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If you are old enough, you may remember the “original” IBM PC keyboard from the early 80s (yes, folks, that is 1980s!). The one memorable characteristic of that keyboard is probably the sheer noise of it. Every key press yields a loud, solid “thunk”. I can not help but see a group of product designers before my mind’s eye: “… we have got to make a keyboard that lets the boss know his secretary is working … sounds like a real typewriter … imagine an entire room full of these …” and so on. 🙂

The real reason the keyboard was so loud is the switch technology employed. The bucking spring switch contains a spring that collapses (buckles) under pressure, giving tactile and audible feedback that the key press has been detected. More info in Wikipedia and

A lot of people like the tactile feel of the keyboard as well as the ergonomics – apparently the fingers slow down less abruptly than with more modern (and cheaper) switches, so RSI is less of a risk. [I could not find a good source for this claim, so you may want to take it with a grain of salt.]

I happen to to be one of those people, so I went to the people who still make them, a small company called Unicomp, and bought a Customizer 105 with a USB interface and German keyboard layout.

The keyboard hooks up to any computer with a USB port and works like a … keyboard. What did you expect? 🙂

My office now sounds like I have my own secretary typing away at an ancient typewriter as I am writing this. My fingers are wonderful. I love the feel! It is way too early to comment on RSI …

Apparently buckling spring switches last close to forever. My brother uses an original IBM PC model M keyboard to this day … Which means that this keyboard should last me a decade or two. Then again, I have only had one keyboard malfunction mechanically in my entire life and if memory serves correctly, some object falling on it caused the damage. That, I guess, means that I can take mechanical robustness for granted.

Disadvantages? The price is stiff at $69 plus shipping. It is pretty loud. It is not exacly Apple design (it’s apparently made on the very machines that made the original IBM model M). It lacks all of the fancy modern keys for volume control, iTunes playback, optical drive eject, etc. but the most important of the lot, optical drive eject, works by holding down F12.

Do I recommend it? Well, if you think about how much time your fingers spend on a keyboard every day, I would say that almost any amount of money is worth it if it makes your fingers happier. And you can always drown out the sound by turning up the volume in iTunes. 🙂

5 stars (out of 5)

5 stars (out of 5)

I had an interesting experience with Mac OS X (10.5.6 for the record) today: I use a KVM switch to connect a single keyboard, monitor, and mouse to a number of computers. I swapped my Microsoft Comfort Curve Keyboard 2000 for a Unicomp Customizer 105 (which rocks, by the way!) and started typing away. To my dismay, the ^° key was recognized as <> – and vice versa.

The keyboard layout was still correctly set to a German layout but Mac OS X thought that the KVM switch was the actual keyboard (it certainly identifies itself as a HID). So it looks like Mac OS X can not see that the keyboard type has changed and the wonderfully simple process that works when connection a keyboard directly fails to even get started.
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Usually, I buy at least one Mac per year. Since my Mac Book Pro is about two years old, I was keen to upgrade to the new model. However, I will not be buying this generation (October 2008) of Mac Book Pro (or Mac Book, for that matter) for two simple reasons:

1. The glossy display is hard to see under the best of conditions. With only moderate levels of ambient light it turns into a mirror reflecting all kinds of things instead of showing what I want to see on screen. There is also the problem that glossy screens are much worse in a color calibrated environment due to color shifts with the viewing angle. Unfortunately, there is no option to select a non-glossy screen.

2. The keyboard is a piece of junk. Sorry for the blunt words, but fast touch typing is simply not possible on what feels like the cheapest and nastiest keyboard I have touched in years. A $5 keyboard bought at the supermarket is better than this.

So for my two most important applications, digital photo editing and typing text, the new Mac Book Pro is much worse than what I currently have, so I will refrain from updating and Apple looses the sale.

I hope that despite the strong words about the keyboard Apple take this as positive criticism and – perhaps – improve their product. I really would like to buy a new Mac Book Pro once I can justify the purchase. 😉