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Good keyboards matter.

tux0r profile image tux0r ใƒป4 min read

We all know it because we all think the same about our own system: You have the world's best IDE (or text editor) running on the only operating system that matters to you, carefully hand-crafted toolchains allowing you to develop and distribute ten applications at the same time, and you even have an adequate display attached to it so you can see ALL the things at the same time. That's all that is important anyway. Everything is perfect, right?

Well, have you ever thought about which keyboard to use? If you are happy with whatever comes with your computer or whatever is hyped in your particular community (looking at you, reddit!) without thinking about why you do that, you might want to spend a second thought on it.

Being a developer (it is safe to assume that most people reading this on DEV are developers), the one thing you need to produce is text. Yes, even your smartphone/tablet/smartwatch can produce text. But would you do serious development on it without any additional input hardware attached? Probably not, because their integrated "keyboards" are crap for anything that's longer than an average tweet.

In my (non-professional - I'm not a keyboard maker) opinion, a good keyboard for developers must have these properties:

  • A sane form factor.

    Most people I know don't really use the "ten-key" block most of the time, which is fine. There have been keyboards without one for more than three decades - but that's as far as you should go.

    Yes, "modern" approaches like this one may be optimized for one special thing, but you probably will do more with your keyboard than that one special thing - and you should ask yourself if it's really worth the additional design price tag to be unable to type blindly for months. We're talking about productivity here, not about collecting lovely gadgets. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • A sane layout.

    This is actually closely related to the form factor.

    You grew up with one (usually QWERTZ/QWERTY/AZERTY) and you can probably use it at a reasonable speed at adult age. We all heard the stories about the Dvorak, Colemak and even more obscure layouts which would magically make you type 942 words per minute. But they most certainly won't - and you will probably have major problems using other people's computers once you unlearned your home layout.

    It is probably not worth it.

  • A good keyfeel.

    Yes, there are differences in how keys feel. Your typical flat laptop's built-in keyboard will feel very different from an old IBM PC's one, not just because of the height of the keys. You will make more or less typing errors depending on two factors: The size of the keys (I, for one, can't type on most laptop keyboards without an embarrassing amount of errors) and the switches under those keys, requiring very different weights and sometimes even "travels" to register a pressed key.

    Again, a good keyfeel is one that fits your fingers. Don't go ask other people about which kind of keys they'd recommend to you. They will just scream their own preferences over each other and you will not have a qualified answer. Try as many as you can. You have friends, coworkers or relatives which have a different keyboard than you? You see a keyboard in a shop or in the scrapyard which you haven't tried before? Excellent. Try it!

    The best keys are those which have a good grip and are hard enough to press (most cheap keyboards feel like pressing a sponge and that will hurt your fingers badly over the years), but not too hard. There is an obvious difference between 20 grams and 80 grams. Your fingers will feel even little differences.

  • A decent build quality.

    Don't worry. I don't say you should grab one of the late 70s/early 80s all-metal keyboards which will survive the next atomic war. If you haven't got one of those yet, you probably don't want to afford one anyway. (Or do you?) But remember that a keyboard is a device which is basically (lightly) hammered by you for hours every day. Having keys which feel awesome does not help you when the case is falling apart. Touch the case. Can you bend it? Does it make noises when you can? If it does, you'd better try another.

I will not recommend any keyboard which "fits you all". There is none. My current personal preference is pictured above only because I finally figured out how to add a picture here. ๐Ÿ™‚

I hope I could inspire you anyway.

Discussion

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

I hate my MacBook Pro keyboard so much. Never again.

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tux0r profile image
tux0r Author

Well, it does have a configurable bar for extra keys... and recent MacBook Pro keyboards (one of my coworkers has bought a new one) have a lovely crisp sound. But yes, laptop keyboards mostly are a PITA.

At least Apple still allows you to connect external keyboards. Who knows for how long? ;-)

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Dian Fay

The touch bar is cute and some applications do neat things with it (the volume slider for one example) but I wound up disliking it a lot because the mutability and lack of texture mean you have to look down at it in order to use it.

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rhymes profile image
rhymes

Exactly! There's no physical feedback and no pattern on the position of actions which means that you need to look at it every time, which means you're better off learning keyboard shortcuts.

It's a nice add-on but probably beta tested on users.

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Ben Halpern

I don't even hate the touchbar that much. I like it for some things. But the keyboard itself is soooooooooo fragile to dust and dirt. It is always having some issue.

They must have fixed this on the latest version but I just feel like I'm losing confidence in this hardware ecosystem. I'm considering have a work desktop and a home desktop and maybe a toy MacBook or some other notebook computer as something I only use in special circumstances.

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rhymes profile image
rhymes

They should start selling OSX to other hardware makers :P

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dmfay profile image
Dian Fay

I don't have an iphone so I can't speak to the notch but there's the 3.5mm headphone jack debacle, losing the magnetic power clip and USB-A ports, the touch bar, the Speak & Spell caliber keyboard... It all adds up to Apple possibly being the worst thing to happen to Apple hardware. I got a new MBP when I joined my current company earlier this year and have been wishing I'd asked for a Linux laptop instead ever since.

@rhymes if you just want to run OSX -- you do know about the hackintosh people right?

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rhymes profile image
rhymes

I don't have an iphone so I can't speak to the notch but there's the 3.5mm headphone jack debacle, losing the magnetic power clip and USB-A ports, the touch bar, the Speak & Spell caliber keyboard...

I'm actually thinking, after 8 years of Android phones to switch to an iPhone. They seem to be a little more secure. Also Apple products hold their value better, if resold, better. I'm still not 100% convinced because of the price of the phone but I'm seriously thinking about switching now that my Nexus 5X seems to have reached its "programmed obsolescense" silvery years

Anyhow, digressions aside, a lot of the high end phones have gone Apple's route: some have added a notch and most of them have removed the headphone jack. The next Google phone (due in October) is headphone jack-less and looks like this for heaven's sake:

google pixel 3 xl

To tell you how much Apple has an impact there's an actual category called: Best Android Phone With a Headphone Jack in 2018 going around tech websites.

It's the dumbest thing ever :-(

The magsafe removal doesn't make sense, I'm so sad about it. I've tripped in those cables so many times and I think my Macbook Pro lasted 6 years also thanks to the magsafe.

It all adds up to Apple possibly being the worst thing to happen to Apple hardware

I think it wasn't true all the time. I think it has to do with the absence of a ceiling for how big Apple can become (briefly the first trillion dollar company in human history which speaks more about us than it speaks about Apple). They became massive, quality was bound to get lost in the process. A proof of the value of the hardware in the past (aided by the power of the brand obviously) is my own experience with Macbooks: I had my first one for 3-4 years and sold it for half of its value. The current one I had it for 6 years and its not that much of a slog and I never had any significant problems. The battery isn't that great anymore and I replaced the hard drive with a SSD but still, the laptop is solid.

Apple shifted its main hardware business to sell iPhones and probably Macbooks were... neglected.

The current lineup is not great, hence my worry.

@rhymes if you just want to run OSX -- you do know about the hackintosh people right?

Not really, but having had a Mac for 12 years made me lazy. I definitely do not want to go back to the days (sometimes fun I admit) of figuring out if this or that is compatible that other thing or to have to build my own computer. I use the laptop also for "non dev stuff" (read Adobe programs) and I need something that just works :D I will have a look nonetheless, thank you!

I would consider switching to Windows if... no I'm joking. It's not for me.

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Dian Fay

I hate smartphones so when my venerable flip phone (approximate battery life most of a month) finally bit the dust a couple years ago I got the cheapest, crappiest Android phone I could find with the reasoning that I wasn't going to want to actually use it anyway. It suffices. Maps are good to have, I guess. But the upshot is I'm not really worried about what goes on at the high end of the market even when it makes its way to the lower.

As for the rest -- who knows, with Valve getting into WINE development and releasing Proton 2019 may be the year of Linux on the desktop after all! ๐Ÿ˜‚

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rhymes

Ah ah "the year of linux on the desktop", where have I heard that already :D ?

In the meantime Linux won on the servers and on the phones

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vitalcog profile image
Chad Windham

"They should start selling OSX to other hardware makers"

I'm sure you know this, but OSX is heavily tied to apple hardware. When you make a "hackintosh" you basically wind up having something that isn't as useful as a linux machine... At least that's the word on the street, from people that have done it. If you run OSX on anything other than apple hardware, you lose most of the benefits. Heck, even windows is releasing (or has released?) a linux OS for IoT stuff...

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Casey Hendley

"They should start selling OSX to other hardware makers :P"

Because that worked out sooooo well in the 90s when Apple nearly went out of business ... (and maybe that was your point, I didn't detect the necessary level of sarcasm if that was the case ;) )

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tux0r profile image
tux0r Author

Apple sold OSX to other hardware makers in the 90s?

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

"The Scully years". As Microsoft took off, Apple tried a lot of stuff to keep up and most of it failed big time.

Apple went in the other direction with Jobs + iMac, iPod, etc. and eventually shot to 1 trillion.

As much as it sucks for us sometimes, it's worked like magic for them.

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rhymes

Yeah, this hackintosh thing seems to be cool but I feel like it's way better to buy any equivalent laptop to a Macbook Pro whatever model and put Linux on it :-)

I read the tutorial and a troubleshooting guide and it seems you can't use USB 3 properly with High Sierra nor you can use APFS (well, this might be fine by me :D) nor you can use SSD TRIM settings. Also you have to get lucky not to get a specific combination of GPUs and audio controllers otherwise you need patches that might or might not work.

Definitely too much hassle :-D

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rhymes

No it wasn't sarcasm at that level. I wasn't secretly rooting for Apple demise. I think it was a completely different era though. A completely different Apple with a market capitalization that was way lower than it is now.

There's probably zero interest for them to do it but it might work in theory. I'm sure that on paper they could go to a few hardware makers, sign deals for a very few models with top of the line specs and work in tandem to create such laptops but there's no apparent reason, it's a lot of work with a very unsure outcome, they have more cash than a few nations on earth so they don't need to do it and also their focus has shifted to mobile devices, which is one of the reasons why we're complaining about the diminished quality of their computers :D

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chutoro profile image
Casey Hendley

Apple licensed Mac OS to "clone" manufacturers in the 90s, yes. They haven't done this with OS X, but it's not called that anymore, either. It's just "macOS" now (for a couple years, I think). Point being, that Apple lost revenue, it did not reinvigorate them, and people were associating Apple's brand with cheap hardware.

Leaving all the arguments about the virtues of free software to one side, Apple is a "closed shop", and that's why they've become the first trillion dollar company. They don't stand to gain anything by licensing macOS to third parties, as much as we might wish it so.

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chutoro profile image
Casey Hendley

I would have no issues with using Linux for work, other than the fact that I work for a very large "Microsoft shop" even though I almost never touch Windows in any capacity, and work almost entirely with Linux.

But the rest of the company does not, so I am forced to use a platform that runs Microsoft Office (mainly because Skype for Business is required), and at least macOS is UNIX.

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tux0r Author

Learned another thing today. Thank you!

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tux0r Author

at least macOS is UNIX.

One could argue about that. Sure, macOS is certified to be allowed to wear the UNIX trademark like it was a badge, but for (us) purists, the only Unices left are AIX, HP-UX and Solaris - with Solaris, sadly, having the brightest future.

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Carsten Gehling

I thought the *BSD's counted as true Unix as well?

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tux0r Author

Not anymore. They were forced to remove the last bit of original Unix code around 1992. Their degree of POSIX compatibility is varying.

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Casey Brooks

I really like the touchbar on my Macbook, especially with Intellij adding support for putting the run/debug buttons (or anything else you want) in it. But the actual keys are terrible, and I'll never forgive Apple for taking away my physical escape key.

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Michael Gorovoy

Try Microsoft Natural Keyboard 4000, one of the best keyboards ever made in my opinion. I have been using flavors of the MS Natural for the past 20+ years both professionally and personally with very good results.

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rhymes

The new Macbook Pros seem to have a lot of oddities :D

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Casey Hendley

The vast majority of the time I use my MacBook Pro 2017 with two external displays and a mechanical keyboard. Personally, I find the Touch Bar more of an annoyance than an awesome feature, especially when typing while laying down (accidentally hit it a lot). There's no such thing as a modern, lightweight, portable laptop with a good keyboard, so for me it's not really an issue.

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Brett Stevenson

I had a Razer Blade that I thought was a modern, lightweight, portable laptop with a good keyboard, until I figured out that they only last like 6 months without contracting a variety of annoying issues.

So I resorted back to a MacBook Pro 2017 (sans-touchbar) that I use with a similar setup to yours so the keyboard isn't too much of an issue.

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Dhairav Mehta

I would beg to disagree. I love the 2017 MacBook Pro keyboard, such less travel, and the keys are just so comfortably placed for my fingers. My palms rest very well next to huge beautiful trackpad, gestures for which in MacOS are brilliant, I hope Ubuntu or any other Distro for that matter implements the laptop trackpad like they have.

The crispy clicks the keyboard makes, makes me want to keep typing more and more (Childish, I Know :P).

I know there are some dirt issues, but in the year that I've been using one as my daily driver, I haven't faced any yet.

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Nate

You are not alone!

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azazello2 profile image
Kenneth Lancaster

Same here. I was duped into buying this piece of junk (it cost me over $5,000) and that is the last time.

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Ali Sherief

A 2018 MacBook Pro keyboard wouldn't last for a month where I live. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Mark Thomas Miller

Same here. I'm surprised they released it โ€” no one I've talked to, even casual users, has liked the feel.

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Johnny Reina

I use a Microsoft Sculpt out of necessity. I had used a plain square mechanical for years until I started getting RSI a few years back. I tried to power through the pain at my current job until it just became too much. The first consideration when choosing a keyboard should be your long-term health.

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tux0r profile image
tux0r Author

Does it help? To me, it looks like it would make my productivity hide under the table. :-)) I honestly haven't tried an ergonomic keyboard yet.

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Johnny Reina

It took me a few weeks to fully adjust to it and my productivity has actually increased a bit since my wrists don't become sore after a few hours.

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rhymes

I have the same keyboard, it takes sometime to get used to but I get less strained

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Heberto Leon

Is Microsoft the only maker of this type of keyboards are there any other makers?

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Johnny Reina

Plenty of companies make ergonomic keyboards. I found this one by searching Amazon for "ergonomic keyboard". It actually has poor reviews so I imagine that there are much better (and probably more affordable) alternatives out there.

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nateous profile image
Nate

I get pain sometimes too but I had a hard time with the ergonomic keyboard. I probably am doing something wrong. But as it was said above, long term health wins.

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millebi profile image
Bill Miller

If you can't place a ruler from your forearm to your knuckles; you will eventually be in for pain caused by wrist problems.

I used to use just a keyboard with the back feet up and after 15 years ended up with pain bad enough that I had trouble driving my car. After I flattened the keyboard and started using a wrist rest to keep my wrists flat, the pains have gone away. If you can use a "bent" keyboard, you will eliminate the side to side bending as well which causes so many people problems.

Remember: The original typing position taught in schools (when it needed to be taught using mechantical typewriters) was to keep your wrists flat. This was originally because you needed the muscle power to press the keys, but they were inadvertantly eliminating one of the potential RSI points. When you get "lazy" and rest your wrists on the table, the angle starts damaging the nerves going through the wrist bones.

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Alexandre Terrien

I don't quite agree with your argument on the form factor and the key layout.

About four to five months ago, I made the switch from AZERTY to BEPO, and it's not that long to get used to it.

I spend some time doing exercises (maybe half an hour per day), to learn the home row and the main keys, without looking at the keyboard (touch typing). Then I printed the layout that I put next to my screen, and just used that as a reference when I switched using only bepo. To be frank, the first two weeks I typed really slowly, then it for better, and now I can type reliably without looking at my keyboard.

Then I got a ortholinear split keyboard (so all the keys in a grid, and the keyboard in two parts). The switch was really easy, as you already know which finger goes for which key, and it's even more straightforward since everything's on a grid.

Also, those kind of keyboards come with the great advantage that you can do what you want with the firmware on it (it's called qmk firmware), so it's up to you to decide how you put your modifiers. For example, I noticed I only used my left thumb to press space, so I decided to assign the two keys under my right thumb to return and backspace, so I make minimal movement to access those keys I use often. Also, you can decide to map your function keys to every functionality you want, so I put the directional keys vim-like, on the right home row.

Here's the keyboard

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tux0r Author

The existence of a "home row" is a historical misunderstanding. There never was a "home row" - it was a later explanation for placing your fingers where the arrow keys were before there were arrow keys, i.e. in the 1970s. Your nav block should probably be named the "home row" today ... ;-)

I am not a good idol for which keyboard to buy and which layout to use with it. I never learned to use ten fingers to type. But I still won a typing contest at school, so that's OK for me. To each their own!

I never heard of BEPO though.

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Alexandre Terrien

Bepo is a layout made on the same methodology as Dvorak, but for French, with a good placement of characters often used by programmers (semicolumn, brackets, curly brackets etc.). It has quite a good community around it, so it's not that hard to find help on how to make your software behave well with bepo (for example, vim configuration).

For the home row, there might be no historical meaning behind it, but it means all my keys are at most 2 keys away from my fingers, so I'll take it as it is.

But of course, to each their own, if you can type fine without all of that, and don't have any risk of problems with your wrists, then it's all good :)

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Mihail Malo

That's still where my arrow keys are.
Why aren't yours?

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tux0r profile image
tux0r Author

Because I have actual arrow keys and I don't use vi/Vim.

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Scott Harrison

Great post, I use a 2014 Macbook Pro keyboard at work and I actually really like it. I have a Corsair mechanical keyboard at home and I honestly can't get on with it, I make a lot more mistakes with that keyboard than I do with my Macbook.

I'm tempted to purchase a new keyboard soon but I don't know what I would get, I love the customisability of some of the mechanical keyboard like Pokers etc. but if the feel is anything like my Corsair then it's not going to work well for me.

Also the newer Macbook keyboards feel really odd to me and I don't think I would be able to use that comfortably.

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Alejandro Madariaga Angeles

Sounds like you maybe like lower travel, low profile mechanical keyboards (like me) hexgears X1 Kickstarter, Unfortunately it ended today, but โ€œcooler masterโ€ and others are releasing very similar models at the end of the year

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Scott Harrison

That looks awesome, I'll definitely investigate low profile mechanical keyboards! Thanks.

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tux0r Author

I love the customisability of some of the mechanical keyboard like Pokers etc.

Hmm, most (good) mechanical keyboards allow easy layout changes by moving keys around. I never had a Pok3r though.

The Unicomps have two-piece keys, you can remove/exchange all keycaps without removing the keys themselves, maybe that's an option for you? ;-) (Yes, I really like mine.)

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Alexandre Terrien

The poker allows for some customization, but you cannot get full control unless you change the firmware, which has risks.

For example, right alt and space makes the fn, pn, right control and right shift behave like arrow keys, and this behavior cannot be changed. However, this combination is for the character _ in bepo, which you type pretty often while coding, so that causes frequent problems.

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Scott Harrison

It's not so much the layout that I like the customisability of as the case, keycaps, colours, cables etc.

A lot of the stuff you see on reddit.com/r/mechanicalkeyboards looks great and really appeals to me but after my experience not really finding my Corsair mechanical keyboard usable I'm hesitant to invest the money in one.

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tux0r Author

case, keycaps, colours, cables etc.

Indeed. Cable choices are quite rare, sadly. :-( It must be too expensive to make them removable...

I'm rather clumsy when handling anything that's hardware, so I'm out from most of the stuff on reddit. :))

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Jakob Christensen

Interesting. For me it is the other way around. I love my Corsair Strafe on my dekstop but I cannot get used to the flat keys with lots of spacing around on the Macbook.

On the other hand I am really fast on the Microsoft Surface Pro keyboard where there is almost no space between the keys.

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Bill Miller

Undoubtedly you've discovered that the keyboard you like is based on the size of your hands. The width of the palm, and length of fingers makes some keyboards better feeling than others. As mentioned in the article, your personal preference is everything.

One thing to note: Once you find "the perfect" keyboard, try and figure out WHY it's perfect. Is it key spacing, is it key sizes, is it the vertical travel, and is it the noises (lack of noise) it makes that makes it perfect. If you can pin down those things, then it's much easier to purchase a notebook/keyboard over the internet without trying it.

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Eljay-Adobe

My favorite keyboards:

  • IBM Model M
  • Unicomp Spacesaver M
  • Apple Extended Keyboard M0115
  • Acer Keyboard 6011
  • Razer Blackwidow X Tournament Edition Chroma

The Apple keyboard is especially noteworthy, since it is the only keyboard that Apple has ever made that doesn't suck. Not only doesn't suck, but is actually impressively good. Unfortunately, ADB has gone by the wayside.

The Apple M0115 and the Acer 6011 both used Alps mechanisms.

Buckling spring gives "clickety-click". Alps mechanism is more of a "tickety-tick".

Razer uses their own keyswitch mechanism, which is intended to mimic Cherry MX Blue switches. I like Cherry MX Blue switches, too. I have a few keyboards with them, but I'm not currently using them day-to-day.

Of the ones above, the IBM, Unicomp, and Razer I'm using day-to-day. On my MacBook Pro, I use a Razer keyboard. Yes, I use a keyboard on a laptop. I detest the MacBook Pro keyboard; but then again I detest almost all Apple keyboards, with the one exception noted above (which is a fabulous keyboard, albeit the size of a battleship).

Full disclosure: I'm an unabashed Apple fanboy, but I am not a fan of their keyboards, or their mice. They may be pretty, but they're not functional. Form should follow function.

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tux0r Author

Buckling spring gives "clickety-click".

The Model M does. The Model F gives "clickety-PING!". ๐Ÿ˜Š (Too annoying for me, sadly.)

I see we have similar preferences though. How old is your Unicomp? I bought a PC122 two weeks ago, replacing the cheap Cherry I mentioned in another comment, and the case, while being made from incredibly sturdy material (good old IBM stuff...), has its problems. (I posted a review here.)

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Eljay-Adobe

I have six Model M keyboards, and seven various Unicomp keyboards (all buckling spring, all USB), and four Razer keyboards. I have a lot of computers that I'm actively using.

The Unicomp keyboards I have are between 3 months old to 20 years old. I've had two of them wear out on me (not included in the seven). I've had two Model M wear out on me (not included in the six). And by "wear out" I mean they're heavily worn out and no longer function and are not salvagable.

I've never used a Model F. Maybe that's a good thing. :-D

I do not have any of the 122-key keyboards originally designed for mainframe terminals, but I have used them in the past on mainframes.

I do miss the WHACKETY-WHACK of the Teletype Model 33. ;-) I don't think solenoid based keyboards will make a comeback, though.

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tux0r profile image
tux0r Author

I've never used a Model F. Maybe that's a good thing. :-D

Neither have I, but I have read and YouTube'd a lot before spending so much money. Unicomp seems to be the only chance to have a buckling spring keyboard without the "20 years of heavy usage" tag, and they don't make Model Fs - and the "new" Model Fs are far from actual Model Fs, except the switches, probably. Buckling springs seemed to be exactly what I was hunting for. I will see if I'll ever switch back again. (I never had Alps - but I'm much too late for that anyway.)

I deliberately chose the PC122 model though. I quite love the look and it is awesome to have 16 additional "macro keys" (F13-24 plus four on the left side) on Windows. I'm still undecided what to do with them all. You only have so many media keys to use. ;-)

I don't think solenoid based keyboards will make a comeback, though.

Good!

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thingule profile image
Thingule

You might want to read the thread on the new Model Fs โ€“ those are so very close to the original that they are probably even more "Model F" then the old ones ever were ;)

Seriously, though: The guy who makes them is commited to make them as true to their ancestors as humanly possible; it's amazing.

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tux0r profile image
tux0r Author

I have read about them.

  • No full-size keyboards (or even the lovely F122s), only the "kishsavers". (I would blindly buy a "new F122"!)
  • They are not "new Model Fs". They have a Model M layout.
  • The price hurts my eyes.

But I respect the creator for his commitment anyway. :-)

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thingule profile image
Thingule

Not sure what you mean with the Model M layout, but the size is an understandable point โ€“ I like my small keyboards, but I can fully understand the desire for an F122.

The price isโ€ฆ well, it's a lot โ€“ but you get something for it that might last decades ;)

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tux0r profile image
tux0r Author

The Model M layout is what you still use today, with the size and placement of Ctrl, Alt, Return et cetera. I should better name it the "AT layout", probably.

See this comparison.

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geoff profile image
Geoff Davis

If anyone wants more information about Mechanical Keyboards, I highly recommend checking out the /r/MechanicalKeyboards subreddit, and following people like Cassidy Williams aka Cassidoo or Suz Hinton who are involved and/or share information on MKs and the community.

Mechanical keyboards are very personal, are a great hobby, and often can be a worthwhile investmentโ€“ especially for us professionals and hobbyists who write code all day :P

My collection of keyboards:

Leopold FC750R-PD with EnjoyPBT 9009 keycaps, Cherry MX Clear switches
Leopold FC750R, MX Clear switches, w/ EnjoyPBT 9009 keycaps

Vortex POK3R, Cherry MX Clear switches
Vortex POK3R, Cherry MX Clear switches

Ducky One 2 Midnight, Cherry MX Blue switches
Ducky One 2 Midnight, Cherry MX Blue switches

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jopiehb profile image
Joost Halenbeek

Hello Geoff, I'm looking to buy same keyboard and keycaps (Leopold fc750r / enjoypbt 9009) and came across your post. (My first mechanical keyboard) Do the keycaps fit this keyboard well? I've read some posts on other message boards that the modifier (and other) keys don't type as nice as with the stock keycaps.

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Geoff Davis

Hey Joost!

I have not had a single problem with keycaps fitting on my Leopold, or really any other problem; I love that board to death and recommend it to anybody.

It's a fantastic board to start out with, and frankly I have little desire to adventure out to other layouts or styles because it is such a quality piece. It's not super customizable, but it's on par with most other TKL boards.

EnjoyPBT9009 specifically, I really enjoy the set. (I'm typing on my POK3R with that set on it now!) The quality is good for the price, and specifically when I had it on my Leopold, the keys had a certain pleasant "bounce" to them.

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jopiehb profile image
Joost Halenbeek

Thx Geoff, that sounds really good, I'm going to hunt down the two-tone white Leopold, it seems to be out of stock at the moment (in Europe at least - I live in The Netherlands). I can wait if it is for something as nice as this keyboard! I have just now received the blue/grey version, but returning it because I find it much too dark. But it is a thing of beauty, and so solid.

Edit: Geoff, can I ask you one more question... I really like those windowed caps lock keys. Do you know: does the one from EnjoyPBT work with the leopold led?

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geoff profile image
Geoff Davis

Unfortunately, I believe those windowed caps do not fit due to the type of position the Leopold's Caps Lock uses. (otherwise, I'd have mine on too!)

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jopiehb profile image
Joost Halenbeek

That surprises me. So the windowed keycap has different shape than the non-windowed keycap?
Good to know. On pictures it looks the same, just with a led window.

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markthomasm profile image
Mark Thomas Miller

Your Ducky One 2 is gorgeous!

Sincerely,
A fellow /r/mk user

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inmeyal profile image
inmeyal

Hello geoff, which keyboard is better ? the Ducky one 2 or the FC750r they both cost 125$ and i really like RGB but if the leopold is that much better then ill go with it. Thanks

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geoff profile image
Geoff Davis

Hey inmeyal! I prefer the Leopold for the price. The construction is definitely sturdier and it has more of a classic look, in my opinion.

Hope this helps :)

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Benny Powers ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฑ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ

Couldn't agree more. That's why I'm going to give an unsolicited plug to my daily driver: Ergodox EZ. Mine is modded with custom switches cannibalized from a set of mx blues (the stems) along with special-ordered 67 gram switches.

One of these days I'm going to build (or preferably buy - what can I say I'm comfortable with how bougie I've become ๐Ÿ˜‰) a dactyl manuform

If you think that your editor, your compiler, your language, your browser, or even your OS is the tool you use the most while coding, you're wrong - it's your keyboard. Invest in it!

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binarydigit profile image
Liz Rodriguez

This is literally the reason I switched from a new Macbook to my Dell XPS running Ubuntu. C'mon Apple, give us nice keyboards again! I like your OS!

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Ben Halpern

Yeah, I think this is me in the not-too-distant future.

Apple, for a while, had the best OS and the best hardware, and together it was pretty awesome. But their attempts to "innovate" in this regard have been total flops in the past couple years.

It took me a while to become totally disenchanted but I think I'm there.

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binarydigit profile image
Liz Rodriguez

I welcome you to the other side my friend!

The only thing I miss is my photoshop/lightroom software for my photography but I use my mac mini or PC for that (which, what the heck Apple, can you update that too please!)

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avalander profile image
Avalander

Apple, for a while, had the best OS and the best hardware

I didn't know that Apple used to ship their computers with Linux :P

Alright, I'll show myself out.

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binarydigit profile image
Liz Rodriguez

...they do, Mac OS is based off of FreeBSD :D

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avalander profile image
Avalander

I thought the BSD family was based on Unix, not Linux.

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tux0r profile image
tux0r Author

It is. BSD started as a AT&T (Bell Labs) Unix distribution in the late 1970s. Today, they don't share much code (except that Version 8 Unix was basically BSD, backported to run on the VAX) for licensing reasons.

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kungtotte profile image
Thomas Landin

Some people bring up typing speed when they talk about different layouts, but the primary benefit of anything non-qwerty is the reduced hand strain and consequently reduced risks of RSI.

Look up the Workman layout for example, their homepage has a ton of great information and statistics about the different layouts.

You also won't forget QWERTY. And if you're rusty, 99% of all keyboards have the QWERTY layout printed on them so you have your cheatsheet right there.

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Yoric

I invested in a mechanical Das Keyboard with blank keys. I challenged myself to blind type with 10 fingers (I also went from azerty to qwerty). That was hard at first, for months, but it got better and better until I finally outspeed my old (but fast) "4 fingers" way of typing. More importantly, I can now focus on the screen while typing, and I feel more relaxed.

Regarding the brand, it's quality but I wasn't that impressed for the price I paid (around 230 $) and I would surely buy a cheaper one if I had to.

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Alexandre Terrien

The DKB4U was my first mech keyboard. It's great but heavy (not made to carry around), and I feel the keys are wiggly on topic, when I compare it with my other keyboards (pok3r and home made Viterbi). So now it gathers dust in a cupboard.

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yoric profile image
Yoric

Wow so I think we have the same...
DKB4U

Mine is also taking dust on a bookshelf, except I put it into its original cardboard package (so it won't take too much dust, which is pretty visible on a black color keyboard by the way)).

The main reason for me is I'm off in a foreign country for one year. So I left my dear desktop computer and this keyboad. I'm now using a small laptop instead, more convenient when traveling.

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alterrien profile image
Alexandre Terrien

I have one of the new (with touchbar) Macbook pro, and the keyboard is such a pain, it's really hard to distinguish keys by touch (plus no physical escape and function keys). I think I'd carry my 60% keyboard if I had to travel for more than a month abroad, since it's quite light

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rhymes profile image
rhymes

This thing to me it's really bonkers. You spend a lot of money on a computer and the thing you have to use all the time to input commands to it is the thing they messed up the most.

-_-

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Casey Cole

I use my happy hacking pro keyboard 2 for everything. Granted I don't game but for programmers that use vim its great. It only takes about a week to get used to the arrow keys, but trying to go back to another keyboard that doesn't have a control key where capslock is will never ever happen for me.

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tux0r profile image
tux0r Author

Wouldn't remapping be cheaper?

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Casey Cole

I do that on my other keyboards but I spend 8-10 hours a day programming every day 200$ is not that much considering i use it more than I do my car. My other main keyboard is the unicomp with same layout except arrow keys but I don't see it on there website any more. I have about 12 keyboards now to and its still my favorite.

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tux0r profile image
tux0r Author

I see. :)

Yep, Unicomp tends to rearrange their catalog. A lot of people are still waiting for the promised TKL though.

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Heberto Leon

Great article. Keyboards are indeed a very personal pieces of hardware. I am pretty new to web development about 10 months using ruby and rails. And if you are new to development, like I am you already been through the which IDE is better, spaces vs tabs and even the emacs vs vim debacles, so I wasnโ€™t looking forward to the keyboard debates. I just wanted an enjoyable keyboard. So I had a list of requirement.

  • Under $160USD
  • Well Built
  • Mechanicals Switches I picked Cherry MX browns because being a my first mechanical keyboard, I figure the happy medium will do and will help me figure out quicker if I needed something different. I also tend to rest some of the weight of my fingers in homerow without being activating so easily, I also want to do some light gaming in the future, so happy medium.
  • OS agnostic
  • Backlit
  • True N-Key Rollover over PS2
  • Minimal (no branding/logo)

So I end it up grabbing the CODE 104-Key by WASD KEYBOARDS which was a collaborative work between WASD and Jeff Atwood. I am extremely happy with it and I probably will grab another one for the office. My only issue was that you must have a wrist/palm rest because itโ€™s a little tall so I bought a wooden palm rest and Itโ€™s perfect now.

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Jason C. McDonald

I am the proud owner of a CODE Keyboard with MX Blue switches, and I absolutely adore it! It's everything I ever wanted in a keyboard: great tactile response, excellent key texture, great layout, backlit, with superbly intuitive media keys.

Personally, I type at 100 WPM, at 98% accuracy. I spend a large majority of my life typing, as a programmer, author, teacher, manager, IT, and (recently) typesetter. This is the absolute most comfortable keyboard I've ever used.

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Matt Miller (he/him)

Now that I see they offer a UK layout AND a TKL board this has become a lot more interesting!

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rapidnerd profile image
George Marr

I have kinda a unique keyboard

the base board is a corsair K65, it doesn't have a numpad on the side (i use up top more). But what you've probably noticed is that all the key caps are blank and white, I really like the look and feel of them but the main thing is that I'm the only person in my house who can touch type, so no one else in my family is able to login to my computer. Unless they want to use the onscreen keyboard with the mouse for a few hours.

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Paul Lefebvre

I've been using the Kinesis Freestyle 2 for Mac for many years and am a big fan. It is a "weird" keyboard though as it is split into two halves that are connected by a wire. Keeps my wrists nice and straight so I find it comfortable, the key feel is nice and it has several Mac-specific keys built in.

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andy profile image
Andy Zhao (he/him)

Big big fan of this keyboard! I've only been using it for a little while now, and I love the split key feeling. I also have the raisers and the palm rests (link), and I'm used to that format since I used the Microsoft Sculpt keyboard before.

I don't use the other buttons too often -- probably because I'm not used to it -- but I like that they're an option. Only thing I don't like about the keyboard, I often find myself missing the quote key and hitting Enter/Return instead, but I think that'll come with time.

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d1p profile image
Debashis Dip

Got a cheap Chinese blue switch mechanical keyboard for daily use.
Worth every penny. Typing feels great, Super durable. ๐Ÿ’–

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tux0r profile image
tux0r Author

I had a cheap Swedish blue switch mechanical keyboard for daily use. It was the reason why I added the "decent quality" ... great keys don't help you if your case sucks.

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Debashis Dip

I am pretty happy with mine. The case is hard af, no bending at all.

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tux0r profile image
tux0r Author

What is the name of the manufacturer? I might be interested.

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d1p profile image
Debashis Dip

Rapoo, Mine is v510 model. The cheapest one.

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tux0r profile image
tux0r Author

Hmm, hard to find in Europe (for a reasonable price). Amazon.de has many Rapoos, but not this one. According to the US price tag ($30-$80?) it might be reasonable for me to keep an eye on the usual lists...

Thank you. :-)

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andy profile image
Andy Zhao (he/him)

Random question: is Amazon the defacto online store for just about everything in Europe, like it is here in the States? We still have retail-and-online stores like Fry's, Best Buy, Walmart, etc. but Amazon definitely dominates the market here.

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tux0r profile image
tux0r Author

We had Walmart for a while, but they went away. For food "and stuff", Germany has deli stores similar to France (although ours are smaller). There are some tech chains and a few book chains, but nothing even remotely as big as Amazon. We don't have an offline Amazon though.

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d1p profile image
Debashis Dip

Here in Bangladesh, it costs about 3600BDT. Which translates to around 42 USD.

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puremana profile image
Jeremy

I'm sure I'm in the small minority but I can't stand mechanical keyboards. Every model I have tried has too much force required per keystroke and too much key height.

I prefer typing on my XPS-15 laptop as the key height is minimal while still being somewhat tactile.

Does anyone have any recommendations for a desktop keyboard with low key height that is still tactile?

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gypsydave5 profile image
David Wickes

A sane layout.

Having used Colemak for the last four years, you're kinda right, kinda wrong. Sure, it can be a pita to use Qwerty again (but not that much - it's all muscle memory anyway). The side benefits are the amazing security system you get - fools wonder why they can't type on my computer...

More useful than that craziness is some of the additional craziness you can add by using something like Karabiner or xmodmap to unleash some truly epic keyboard hacks. Capslock becomes useful as both Escape and Control Shift keys can also write parentheses... it's fun.

It is probably not worth it.

You're right - it probably isn't. But, then again, just because Qwerty is popular doesn't make it right (it was designed to slow typing down). And learning a new layout is an awesome opportunity to learn to touchtype, if only because all the keycaps now have the wrong letters on them.

Thanks for the great post.

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tux0r profile image
tux0r Author

I felt the urge to do research on that:

it was designed to slow typing down

I found out that you might be right. So, at least, I learned something today.

Colemak, Dvorak etc. seem to be optimized for people who use ten fingers and mainly type in English. (The Colemak website claims that "for other languages Colemak isn't optimal", and, oh boy, do we need those umlauts!) - Despite being a confident QWERTZ typist, I can't deny that I sometimes take a look at alternatives. Neo would probably be "my" recommended layout if I was interested in using all ten fingers. ;-)

I might try some of those on Android. I don't have a good keyboard there anyway.

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Ian Watkins

DSI Left handed keyboard. Moved the 10 key block and cursor keys to the left, bringing where you type much closer to your mouse (if right handed). Solved my RSI problems almost overnight.

Still can't type though ๐Ÿ˜

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buinauskas profile image
Evaldas

I can't imagine myself switching back to a non mechanical keyboard. Everything else seems to require too much muscle power.

Currently I've got Razer Blackwidow but I'd like to try Das Keyboard 4 Ultimate. Heard many good reviews about it. And it also looks less like a gamer product.

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Roy Larsen

Good keyboards rule. I switched to mechs and never looked back.

At home I have a Ducky One TKL with Cherry Brown switches. They're not my favorite, but I like them for gaming.

At work I'm using a Contra I built with Cherry Clear switches. The Plank/40% layout is weird still, but I like never having to move my hands.

I think the next keyboard for me for work will be a Let's Split with Clears or Zealios. I like the 40% layout, but a regular/flat keyboard isn't good for my right elbow since I have no supination/pronation in that arm. A split would be good because I'd be able to make stands to compensate for my arm issue.

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drrial profile image
d3rrila

I recently got myself a Ducky One 2 (TKL/MX Blue) and it's pretty much a dream to type on.
Mechanical keyboards have the added bonus effect, that they really annoy your co-workers. Which is great of course. Especially MX-Blue :)

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tux0r profile image
tux0r Author

Especially MX-Blue :)

Hmm... ;-)

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pawda profile image
Memoria

After starting feeling hurt from hands to shoulders, I've made the switch to a vertical mouse and ergonomic keyboard. Never looked back since.

I found having an ergonomic workstation brings a lot to productivity or at least having the wrong one can be a pain in the ass to get anything done, for example, I just cannot get used to these new MacBooks keyboards...
I love to write on Lenovo's thinkpad keyboard and use a Microsoft sculpt at office, really like the feeling and key position.

It also guarantee nobody touches my workspace since nobody understands how to use my mouse and keyboard haha.

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chrisemerson

Couldn't disagree more about the layout comments. I grew up with QWERTY like I suspect a lot of people did, but for the sake of the health of my hands, I decided to try a more ergonomic layout - Dvorak in my case - about 7 years ago. I fully switched over and have forgotten how to type on QWERTY now - the muscle memory is all gone. This is far less of a problem than you make out - I rarely have to use someone else's computer, and if I do for an extended period, Dvorak is a well used layout that any OS supports anyway.

Frankly I'd rather not be able to use anyone else's computer anyway than get RSI problems by the time I'm in my mid-40s because I spend my life typing on a computer, and my ability to type is effectively my career at this point. I noticed an immediate drop in strain once I adopted Dvorak, and I would suggest others look too. It's nothing about typing speed for me (I'm about the same speed as I was using QWERTY, though I touch type properly now and never did with QWERTY - something else I learned at the same time), but about ergonomics and long term health. I see no point sticking to a historic layout designed to stop typewriters getting jammed when it's just not relevant these days.

Other than that though, I have a Filco Majestouch 2 with Cherry MX Blue switches, and a custom laser-etched keycap set with the Dvorak layout from WASD Keyboards. At work I have the same keyboard and keycaps, but with Cherry MX Browns instead to keep colleagues happy... I also had a set of blank keycaps that I used on it for a while when learning to touch type & switching layout.

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Avalander

There's something I've always wondered about Dvorak: what happens with shortcuts? Most shortcuts are designed to be easily doable with QWERTY layout, does it get harder or more uncomfortable with Dvorak?

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Patrik Kristian

I found my dream keyboard. ThinkPad with Czech layout. I had one, broke. They do not make it any more. Damn. Managed to buy another. after that i send broken to seller and get brqnd new. Now I have two. One with S/N around 530, second around 970... imagine, 1000 made, lol. What if i after years destroy both? :-O :-D

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nateous profile image
Nate

As a Windows user going to a Mac book pro, I figured I'd do things the Apple way... Why can't I do that on my keyboard Apple!?!? I'm not picky about which keyboard I use as much as I'm crazy about being able to do everything from the keyboard I have. And this coming from a late bloomer in the world of command line all the things!

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Thomas Leon Highbaugh

This is the exact reason I use off-site (cloud but I am never giving in to that marketing con artistry and using the term) storage instead of an overpriced laptop when not in front of my main rig. The processors also suck but that doesn't matter at all if I can't furiously type out several paragraphs in a few seconds time thinking about what an idiot you have to be to spend money on a gaming laptop (seriously stupid was the conclusion on that one)

I heard Apple's new keyboards really suck, but its overpriced Linux anyway and I for one would never spend a red cent on their hardware (its garish)so looks like I will never really know.

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tux0r profile image
tux0r Author

what an idiot you have to be to spend money on a gaming laptop

I own a (2018) gaming laptop - those are nice for compiling stuff. And I attached an external keyboard to it, of course. :-)

its overpriced Linux anyway

Actually, macOS 10.x is loosely based on NeXTSTEP which was a distribution of the Berkeley version of Unix ("BSD"), rooting in the (late) 1970s. Linux is a poor implementation of some of it. Meanwhile, both SysV UNIX (illumos, formerly known as OpenSolaris) and BSD (Free/Net/OpenBSD and their various forks as well as Apple's Darwin) are free software.

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Thomas Leon Highbaugh

It must be nice to be able to sink an extra thousand dollars into a computer that you don't really need and has components that defeat the purpose of laptops like portability and not making noise... I'm still getting my foot in the door and grew up a little too lean to be wasteful but if that's your work flow, have it. I'm also a little too aware of the dark side of life to ever have had time to game so I may just not get some vital aspect of the whole "gaming laptop" that's heavier than a micro atx gaming build thing anyway ๐Ÿ˜

As for macOS (or OSX as it was) sure it maybe based on BSD and I know what it is, that doesn't mean your average Dev does Saying Linux is pretty much the shorthand for anything not MS or Apple, but thanks for clarifying for the community.
Since we are going that way should I just call it GNu/Linux or can we agree that level of sperg is excessive?

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tux0r profile image
tux0r Author

I grew up with high-quality business laptops that could survive contact with my clumsy hands. Sadly, they just don't build these anymore outside the gaming community... also, my desk is usually too full for desktop computers. :)

Hm, I'd prefer to use proper terms so people can learn from me. - Actually, there are Linux distributions which don't rely on GNU, so I would just say "a Linux distribution".

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markthomasm profile image
Mark Thomas Miller

Pok3r and Das 3

I'm really happy with my Pok3r and Das 3, both with MX Blues. Although the Pok3r looks like a gaudy Christmas ornament...

I'd love to try a board with Topre switches. They sound like rain. youtu.be/7EnzFbLKIGg

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qm3ster profile image
Mihail Malo

If you type for work or hobby, don't settle for a staggered keyboard. At the very least get an ortholinear grid.

desktop.bmp

The switches are Cherry MX Silent Red

Also notice the camera positioning to replicate that modern up-the-nose camera in laptop screen's bottom bezel.

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kiemrong08 profile image
kiemrong08

I love my keyboard. It's IKBC G104 with MX Cherry brown switch.