Computer Keyboard Gallery

Perm url with updates: http://xahlee.org/emacs/keyboards.html

Computer Keyboard Gallery

Xah Lee, 2006-06, 2010-09-03

I'm a computer programer, and sit in front of a computer for more than 8 hours a day every day since about 1990 (this usually includes weekends as well as holidays). I'm also a efficiency nerd and has a untold infatuation with computer keyboards. I have read almost all popularly published reviews of keyboards or special input devices (mostly in MacUser and MacWorld magazines during ~1990-1997), as well as tried them whenever i had a chance, as well software related input issues such as The Dvorak Keyboard Layout, keyboard remap codes on various operating systems, different keyboard shortcuts and macros softwares on different operating systems. This page is some haphazard commentary on computer keyboards, the keys, their layout, and the design, accompanied with photos of them.

Generic PC Keyboard

I have a keyboard love. Every time i go to a computer shop, i would try my hands on all their input devices on display. In particular, computer keyboards. Loitering in the store for 30 min on keyboards is not unusual.

Before i started to use a split-keyboard in ~2005, i actually find that the best keyboard are the cheapest, generic PC keyboard. They are functional, clean design, sturdy, cheap ($10) and replaceable, good tactical feedback. They don't have weird shapes, weird tactile feel, a bunch of ugly buttons and knobs.

(I do, however, believe in extra application launch buttons, volume control knob, embedded pointing device, but many designs on the market are a turn off).

generic PC keyboard

A Generic PC Keyboard. left side closeup.

generic PC keyboard

This keyboard i used in the period 1999-2002. A ergonomic habit i have is to have 2 or 3 stacks of books placed together in front of the keyboard, so that they form a rectangular platform of 3 to 4 cm in height. When typing, i rest my forearms on the books, so that my wrists do not bent upwards. Here's a photo showing this keyboard in my office, and the books i have in front as wrist pads.

Note the Power management keys on the top right of the keyboard. These I actually never used.

Note the PrtScn (Print Screen) key, SysRq (System request) key, ScrLk (Scroll Lock), Break keys. These keys are historical relics and are more or less defunct today, except the Print Screen key that is often used for creating screenshots in Microsoft Windows.

Here's a summary of what these keys are, based on Wikipedia:

  • PrtScn: In 1990s or earlier, it sends the screen's text into a serial port. Literally, causing the screen to be printed. (at the time, most monitors can only display text.) Today, this key is used in Windows and Linux to do screenshot (copy screen bitmap into the clipboard). This key is not used on the Mac.
  • SysRq (System request): This key causes a interrupt to the operating system. It is kinda like the role of today's Control-Alt-Delete on Windows. However, this key is pretty much defunct today.
  • ScrLk (Scroll Lock): Pretty much a defunct key today. Used to toggle the behavior of arrow keys so that, when ScrLk is on, the up/down arrows scrolls the window.
  • The Pause and Break are 2 keys. They are pretty much defunct today. They were used for sending a interrupt signal of sorts, as today's more familiar 【Ctrl+c】 on PC and 【Cmd+.】 on Mac.

Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboards

Since 2005, i have adapted to the split-keyboards and find Microsoft keyboards the best.

I used to hate split keyboards. I bought a Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard in 2005 because during that year i was using a laptop 8 hours a day, and my wrists and fingers are starting to feel weird. Once i adopted the split keyboard, i never went back to one-piece keyboards. If i type on a one-piece keyboard for even a minute, i feel discomfort in how it bends my wrists.

Microsoft Natural Multimedia keyboard

The Microsoft Natural Multimedia Keyboard, introduced in 2004. (Review)

Mirosoft's split keyboards is of a fantastic design. Besides splitting the key set and angle them for the wrists, other notable features is the modifier keys placed in symmetrical distance from the index finger keys, and in sizes about 4 times as large. This is fantastic if you are a programer and uses Emacs.

The top has a row of special buttons that provides one-button launching/switching to applications — extremely convenient. They can be reset to any application you choose thru the bundled software Microsoft IntelliType Pro. (Comes in a Mac version too. I use this keyboard on Macintosh computers) The middle is the music-playing program control, also extremely useful. I can just play/stop/skip songs without switching into the music player.

(Note: Even before i used a keyboard with such extra app-launching-keys, i've always have assigned the functions keys to launch applications. So, in my work day, i switch among applications by single key presses. (as opposed to using the mouse, or tabbing thru the app-switching mode))

A minor bad point of this MS keyboard is that the function keys are arranged in 2 continuous rows, instead of traditionally separated into 3 blocks of 4 keys each. The continuous placement makes it difficult to touch-type the function keys in the middle of the blocks.

Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000

The Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, introduced in 2005. (review) amazon

Microsoft Comfort Curve keyboard 2000

Microsoft Comfort Curve keyboard 2000. (review) amazon

  • “Microsoft Wired Natural Keyboard Elite” amazon

The F-Lock Key Problem

Apple Keyboards

Apple iMac Keyboard A1242

Apple's keyboard as of 2008. Image Source

  • “Apple Wireless Keyboard” amazon
  • “Apple Aluminum Wired Keyboard MB110LL/A” amazon

Full review: Apple Keyboards.

Sun Microsystem's “Type 6” Keyboard

Sun Microsystem's Keyboard

Sun Microsystem's “Type 6” Keyboard.

Full review: Sun Microsystem's “Type 6” Keyboard.

Kinesis Contoured Keyboard

Kinesis Contoured keyboard

The Kinesis contoured keyboard. Source Kinesis keyboard

Full review: Kinesis Contoured Keyboard Review and RSI.

The Idiocy of Hacker Keyboards

happy hacking keyboard lite2

The Happy Hacking keyboard, model lite 2. image source Happy Hacking Keyboard

Full review of several weird keyboards: The Idiocy of Hacker Keyboards.

Misc

Here's a interesting site that gives a fairly comprehensive images of the keyboard hardware key layouts for about 20 manufactures. A Gallery of Layouts of Actual Computer Keyboards.

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