It's just this little chromium switch, here... (derspatchel) wrote,
It's just this little chromium switch, here...

[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
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