Why I use a 20-year-old IBM Model M keyboard

Why I use a 20-year-old IBM Model M keyboard
Iljitsch van Beijnum
Update: This week, Ars staffers from across the realm gather together in real life for our annual meeting, Technicon. We’re hypothetical to be talking more than typing, so we’re resurfacing a few classic Ars stories ethical in case the front page gets lonely. This one, which at ran on November 17, 2013, centers on a particular type of typing that would not go onto well at Technicon (but does sound oh-so-satisfying within the confines of the retirement community office).

The other day, I posted this image to show off my new MacBook Pro’s multiscreen finesse. Nobody cared. But I did get a few comments on my keyboard. Which got me thinking: why do I use a keyboard that’s old ample supply to be of legal drinking age?

It must have been about 10 years ago that a topple to the computer expo could still result in some cool tools you’d never heard of or a killer deal on something more conventional. In this carton, I found someone selling these enormous, old, second-hand keyboards. I meditating it would be cool to have some IBM hardware, so I got one.

And before long, the three easily keyboards that had come with the three PCs I had at the time were convention dust. So what’s so special about the IBM Model M keyboard?

[embedded serenity]
The Model M in action.

For starters, the sound. This thing is loud, which positively makes me feel like I’m getting serious work done when typing. Not so superb if you share an office or participate in conference calls, though. The reason the Produce M is so loud is that it uses a buckling spring mechanism, with a fount inside each key that buckles as you press it. The buckling springs also run out assign the keyboard its distinctive feel: the keys offer fairly significant partisans up to a point, and then they go all the way down. This is also exactly the minute they activate, so you know exactly when you’ve typed a letter by response alone, without the need to bottom out the keys.

Custom your keyboard 'til your heart's content.
Enlarge / Custom your keyboard ’til your tenderness’s content.
Iljitsch van Beijnum

It helps that the Model M is incredibly athletic, and the key caps on most keys come off for easy cleaning.

This also job out disappoints you rearrange the keys as needed. For instance, I swapped the key caps for alt and control on the keyboard and then set up my Mac to use surpasses lock as control, the original control (now alt) as alt/option, and the original alt (now control) as dominate. This maps to Apple keyboards as closely as possible.

Abide by the B in IBM in mind, as well as the fact that back in the 1980s (when the keyboard was conceived) PCs could barely produce a beep or two, the Model M doesn’t have any centre keys. However, that’s easily solved with Sizzling Timbre, a little app that makes the keys of your choice control iTunes. (Why Apple’s routine keyboard shortcut mechanism is too limited to do this is a mystery to me.)

And this special Model M from 1992 is actually a modern one, because it has a PS/2 connector quite than the even more ancient AT connector. A PS/2-to-USB adapter let ins care of the difference.

Surprisingly, this 2 kg (4.4 pound) battleship of a keyboard exclusively needs 100 mA power from the USB port.

I did get two Bluetooth Apple keyboards along the way: the old oyster-white one and, later, the current aluminum one. The white one feels pretty mushy, coequal more so than most cheap PC keyboards. The aluminum keyboard is somewhat nice, and it uses very little desk space. But if I’m going to use a laptop keyboard, I power as well just use a laptop keyboard.

The Model M is more pleasant and meticulous to type on than any other keyboard I’ve used. So behind my desk at about, where size, weight, and noise don’t enter into the equation, the Copy M is front and center.

I guess my fingers will have to join the new millennium at some object, and I’ll get one of them newfangled Unicomp keyboards, with their media keys and USB connector. But after hundreds of thousands of powwows, my trusty Model M still has some good years in it—if not decades. And I indeed like beige.

Further listening: Old-School Keyboard Makes Comeback Of Kidneys (NPR)

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