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Confessions of a Model M Bigot

August 11, 2009

Some years ago I took a job that required a move across the country. I was going to live in the new area for a few months while I waited for my house to sell. Once it sold, my family would join me. I brought clothes, a laptop and other essentials. I also took along the IBM Model M keyboard--and not just one. I brought one for the office, and one for the apartment I was going to stay in.

Awhile back I saw an article that mentioned the Model M. Of course, googling "Model M" will lead you to many other pages dedicated to this keyboard. Search for Model M, and then try to search for whatever keyboard model you use today. I wonder if you'll find as many devoted users. Ask yourself if your current keyboard--the one you use for hours every day–fills anyone with as much passion as people show for the old Model M.

I ended up working in a cube farm for a while, and many of my cube-dwelling neighbors didn't appreciate the amount of noise that came from my keyboard. Unlike today's whisper-quiet keyboards, the Model Ms announced their presence. Still, I say you can take your DVORAK, ergonomically sound, cheap throwaway free keyboards that come with your new PC and throw them all away. Make some noise and use a real keyboard.

There was a time when I remember the Model M being the only keyboard out there; it shipped with IBM PCs and I saw them all over. According to this article, price pressures forced manufacturers to look for ways to cut costs. Bundling lower cost keyboards with machines made sense.

For those of you who are younger, you probably did not see widespread Model M deployments, and have quite possibly just never seen one before. I understand that you just don't know any better. But to anyone who started out on the Model M and moved to something else, I can only ask, "What were you thinking?"

As I said, when you type on a Model M, you know you're typing. Those around you know you're typing. There's no question that typing is being done.

The Model M has a tactile feel that I haven't seen duplicated on any other keyboard. And they're indestructible. I've used the same Model M for many years, and I expect my fingers will succumb to arthritis before this keyboard gives out.

Model Ms have PS/2 connectors, which makes it harder to connect them to newer machines with USB connections for their keyboard and mouse. However, getting a PS/2-to-USB resolves that issue, and it's well worth the effort. Just be sure that you get the adapter converter as opposed to a passive adapter, as is pointed out on clickykeyboards.com. From Wikipedia:

"Most fans of the Model M especially prize its feel and sound. Unlike the common (but cheaper) dome switch design, the Model M's buckling spring design gives users obvious tactile (a distinctive resistance as the keys are depressed) and aural (a characteristic, loud "click-clack") feedback. Many users report that they can type faster and more accurately on the Model M than other keyboards.

"In addition, the Model M keyboard is less susceptible to dirt and wear and tear; while dirt will interfere with proper operation of a dome switch keyboard, the design of a buckling spring keyboard is such that any dirt that falls between the cracks usually fails to make it into the spring mechanism. Failure of the mechanism to operate properly would require a large amount of accumulation, which is unlikely to occur.

"There are some drawbacks to the Model M design. Because the keyboard is so heavy, it is not as portable as many modern keyboards. The keys are noisy enough to be inappropriate in a location (such as a public library) where noise is an issue. Also, liquids spilled on the keyboard would not drain out, and would remain in the keyboard with potential to cause a short circuit."

If you'd like to get your own Model M, try clickykeyboards.com or pckeyboard.com. And for the ultimate keyboard with a trackball and a pointing stick, you might like the On the Ball models, which are sold on clickykeyboards.com.

You could argue that the prices are high. However, understand that once you buy one, you'll be able to use it for many years to come.

If I need to spend any amount of time working on a machine, I will plan on connecting a Model M keyboard to it. If you must sit near me, I apologize in advance for the noise that will come from my keyboard.

Posted August 11, 2009 | Permalink

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