Today, I had a keyboard problem. As some people may recall, I have an expensive Avant Stellar keyboard (http://www.cvtinc.com) and for some reason the quote key (‘ or “) has stopped working. It’s one of the old style “clicky key” keyboards that uses mechanical switches. The Avant Stellar is based on the old Northgate OmniKey keyboards, which I used in the early 90s. Although I love my expensive keyboard, I have had a very large problem with dog hair getting into it, so I took it apart and cleaned it again. Now I have a really clean keyboard with a non-functional quote key. I emailed customer service and plan to send it in for repair.
Like everyone else, I have a lot of extra keyboards hanging around from years of computer upgrades. But none are as wonderful to type on as the Avant Stellar. There’s a good reason for the difference. Not to put too fine a point on it, but new keyboards are garbage. It’s no wonder so many people have trouble with repetitive strain injuries. The keyboards you get with new computers really stink. The latest one I got with my Dell was smaller and cheesier than ever. It’s sitting on a shelf; I’ve never even plugged it in.
After my failure to fix the Avant Stellar this morning, I plugged in my old Keytronic. It’s sort of squishy and definitely not clicky enough, but still somewhat better than a new keyboard. When I took it apart, I found out why it doesn’t click. (Like the Avant Stellar, it too was filthy.) The reason is because the Keytronic does not have mechanical key switches. Under the keys is a layer of plastic with bumps (or “domes”) that connect the key to a circuit board below when a key is pressed.
Clicky keyboards use either ALPS mechanical switches like the Avant Stellar or the buckling-spring key switch mechanism that is used in old IBM keyboards. Many people regard the IBM Model M as the best keyboard ever made. IBM did do keyboards well. I remember typing on the keyboard for an old IBM DisplayWriter and of course IBM Selectric typewriters, which both had great tactile feedback. As it turns out, you can still get old IBM keyboards (http://www.clickykeyboards.com) and a company called Unicomp is making new ones based on the old IBM design (http://www.pckeyboard.com).
If you are having trouble with your hands and are fed up with junky keyboards, a “clicky key” keyboard may be the solution. They may be loud, but after a half a day without my Avant Stellar keyboard my hands don’t feel good. I just bought myself a brand new never-used circa 1995 IBM Model M keyboard, so I have something decent to use while the Avant Stellar is in the shop. My hands are worth it.