am very pleased with it. (It doesn't seem to be all-plastic either; it's at least as heavy as my old Tandy 1000 keyboard).

    • Re:I have one (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @04:44PM (#48096709)

      Cherry Reds are the loudest and the Cherry Blues are the quietest.

      You have that completely backwards. Cherry MX Reds have a linear actuation (i.e. no tactile bump, no click, just a smooth press) that requires very little force, which makes sense, since they're aimed at the gaming market where being able to double-tap keys is important. They're probably the quietest keys in the entire Cherry MX line. The only sound they may even possibly be making is a banging that would occur if you're bottoming out with each key press, and you shouldn't be doing that unless you've picked up bad habits from years of using spongy, rubber dome keyboards. If you are bottoming out while typing, look into getting "landing pads", which are little pieces of foam that go around the switches and help to muffle the sound a bit.

      In contrast, Cherry MX Blues (which are aimed primarily at typists) have a higher actuation force, along with a tactile and audible click. They're one of the loudest in the entire line of Cherry MX switches (if not the loudest), on par with the ones you'd hear in the Model M. If you want something a bit quieter while keeping the tactile sensation, get Cherry MX Browns, which go for more of a tactile bump instead of a click, meaning it's quite a bit quieter but still has most of the tactility. Again, you shouldn't be bottoming out while typing with mechanical keyboards (the biggest advantage of having the tactile feedback is so that you know when you've pressed a key and can move on, hence why the more tactile ones are aimed at typists), but if you are, landing pads will help with the racket you'd be making, though the goal should be to get to the point where you're not bottoming out any longer.

      There are some other ones as well, such as Greens, Clears, Whites, Blacks, and Grays. They vary in terms of actuation force necessary, what sort of tactile sensation they provide, and where the release point is located in relation to the actuation point. But the Reds are most certainly one of the quietest, while the Blues are most certainly one of the loudest.

  • Sturdy (Score:5, Funny)

    by PPH ( 736903 ) on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @12:48PM (#48093379)

    A keyboard should be tough enough to beat a man to death with. And then use to write his obituary.

    • As the BOFH says, you should be able to console someone by beating them about the head with your console

  • by Slartibartfast ( 3395 ) * <ken&jots,org> on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @12:50PM (#48093385) Homepage Journal

    I've got one, and it's *the same* -- and I care, 'cause on a Model M, I can break 100 WPM -- from Unicomp [unicomp.com], and, yes, with USB connectors. Some even have trackpoints (which is what I went with). AWESOMENESS DEFINED.

    But I may be somewhat biased.

    P.S. My co-workers hate 'em, 'cause it's so damn loud. So do consider them before purchasing for the workplace.

  • Completely agree with the sentiment. My computer is required by law (the wife) to be as far away as possible if I use the Model M, hence in the basement it goes.

    In case it ever dies (yeah right), I still have 4 more stockpiled as replacements.

  • I have two Cherry keyboards. They look like a model M, but I guess there are differences. They are from 1993, and work perfectly.
    Not bad is my Apple Extended keyboard (2?) from roughly 1990. I actually have an ADB bus to ISB adapter, perhaps I should try it at my laptops.

  • My 122 key variant of the model M (has 24 function keys!) has heavy backplate and weighs six pounds!

  • The steel construction of the Model M is a thing of beauty. And the weight keeps the cat from knocking it off my desk.

  • and then made up all kinds of reasons that are nonsense on why they like them.

    I liked mine, becasue every time there was an audible click, an angel died.

  • 1. Model M keyboard [wikipedia.org]
    2. Lenovo ThinkPad X-series laptop
    3. Microsoft Ergo series

    • by afidel ( 530433 )

      The X Series keyboard is so very wrong, the T Series keyboard is closer to the correct layout. For years I said I'd pay big cash for a T Series keyboard with trackpoint and Bluetooth to use for my HTPC, but now I don't need it as I have a nice wireless keyboard and a Logitech M570 wireless trackball, I just wish that Logitech had used standard bluetooth instead of their bastardized version so I could use it with things other than a PC.

      • I really like the Logitech wireless nub things for their keyboards and mice. Bluetooth ultimately does not work very well on PCs. the standards were never implemented quite correctly, perhaps because of using commodity parts. macs don't have this problem.

  • Really? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ralph Wiggam ( 22354 ) on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @01:04PM (#48093599) Homepage

    "manufacturers have long since abandoned the concept of durability and longevity"

    Someone should tell my 15 year old Microsoft Natural keyboard. Even the $5 basic Dell keyboards are pretty durable. The only keyboards I can remember throwing out were because they were filthy, not because they were broken.

    • Even the $5 basic Dell keyboards are pretty durable. The only keyboards I can remember throwing out were because they were filthy, not because they were broken.

      My Model M has been through the dishwasher and laughs at your puny "pretty durable" keyboards.

    • That's where the Model M shines. Pop the key caps and the top cover and run them through the dishwasher: Sparkly clean just like new.

  • I've used various incarnations of these... First one was on my original IBM PC (not XT) with the annoying layout... I liked it best. My dad had a 5120 with a nice big built-in version... Then later I installed 3161's and PC-RT's in Dental offices... Then got my own RT...

    After the original PC one, they seemed to get more plasticy... Especially in the PS/2 days... Could just be my imagination though.

    Good times ...

    Now I just use whatever crap someone puts in front of me.

  • ... on a vintage Model-M keyboard purchased years ago at Flea@MIT. Someone had a bunch of unopened boxes of them, brand new 15-year-old keyboards. My only mistake was in not buying more than one. I've picked up a few more an various flea markets and hamfests, but none as good as that one...

    That is, except for the 1987-vintage Model-M on my wife's computer upstairs that came an the XT-286.

  • I am using a brand new Model M to type this message. Unicomp bought the rights and machinery to manufacture many IBM and Lexmark keyboards. You can buy them from the manufacturer here: http://www.pckeyboard.com/ [pckeyboard.com] . It is embarrassing that /. would advertise some shill refurb site without mentioning this great resource.
  • The control key is in the wrong place.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H... [wikipedia.org]

  • I've been using Model M's (and their Unicomp descendants) since the days of the IBM PC XT. I finally gave them up last year as they are just too loud for my small house. I'm a night owl and my wife thinks 9:00PM is staying up late. She never complained, but I knew my keyboards were keeping her awake some nights. So I reluctantly switched to quieter keyboards two years ago.

  • I own a Model M, with a goofy RJ- to PS2 cable, old school. It's fun and clacky. I also have a Thinkpad which has it's own coveted keypress feel. However in my open office cubefarm plan it's noisy as shit. It also has zero ergonomics. I ended up buying a Microsoft Sculpt keyboard, which is sort of a sleek, complete redesign, of the Microsoft Natural keyboard. It has "modern" laptoppy feel keys that are actually quiet, and proper ergonomics. I'm thinking about getting one for the house, I was skeptical about

  • And I have had - they feel not right.

    My preference is the KeyTronic keyboards.

  • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @01:40PM (#48094147)

    Seriously. The best keyboard ever made? Not hardly. I can think of three massive issues:

    1) Key activation force. You have to push quite hard to activate those key switches. That is unergonomic and contributes to developing RSI in many individuals. A good keyboard should have a light key activation.

    2) Keyboard shape. The straight keyboard is not a good shape. Our hands don't naturally sit straight, neither should our keyboards. Again, this is an ergonomic issue, being your wrists like that can lead to RSI. A good ergonomic keyboard can be adjusted to match the position of the user.

    3) The noise. Those springs are loud. Makes it very annoying to use in an office environment, and unsuitable for quite environments like a studio. A good keyboard has dampened keys that don't make noise.

    Well, turns out you can get good keyboards like that. Matias, Kinesis, Maltron, all make really good keyboards. They solve the problems that the Model M, and others, have.

    Even if you don't believe you'll ever suffer from RSI (and that's a bet I wouldn't make) you will probably find your typing speed increased by lighter keyswitches.

    This Model M worship needs to stop. It is old technology, we have better tech and a better understanding of how to make good human interfaces devices these days.

    • by T.E.D. ( 34228 )
      Complete agreement on this. I think a lot of folks are just wearing rose-colored goggles where the 80's are concerned. You have to remember that when these things were designed, the point of comparison for the designers was typewriters. Let's hit your three points yet again:
      1. Key activation force. The newest IBM Selectrics (the popular state of the art at the time) required far less force to activate a key. They were almost comparable to a more modern keyboard, although the keys had much greater travel. How
  • I spent my formative years in a DEC-dominated lab, so the office background sounds were the soft thok-thok-thok of VT100 keyboards rather than the clicky-clicky of the Model M. I did get a chance to use the M keyboard later, and agree it has the best tactile feel of any keyboard I've used before or sense.

    As pointed out by others, the keyboard is a straight keyboard in days when most of us are using split keyboards, and the noise can be distracting. But when you spend most of your day as root, an audio ind

  • All gone now but I remember a time when I saw this vendor at one of the local computer show / flea markets who had them for $50 and I bought all six that he had, the last of them gave up the ghost a few years ago.

  • If you think that the Modem M was the greatest keyboard ever made, then clearly you have never typed on the IBM 3278 keyboard from the late 70s / early 80s.

    A.

  • Matter of opinion (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Ravaldy ( 2621787 ) on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @02:21PM (#48094705)

    I type 10 - 15 wpm more on a quality membrane keyboard. Before even comparing numbers I could tell I was going to type faster. As for the noise, it doesn't help me avoid mistakes since I actually look at what I'm type while I'm typing it.

    My 2 cents

  • My next keybaord will probably be a Corsair mechanical.

    BTW, the Tandy Model 100/102 had such a keyboard.

  • by lord_mike ( 567148 ) on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @05:24PM (#48097057)

    I never understood the appeal of these keyboards. The clunkity-clunk was extremely hard on my wrists, and I developed carpal tunnel syndrome using them. Once I switched to a softer modern keyboard, my wrist problems disappeared. I found the Model M experience to be literally painful. No thanks.

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