[clug] [OT] quest for keyboards (linux Digest, Vol 86, Issue 2, Message 4)

Miles Goodhew mgoodhew at gmail.com
Tue Feb 2 22:25:57 MST 2010

	Apologies for the late entry in this field, but I've been a bit busy and wanted to take the time to have a good old gasbag about a topic close to my heart.

> Date: Tue, 2 Feb 2010 08:59:21 +1100
> From: Andreas Bauer <baueran at rsise.anu.edu.au>
> Message-ID: <20100201215920.GA4637 at striate.nicta.com.au>
> Slightly OT, I know, but then again, a lot of hacking unites us in

	Not even!

> Recently, I have read a lot about the Ubicomp and Das Keyboard models,
> which use a buckling spring, which, supposedly, makes typing quite an
> experience.  Unfortunately, their price (and (un)availability) prevent
> me from just giving them a try. (> 150 AUD for a keyboard, come on!)

	I'm not a fan of buckling spring keyboards because (As I remember - haven't touched one in 10+ years) they tend to be INCREDIBLY noisy and usually the hard-stop of the key stroke is TOO hard. I can't say it was giving me RSI or arthritis, but it was jarring from memory.

Here are some of my thoughts:
* Best key-action
	My personal favourite for key-action is what I call a "Honeywell" keyboard. These are much the same layout and a similar look to a Model M, but entirely plastic construction with a wider "wrist ramp" area (Not a big as the MS natural tho). Somewhat surprisingly they're very economically made using moulded silicon sheet for spring and two polymer sheets w/ contacts separated by a third, perforated polymer sheet for a switch matrix. The case itself clips together, so there aren't even any screws. They usually have the massive AT-DIN plug and an annoyingly short, coiled cable. One of my hobby projects is to add a USB keyboard adaptor and 3-port USB hub into one of these (I have three - when I see one, I usually buy it). I have previously bought a cheap-tastic bluetooth pocket keyboard in the hopes its matrix might be similar enough to be wired into one of the Honeywells (It wasn't - boo hoo!)

* Numeric keypad
	I almost never use the KP and really wish I can get a decent keyboard without one (Often I have 2+ keyboards on the desk and would prefer that space back). When apple brought-out their two aluminium keyboards, I bought the bluetooth one mainly because it didn't have the KP. Since they have released an updated USB model without the KP too.
	I also bought a Happy Hacking Lite keyboard (geekstuff4u.com) partially because it has no KP. Alas I found this keyboard has a really dead feel (Even though it uses a similar mechanism to the Honeywells). On the plus side, it also has no Windows-logo (Meta/diamond), no caps lock key and has a couple of extra USB ports on the top. The "full" version of this keyboard may feel better, but I'm not dropping that kind of cash on one if it turns-out the key-action is jarring (as I expect).

* Keycap-spacing
	Possibly one of the features of a keyboard that makes them most pleasant to use is the spacing between the key-caps. The "IBM-style" (Model M and Honeywell) keyboard have big trapezoidal keys whose caps are many millimetres apart. The MacBook's "chiclet" keyboard has ~4mm between each key - it's a pleasure to use (That's the reason I bought the aluminium one - I loved the keyboard on the laptop).
	I have a Dell Mini-12 netbook, which has about the worst keyboard I've used since the Sinclair Spectrum. Dell seem to have tried to use the larger size to get people turned-on to the keyboard by giving it "near full-size" keys. However the keys and rows but-up with very little space between them. The net result is it's very easy to mis-hit a key and get a different stroke or chord than you intended.

* To Dvorak or not to Dvorak, that is the question?
	If you don't know the Dvorak layout already, just don't bother. Really. The ubiquity of Qwerty (Yes, laid-out that way to stop typewriters jamming) makes Dvorak the Betamax of the user-input universe. Other than to have some cool oddity to show-off at nerdy cocktail-parties, you'll suffer more psychological wear-and-tear dealing with Dvorak than your hands will suffer from Qwerty.

* Frogpad
	I got one (Well, 3 actually, one busted Bluetooth, one USB, one replacement, working bluetooth) of these to see how well I could "couch-surf" it in one hand and a mouse in the other. Result: Fail - You can get moderately fast with one in a week or so, but never as fast as a two-hander. Also the mode keys require you to see the mode-lights from time to time, so it can't be completely operated by touch.

* MS-Natural
	I'm not a big fan of these, but not opposed to them. Usually I feel they have the "dead" feel of the Happy Hacking Lite keyboard, and the giganormous space bar makes me feel bloated. I don't feel the marginal ergonomic benefit (Give me a Honeywell any day) justifies a keyboard big enough to have its own post-code.

	Hope that doesn't boggle your mind too much.


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