The perfect keyboard. A geek’s holy grail. And I am not immune to the siren’s call of this insane quest.
If you think that there isn’t much innovation in the field of alphanumeric input devices, you are in for a surprise. If you don’t think so, then you’ll be less surprised.
There are four main schools of keyboarding thought:
1) Typewriter keyboards suck , if you are really hardcore, you should use chord keysets. A chord keyset is basically a keyboard that uses combinations of buttons (like chords on a piano) to encode letters and numbers. Since fingers don’t have to travel horizontally and vertically, tremendous typing speed can be achieved. Chorded keyset is somewhat similar, but not the same as a stenotype machine used by court stenographers. According to The Straight Dope stenotype training takes 2,700 class hours (some of the classes probably have to do with understanding law terminology and the like) and you have to type 225 words per minute at 95% – 98% accuracy to pass the state exam.
Douglas Engelbart had really high hopes for his version of the keyset. Much of his research as well as The Mother Of All Demos included a setup that had a keyboard, a mouse and one handed keyset.
A historic moment: Engelbart uses his chord keyset to delete the first Spam.
Closeup of a keyset, or Small Black Hit’em Bugger Teeth as it’s known in Pigin English
The problem with chorded keyboards is the super steep learning curve and what’s even worse, the skill of typing in chords seems to quickly deteriorate without practice.
2) Then there are those who think that the root of evil is the QUERTY layout. I am yet to see a person who regularly uses Dvorak keyboard, and the whole superiority of it seems to be just a myth.
3) In the olden times there was the horror of The Space Cadet Keyboard. There were a few other devices that LISP programming aliens seemed to use. Truly bizarre geekery.
4) On the other end of the spectrum of weird keyboards are ultra expensive contraptions. Even though outrageous prices are binding this group together, the usefulness, good looks and coolness factors are all over the board for these. You have to be one rich (or fiscally irresponsible) geek to afford them. There are keyboards that are split in two, like this Kinesis keyboard that mounts on armrests.
Then there is a truly scary keyboard from the same maker that has bowl shaped indentations for keys:
This $350 keyboard has vertical set keys. I think I saw somebody’s review of it which stated that using it hurts. A lot. And I think I believe that person.
Fingerworks this $339 keyboard that has gesture recognition. Apparently
I think that all of these far out solutions are a bit too much. Split keyboards are kind of nice though. That Kinesis keyboard is 133T, but I did fine with Natural Keyboard Elite.
I also had Microsoft Natural Keyboard Pro which was discontinued (I think) is just like Elite, but with a row of buttons on top. Out of those buttons the volume control was very useful. In fact, the perfect keyboard in my opinion should have a set of buttons for volume control. I might get a Griffen Powermate for that purpose though. But at $45 it’s pricey. But cool. The rest of the soft buttons were mostly useless.
I wish I could map a button to a key combination that switches between keyboard layouts (Cyrillic and English), but that wasn’t possible with out of the box functionality. Some of the soft buttons are outright dangerous, like the crappy “sleep” button. If pressed by accident it would plunge all of your unsaved data into the buggy realm of Windows power management, the cursed ACPI.
Before then I experimented with a “clicky” keyboard. I purchased an IBM model 42H1292 aka The One True Keyboard. These Irish built mastodons capable of various feats of endurance have special spring loaded keys instead of wussy rubber membrane ones. Manly. Very manly. A click of The One True Keyboard can be heard for miles in an empty cubicle farm. But also a pain in the ass. Turned out I don’t like the clicky sound, the keys were getting stuck sometimes (even though I bought an unused, keyboard gravy free one).
Right now I am thinking of switching to a mini keyboard, like the Happy Hacking Keyboard. Right now I am typing this on a mini keyboard that my friend Dan lent me. It’s called MiniTouch. I has those IBM style clicky keys and a layout that with a little remapping could really work for me. Does anybody know a good Windows keyboard rempapper? The layout feature that I use the most is a function key that turns arrow keys into page up/down/home/end. Oh, and one thing that I do with all keyboards is turn off (by ripping out) the caps lock key. That thing is pure evil.