Keyboard "enthusiasts"

Liam Proven lproven at
Wed Jan 24 09:21:52 CST 2018

On 24 January 2018 at 16:05, Toby Thain via cctalk
<cctalk at> wrote:

> Well, if it's universally held to be desirable then there's a chance of
> seeing one on a secondary market. But it probably therefore also be
> overpriced.

There's that. The flipside is that there is considerable effort going
into devising keyboard interfaces for retro keyboards to modern
computers, and in principle, that could be reversed.

> Bloody wankers. Keyboard is the least interesting part of a system, I
> don't understand the fetishisation.

Hmmm. I am a bit torn here.

I don't want to defend them, but I am a sort of accidental keyboard
collector myself. I hang out in some of the communities.

The first PC I ever used was an actual PC, an IBM PC-XT, at
university. It lived in a corner of a side room of the computer
centre, standalone, unloved. All the "serious" "hackers" used DEC VT
terminals on the uni VAXcluster.

I played with it because it had the Infocom Hitchhikers' Guide game on
it. And the PC knowledge  gained thereby got me my 1st job and is why
I am sitting here in Nuremberg not writing documentation at this
precise moment today.

My 1st ever job was an IBM dealer, and I got used to the IBM
keyboards. I also worked on classic Macs and a tiny bit of IBM RS6000.

So the 2nd job, an Amstrad dealer, came as a shock. Nasty keyboards.
And of course they got much worse.

So for 25y or so, I've been slowly accumulating a small stockpile of
IBM Model Ms and Apple Extended 1 & 2 keyboards. I now have enough for

Which means I can talk to the keyboard geeks.

I don't pay for them -- mine are all discards and the computers were
already gone. I sold most of my classic Macs when I left the UK and
all went with a keyboard, usually an AppleDesign one.

I sold a couple of isolated classic Apple keyboards but they didn't
make much so now I don't bother -- I keep 'em and use 'em instead.

But modern keyboards are almost universally horrid. They feel much the
same as each other, nasty and spongy.

So, you have 2 choices:

[1] Buy an expensive modern mechanical keyboard
[2] Buy an old vintage mechanical keyboard

Either way leads down a rabbit hole into a whole world.

But the vintage ones... well, people buy something cheap, like it, get
bored, get something else, find it is markedly different, buy another,
find it's different _again_ and that's it, they're hooked. I'm fairly
immune to this, as I'm old and have strong preferences already --
firstly, IBM Model Ms or early Apple ADB mechanicals, and secondly,
not spending much money.

The older and rarer you go, the more expensive the machine was when
new. Thus the higher quality the keyboard was. Thus the better it
feels, by and large. So that leads to a vicious cycle of seeking out
older, rarer keyboards. And once you get used to weird old ones, then
they become fun, so people get into them for their own merits.

I'm aghast that this has now led to complete vintage systems being
gutted and discarded for just the keyboard. I agree with the
ivory-poacher simile.

The only thing I can see countering it would be a trend of companies
making _good_ modern mechanical boards, especially with weird layouts
and USB ports. It might satisfy those who just want something
_different_ and don't need it to be old.

But I have played with another list-member's Unicomp "Model M" and it
was nothing like as good as a real IBM. It felt cheap and nasty by
comparison, although the key action was good.

I've also tried a couple of mechanical gamers' keyboards and they
weren't great either. I fear commoditisation and mass-production means
that real vintage quality might be unattainable today without making
the results more expensive than vintage ones.

Liam Proven • Profile:
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