When I made the switch to the Mac back in 2006, one of the hardest things to give up was “Clacky”, my much beloved IBM Model M keyboard. Not having the Command Key, or a Windows key for that matter, was an unfortunate deal killer for me. Granted the keyboard was made in 1990, so neither of those keys existed at that time, but alas I opted to bid a fond farewell. Since then I’ve used a Kensington SlimType and then eventually the Apple Bluetooth keyboard. In addition to my affection for typing on my desktop keyboard, I had also become quite accustomed to typing on a laptop. Both of the keyboards that I migrated to were of the laptop style, so it wasn’t something that was hard to adjust to, but I have frequently thought back fondly to my days of banging away on old “Clacky”.
A Friend Rekindles An Old Flame
A few weeks ago my good friend, Mike Rohde, tweeted that he had just purchased the Das Keyboard and I was curious as to why. His reply? He recently landed a book deal with PeachPit Press and with the long hours of typing ahead, he felt he needed a new tool to help ease all the hours of typing that he’s expecting, or so I would assume. The Das Keyboard is a modern keyboard and uses a similar buckling spring that the old IBM Model M keyboards used. [Edit: Actually, the Das uses a Cherry MX switch, which is a mechanical switch, but it’s not a Buckling Spring] They’ve recently announced a Mac version and after seeing what Mike opted to purchase a thought occurred… “Could I still use Clacky if I wanted to?”
Testing On The iMac & The iPad My first test was to simply attach the
PS/2 to USB adapter to the end of the extremely long cable and plug it into my 27″ iMac to see if my desktop would even recognize the keyboard, much less, let me type. Standing behind my computer, I plugged her in and then walked around to sit down. My screensaver was up, so I had to enter a password to get to the desktop and was able to enter the password on Clacky! Test 1 complete. The next test was to see if I could use Clacky on my 1st generation iPad. Adding the USB adapter from the Apple iPad Camera Connection Kit, I fired up the iPad and waited. There was an error message stating that my device wasn’t compatible, but I launched the Notes app and typed a few strokes and was surprised to see that it worked! Of the two writing environments that I would find myself in, I could easily use my IBM Model M. Amazing.
Why Did We Break Up? Oh Yeah…
The instant I started typing, it felt like home. The feel. The sound. All of it came rushing back and I felt guilty for leaving Clacky in storage for so long. It was akin to remembering an old flame and wondering why it is that you guys broke up in the first place. And then you remember why.
1. She’s Loud I’m on the phone a good bit for work and I often type notes while I’m talking. There’s no way that I could do that discretely with Model M. It’s not that I’m trying to type in secret, it’s just that it’s distracting to the other person on the phone. Granted, I could always keep my Apple Bluetooth keyboard on the side, for when I’m on the phone, but I don’t know that I would want the additional clutter of a second keyboard.
2. She’s Missing That Special Something I use the Command Key all the time on the Mac and not having it makes it near impossible to use my desktop. I also use function keys quite a bit and need the “fn” key to access some of the speciality keys. There are options to remap another key to take the place of the Command Key, or the “fn” key, but it’s just too big of a stretch — literally. Since I use the “Ctrl” and the “Alt/Option” key as well, I would have to use a key that’s in a completely different location from where I naturally look for it with my fingers.
3. She’s Fat The Apple Bluetooth keyboard and the Apple Magic Pad both fit inside the footprint of the IBM Model M with room to spare. Now, I’m not so much of a minimalist that the footprint is a deal killer. It’s the fact that it changes my orientation beyond just using the keyboard. I’ve become quite accustomed to not having the numeric keypad on my keyboard. The track pad fits nicely in the space typically reserved for the keypad and I like how my hands fall when I’m working. Having the keypad back means that I have to reach out for a mouse, or trackpad and it just feels awkward to me now. Since switching to the smaller keyboard, I’ve had fewer back issues and I think it’s due in large part to the change in my setup. It’s been years since I’ve been to the chiropractor and I used to go about every 6 months for a tune up.
So Is Clacky Going Back To Storage?
NO. Sure there are a lot of negatives and for day-to-day typing, I just can’t see using Clacky. However, there is a scenario that I can see all those negatives falling away — extended typing. I have a new user manual project that is coming up soon and I can definitely see using Clacky to make quick work of that project. Also, I can see wanting to break her out when I’m writing blog posts, such as this one. Often times I think they’re going to be short and sweet, but inevitably they turn into much longer entries and having such a beautiful typing experience is a real bonus. In both of those examples, I’m doing extended typing where I’m not shifting focus (cmd + tab) into other applications and I’m limiting my distractions (phone calls) so that my sole focus is on typing. In these scenarios, Clacky is the perfect companion. Case in point, I’ve typed this entire blog article on the iPad using WriteRoom. There’s no Command key on the iPad, so it’s not missed, and I’ve been able to simply focus on typing. Thanks to the built-in support for DropBox, the article was continually synched to my desktop and I was able easily bring it into MarsEdit and add the images and the few remaining links. Overall, it was a very seamless experience.
My Dream Keyboard
The Apple Bluetooth keyboard will be my main keyboard for the foreseeable future if for no other reason than the fact that it’s quiet. However, I can imagine having a secondary keyboard that is stowed away and brought out when longer typing sessions are required. Here’s what that dream keyboard would look like…
1. Buckling Springs Spending this afternoon typing on Clacky has been _so_ much fun, so my dream keyboard would have to have these keys.
2. Small Footprint
I like the abbreviated style of the Apple BT keyboard and don’t need the keypad, so I would want the same format
3. Mac and Special Keys
Having the Command and Option keys, as well as the audio and brightness keys are a must.
I’ve become spoiled by Bluetooth. All of my import devices are wireless: keyboard, track pad and mouse. Not having a tangled mess of cables is really, really nice. Now that I’m thinking about it, if you took the Apple BT keyboard and put buckling keys on it, I’d be in heaven! 😛
Additional Photos & A Video
If you’d like to see the rest of the photos I shot, as well as a video of what the keyboard sounds like when typing, you can view them on my Flickr page at this link.
Is the m compatible w the “new” ipad?
Not that I have one, but since the Camera Kit still works with it, the M keyboard should as well.
[…] about Mike’s new keyboard prompted me to explore going back to “Clacky”. I wrote all about it here, but suffice to say that it wasn’t a good fit. Technically the system worked on both my iMac […]
Thanks for sharing the model M works on the iPad! Can you get accents on vowels too? Such as ó á í etc, they are needed when writing spanish and the layout of an Apple keyboard is different from an IBM one.
Peter — thank you for your comment.
Although the IBM Model M doesn’t have built-in support for accented characters, you should be able to use the ALT key and then press the vowel for the accent. You can find more at this link.
Hope that helps!
Congrats, your blog has been featured at Reddit!
You can find smaller versions with the mac layout at Unicomp. They are the people who bought all the tooling when IBM stopped making them.
@Ripster — Thanks! That’s definitely a first for me.
@ Dave — Thanks for the links. Since I wrote this article, I’ve taken a deep dive into the world of mechanical keyboards. I started a new series of articles beginning with Keyboard Fever.
Currently, I’m typing on a KBT Race S that I purchased from MechanicalKeyboards.com and I just ordered a KBT Pure CNC Edition this morning. 😛
[…] this keyboard and jumped at the opportunity to get on the tour. I’ve waxed poetically here and here about how much I love typing on “Clacky”, so no need to rehash. Suffice to say that I love the […]
For anyone wondering, USB keyboards still work with the iPad, only one catch: you have to have a powered USB hub. I used a Kensington laptop dock tonight with a USB keyboard on my 4th gen iPad using the USB to Lightning adapter.
As for noise and command keys, if you’re willing to compromise on the buckling springs (there are no Bluetooth buckling spring keyboards, trust me, I looked), Matias has a good line of Mac compatible (heck, designed primarily for Macs) mechanical keyboards based on White Alps switches. One, in particular, is the Laptop Pro, which features Matias’s quieter version of the White Alps switches.
if unicomp (pckeyboard.com) would only make the proper ‘space saver’ (IBM did; it was a Model M without the keypad) then the ideal keyboard, windows key and all, would exist, although missing Bluetooth.
funny. my model M + ps/2 to USB converter works fine without a hub.