The keyboard that goes “CLICK”

When I got a computer for my new office at Stanford last year, it came with the Apple wireless keyboard, a piece of equipment that some people like very much, and that has a handsome and minimalist design. The bluetooth connection was, however, occasionally flaky, and it seemed silly to have a battery operated device sitting in front of a desktop. So I decided to buy a wired keyboard instead, and since everybody raves about how good it is to type on Lenovo laptops, I thought Lenovo would sell a keyboard made to feel like their laptops. Unfortunately there does not seem to be such a thing.

Searching for information about keyboards, however, I found a whole online cult devoted to the keyboards that IBM made for its PC in the 1980s: the IBM Model M keyboard. Although I never owned or used an IBM PC, I remember using similar keyboards when I was a graduate student in the mid 1990s, and we each had a terminal on our desk connected to a mainframe in the basement. The terminals had monochromatic, text-only, displays, but they keyboards were good, and, every time you would press a key, they would go *CLICK*, just like the 1980s IBM keyboards. (The terminals were made by HP and were 1980s technology.)

The license/patents to make these keyboards went to Lexmark, when IBM spun off its printers/devices business. Making the keyboards, however, was not profitable because they never break — see for example this video of a Model M versus a watermelon.

Lexmark then sold the license/patents to Unicomp, an American company whose business is to make clones of the IBM Model M keyboard and other 1980s models.

So that’s what I got for my office and, while I feel rather self-conscious about showing enthusiasm about a keyboard, it is awesome. (To be precise, the keyboard I got is not an exact clone of the IBM model M: mine has a USB cable, a “Windows” key, and it works with a Mac without drivers. The Windows key becomes the “command” key. For the purists, it is possible to buy actual IBM models M, with a PS/2 interface which can be connected to a USB via converter, at clickykeyboards.com, where they even have “mint condition never used” ones.)

This term, as readers of in theory might have noticed, I am writing notes for two classes, which means that I am typing for roughly 15-20 hours a week, mostly at home. Usually, at home I would work using the laptop on the sofa, and use my desk for storage, but this wasn’t good this term, so I (mostly) cleared the desk, got a monitor, a mouse, another, awesome Unicomp keyboard, and hooked it all up to my MacBook Air (which has new hinges, yay!). Continue reading