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November 15th, 2006

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02:40 pm - [geek time] ch-clack ch-clack ch-clack squee!!
Some men are Baptists, other Catholics. My father was an Oldsmobile man.
- Jean Shepherd
There are certains among us who develop a life-long obsession with certain accessories, toys or automobiles. For some who use computers, there is no keyboard on Earth they would rather use than an IBM Model M. It's hard to explain the Model M's appeal to someone who has never used one. The usual arguments made in favor of the Model M are that the keyboard itself is nigh-indestructible. Many Model M keyboards made over twenty years ago are still in good operating condition today, unless you did something stupid like spill beer all over yours or drop the Rock of Gibraltar on it (I steadfastly maintain my beloved Model M just up and died a noble death after many years of faithful use. The beer-spilling occurred on the generic keyboard that came with that cheap-ass Toshiba I bought in 1998.) The thing's also heavier than a brick, so it's perfect as a bludgeon should you encounter any idiot giving you guff for loving "a computer keyboard, for god's sake."

But the real appeal of the Model M is its special "buckling spring" mechanism, which makes typing on it a real treat. It's a much different typing sensation than most keyboards in use today. It certainly gives your fingers a workout. The keys clack down satisfyingly and deeply, and click back up when released. The closest equivalent to the feel you get typing on a Model M is the feel of typing on an old electric typewriter, though even that analogy is flawed since the electric typewriter is a completely different beast than a computer, its tactile response much more kinetic, and its keys closer together than the computer keyboard. But that's pretty much the best way to describe it.

The Model M is not entirely perfect; light touch-typers hate it, and it's not very well suited for video games high on the twitch factor (lighter-touch keyboards are better for WASD shoot-em-ups, really) but for writing, it can be perfect. I'm a particular kind of writer and I know others are too. Sometimes you can't create writing-type stuff on anything but your favorite writing implement and layout: the keyboard has to feel a certain way, the font has to be a specific font regardless of how the final product looks, the paper has to be lined and ruled in a specific way, the pencil has to be an Eberhard Farber Blackwing 602 (another discontinued item which, over the years, had acquired a loyal and obsessive fan following; now all hoarded up, a single pencil can sell for upwards of $20.)

Writing on a Model M just feels more satisfying to me.

IBM stopped producing the Model M in 1993, selling off its keyboard manufacturing division to Lexmark, which in turn produced their version of Model Ms until 1996. Most devotees remained staunchly loyal to their 1980s-era keyboards, however, proudly admiring the Genuine IBM Logo above the number pad or stroking it in the way that certain fetishists do. But finding a used Model M usually meant paying a lot of money from someone who recognized its rarity.

But, according to ivorjawa, the Model M technology was purchased from Lexmark by a company called Unicomp, which now produces a "Customizer" line of keyboards using the buckling springs. Not only that, but the keyboards are also available in USB and PS/2 format, which amazes this old-timer (whose Model M had the huge AT cable interface.) They don't come cheap; the things sell for anywhere from sixty to seventy bucks depending on what kind you need, but for those who love the ch-clack ch-clack and/or miss it terribly, it's worth it. Given my current budgetary considerations, it'll be a while before I can afford to pick one up, but I'll certainly get one at some point.

I do have to admit the updated keyboards strike me as strange. USB interface and the optional Windows key on a Model M? Yeah, that's odd, but just the fact that these things are being produced again make me squee in ways that people really shouldn't squee. I mean, I don't know why I should care so much, because honestly, it's just a computer keyboard, for god's sa-OW OW WHOA HEY STOP HITTING ME

(12 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:November 15th, 2006 08:03 pm (UTC)
I actually bought one with a Windows key, because I use it with a Mac and I need the extra bucky bits.
[User Picture]
Date:November 15th, 2006 08:16 pm (UTC)
I'd probably have to get the one with a Windows key as well, since I've discovered some of the Windows-key combos are incredibly useful, such as Win-D to minimize all windows. Thumb on Windows key, index on D, hey presto THE EVIDENCE IS GONE.
[User Picture]
Date:November 15th, 2006 08:26 pm (UTC)
does the Windows key do the same thing as an Apple key?
[User Picture]
Date:November 15th, 2006 08:35 pm (UTC)
Yep, although I have mine mapped so Windows -> Option and Alt -> Apple, to fit the key positions on an Apple keyboard.
[User Picture]
Date:November 15th, 2006 08:48 pm (UTC)
Isn't that the keyboard that turned Doogie Howser gay?
[User Picture]
Date:November 15th, 2006 09:35 pm (UTC)
Tee hee hee, they sell IBM mice: http://pckeyboards.stores.yahoo.net/ibm2butmous.html

Umm, yeah. Not nearly as cool as the keyboards. I loved those keyboards but I don't think I could go back to something so loud.

windows+l locks your computer. This is useful at work where you get "Dude"d if you don't lock it. OK, maybe *you* don't get "Dude"d but I would.
[User Picture]
Date:November 15th, 2006 10:01 pm (UTC)
they r0xx0r. my boy toy is obsessed.

personally, i use a kinesis because otherwise, i crunch my wrists up something awful. it's kinda clicky, but nothing compared with the model m.
[User Picture]
Date:November 15th, 2006 11:18 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's another drawback to the Model M; it is to wrist-happy ergonomics as Bertie Wooster is to common sense.

Once we all get titanium wrist-hand implants, though, these problems will be a thing of the past.
[User Picture]
Date:November 15th, 2006 10:19 pm (UTC)
There is nothing like the clickety-clackety that a proper keyboard makes when you type on it. That was one thing I ~loved~ about the old Macs in my high school computer lab. When you typed on one of those people KNEW you were typing by gosh. (and it really did sound like you were typing twice as fast too...)

The current keyboards are just a pale imitation I'm afraid...
[User Picture]
Date:November 16th, 2006 04:54 am (UTC)
I didn't have a model M, but I did (and do) have a Northgate Omnikey keyboard from around 1991 that had the same heavy-action clickety-clack. Some six years ago I found another in a garage sale and bought it in case I ever had to replace the original. So far my original Omnikey is still going strong. And loud.
[User Picture]
Date:November 16th, 2006 06:12 am (UTC)
OK, maybe I shouldn't say anything, I know you'll hate me if I say it, but heck, it's true.

Those keyboards sucked big big time. And I don't say it lightly.

For people who learned how to type on an IBM Selectric (with the golf ball, no less) and moved to the DEC VTs, the keyboard on the first IBM PCs kept me away from PCs for the longest time ever. To begin with, the thing will click no matter what, even if the computer is off. That is just so wrong in so many ways -- anyone knows that the key should only click if the typewriter/computer actually *produced* a letter, if the machine is off there should be absolutely no sound. Also, some of the keys should never click until you press the next key, control, shift etc being prime examples, which the PC keyboard made click anyway. Also, the keyboards I liked had sculpted keys and the PC keyboard was just oh, so plain, when compared to the keys that conformed to your finger tips. And to top it off, the keyboards I liked offered just a slight resistance when you started typing a character, just enough when the key would start going down, then the key would continue down on its own and you could start typing the next key without hitting the bottom of the key travel, so if you were typing a whole lot all day long (which I was), you wouldn't hurt your hands like most people do. To me, and a bunch of people, the PC keyboards were just a glaring sign that IBM had cheapened out and the brand was just not worth as much as it previously did.

And it is sad, but it's true, the keyboards I (and a lot of other people) liked were harder to produce and more expensive and, to top it off, they did not last long, the very springs and contacts that made them so nice to type on would wear out very fast. But oh, we would pay and go thru keyboards anyway, because it didn't hurt as much and we could fly thru documents with them. And the keyclick (generated by the terminal, not the keys themselves) was a big part of that feedback that helped me type faster, and one more reason I hated PC keyboards so much back then.

But then everyone went to the membrane-type keyboards and things got equally bad for everyone. To the point that people think that the PC keyboards were even good.

Sorry. I'll be running now, hopefully you won't hit me with the keyboard. ;-)
Date:November 18th, 2006 08:06 pm (UTC)
They make new ones? Oh man, now my three antique Model Ms aren't so special.

I love my model Ms.

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