In a world where fast-changing technology is increasingly disposable, one thing remains constant in my computer setup: my 34-year-old IBM Enhanced 1
Origin of the model M
The 1981 IBM PC came with an 83-key keyboard (commonly known as the "Model F"). generally admired it, but some criticized layout elements and a few clunky key shapes otherwise it was a beast of a unit – heavy and durable, with a nodding spring key switch that gave it an industrial feel.
Years ago I had an email conversation with IBM veteran David Bradley, who was working on the original IBM PC, who told me that between 1983 and 1984, IBM had assembled a ten-person workgroup to assess on the original keyboard so they could produce a much better replacement. They considered usability studies, ergonomics and consumer feedback. They also looked at popular competitor designs, such as the DEC LK201, a terminal keyboard that popularized the reverse T-arrow key layout.
The result was the 101-key IBM Enhanced Keyboard. It was first released for a terminal in 1985 and for PC XT and AT machines in 1986. When most people refer to "Model M", they usually refer to this keyboard, although it technically refers to a family of products with similar features
The Model M was innovative in that it split its layout into four different areas: typing, numeric keypad, cursor / on-screen controls, and function keys. It added Alt and Ctrl keys and two additional Fn keys on both sides. Several keys also had larger velocity areas, and the Esc key (the "Back / Exit" button at the time) was more isolated to prevent people from accidentally hitting them.
The IBM Enhanced Keyboard was also cheaper than the earlier Model F. Many metal parts were replaced with plastic, and a membrane plate under the kink springs replaced capacitive switches.
However, that does not mean that these savings were passed on to the consumer. In 1986, the IBM Enhanced Keyboard cost $ 295, which is equivalent to about $ 695 today. That's serious work, but you did get a serious keyboard.
How I got addicted to Model M
In the early 1990s, I used a Fujitsu keyboard with an improved 101-key layout for BBSing. I found myself able to type on it about 50 percent faster than keyboards with other layouts. Then the dark times came. I spilled so much soda on my Fujitsu that it finally broke. For the next ten years, I used the cheap keyboards that came with the PC clones I used.
Around 2001, I got my first Model M keyboard for free at a local hamfest when a vendor gave me an IBM PC. did not want to drag back to his car. It continued to languish in my collection until the end of 2006.
When I started writing professionally, I longed for a sturdier keyboard with a traditional 101-key layout, such as the Fujitsu. I pulled the Model M out of the closet, and an AT-to-PS / 2 keyboard connector adapter allowed me to use it on my then-modern PC. I quickly praised the keyboard in public. I took it apart for PC World in 2008, and I haven't been locked up about it since.
Why I still use the Model M
So yes, I still use my first Model M keyboard, built on August 13, 1986, every day. Heck, I'm using it now. I have used hundreds of other keyboards in the past 30 years, but I keep coming back to this for many reasons. I'll explain why.
I would say that the 101-key IBM Enhanced Keyboard has the ideal keyboard layout for computers. It was widely mimicked, so almost everyone is familiar with it. After using it for over 25 years, I know exactly where everything is without looking down.
Some criticize the location of the Caps Lock key on the improved layout, arguing that Ctrl should be there instead, as it was on previous layouts. I can understand this, but I haven't found it difficult to press Ctrl when I need it.
It has just the right number of keys
There was a time when every additional key above the 101 keys standard (on American keyboards anyway) needed a special driver to use correctly. So by default, any key that wasn't on the Model M was tedious.
Some keyboards include keys for forward and backward navigation, volume control and more. Fortunately, those days are largely over, thanks to the USB HID standard. This may have made some of those extra keys universal in modern operating systems.
I prefer the minimalism of the Model M. I was an anti-Windows key burner for 26 years. I especially didn't like it because it got in the way of the familiar keyboard layout I used when playing MS-DOS games like Doom and Blood in the 1990s.
Today, I & # 39; I'll get to the benefits of Windows keyboard shortcuts (baby steps on a laptop). I still don't like the fact that the Windows key is stuck between Ctrl and Alt. I'm glad it isn't on my Model M, but I could experiment with assigning it to an infrequently used key.
It Sounds and Feels Satisfying
If you've ever used an electric typewriter, you'll understand the Model M tactile and auditory feedback Every time you pressed a key on an IBM Selectric, you heard a thump when the typeball hit the paper. The momentum of the rapid mechanical movement vibrated the whole machine.
The secret sauce in each Model M keyboard is a mechanism called the spring bending actuator. Each key compresses a small spring until it suddenly clicks against the side of a cylinder and produces a & # 39; click & # 39; sound. The spring also pushes a small rotatable rocker under each key that records the keystroke on a membrane below.
Thanks to the spicy springs, you always know when you have pressed a key. Due to the high quality, you also know that the computer has registered the key. The same cannot be said for inexpensive rubber-domed keyboards.
As a result, the Model M makes a lot of noise. Each keystroke generates two clicks, so it almost sounds like you are typing twice your actual speed. If I ever type while on the phone, the person on the other side usually keeps silent and then says something like, "Holy cow! What was that ?!"
Again, my Model M is 34 years old. I have been using it almost non-stop for 14 years. It still works exactly like a brand new keyboard. There are no incorrectly registered keystrokes, broken keys or worn out letters. Compare that to cheap rubber dome keyboards. They fall apart after just a few years of intensive use.
It stays put
My model M keyboard weighs over five pounds because of the steel plate on the inside, which could probably stop a small-caliber bullet. The plastic is thick, robust and still has no cracks despite its old age. It stays right where I put it and doesn't shift as I type.
Many early models of the Model M keyboard have a modular cable connector. This allowed you to replace the cable if it was broken, or replace an AT with a PS / 2 connector cable. Many Model Ms also include two-piece removable keycaps. This made the keys easy to rearrange if you wanted. A damaged keycap (which was rare) was also easy to replace if you had the parts of a donor keyboard.
It's minimal stylish
The design of the Model M is understated and stylish. There is no showy logo, showy angular industrial design or dazzling RGB LEDs to tweak. Visually, it is exactly what it should be: a keyboard.
It's Like an Old Friend
With technology changing so fast, it's comforting to know that a piece of IBM history is still useful as I mow through an infinite parade of faster PCs .
I enjoy the uniqueness of this particular keyboard and pride myself on its craftsmanship.
You Can Get One, Too
If you want to try out a Model M, you can do that in several ways. You can buy one on eBay or hunt it at yard sales, flea markets, or thrift stores. Sites like ClickyKeyboards offer refurbished models. You can also buy a modern descendant of the Model M at Unicomp.
Model M keyboards made during the PS / 2 era are not particularly rare – by some estimates, over 10 million have been made. So there are still many of them floating around, probably in cupboards, attics, garages and basements.
If your heart is on a vintage model, I would recommend asking around among friends and relatives. If they have an IBM brand PC from the mid to late 1980s to mid 1990s, chances are they also have a Model M keyboard. Bake them some cookies and ask casually when you come back.
Connecting a model M to a modern PC or Mac
Connecting a model M to a modern PC or Mac, you need an adapter that can be connected to any vintage cable ( PC AT or PS / 2) that you have in a USB port. You can usually get PS / 2 to USB solutions on Amazon for $ 5 to $ 7 that work fine but can be glitchy at times.
You can also find a more specialized adapter, such as this AT-to-USB model designed by enthusiasts, for about $ 40 on eBay. It is also possible to purchase a cable with an integrated USB converter that plugs directly into a Model M's modular SDL port on the back, if your device has one.
With these converters, the Model M behaves like a standard compliant plug and play USB keyboard device. This means you can use it with Windows, macOS and Linux (or even Haiku if you're feeling spicy). Some people even plug them into their iPads.
Solving the Windows Key Dilemma
If you love the Windows key and are worried you might miss it while using a vintage Model M, don't fret. It is possible to assign the Windows key to another one that you don't use often, such as Caps Lock or Right Alt. There are also modern variations of the Model M keyboard with a Windows key from Unicomp.
If you like volume buttons, it might be possible to assign them to Scroll Lock and Pause on Model M. (I am going to experiment with this idea soon.)
Thanks to the ever faster upgrade cycles in computer technology, there is a common misconception that old computer technology is always obsolete by default. Thanks to the Model M, we know that this is simply not true. I suspect discerning typists will enjoy Model M keyboards everywhere for decades to come. Happy typing!