On walkabout in life and technology

Not the Clicky Keyboard

It’s pretty popular these days for popular bloggers, writers and programmers to use mechanical-switch, or clicky, old-school keyboards like the DAS Keyboard, old IBM keyboards or the original Apple Extended Keyboard. So much so that Jeff “Coding Horror” Attwood went as far as to design the CODE Keyboard with Weyman Kwong of WASD Keyboards which looks droolworthy.

To be fair, these keyboards are amazingly good, reliable, feel great and are the best you can get. I really love them too. All the promises made in their advertising regarding your performance and pleasure are true.

But they are not for me.

For one reason.

Muscle memory.

I work all day in desktop mode at work and spend all my evenings and weekends in laptop mode at home.

I used to use the old Dell mechanical switch keyboards when I was a Windows programmer, and the pre-aluminum Apple white keyboard with the crumb-catching clear sides at work, but the key positioning and spacing differed radically from whatever my then laptop’s keyboard had. Which meant I was continually pressing the wrong keys when I switched from desktop to laptop, and then again when I switched back to laptop. And that became annoying.

This issue was partially resolved when I purchased my first wired Apple Aluminum keyboard. The keys (except for a very few) were pretty much in the same place and my error rate was reduced when switching from desktop to laptop daily.

Apple Wired Desktop Keyboard Overlaying the Macbook Air Keyboard

As you can see in the above overlaid image, most of the keys were the same size and in the same position, but the Caps Lock was a tad smaller, and the bottom row was all different. Since I program a lot, I use the (Command), (Option) and (Control) keys a lot, and having them in different places was quite annoying. I would continually hit the fn key when aiming for control. And it took a long time to get used to the soft, mushy, short-travel keys.

So I switched to the Apple Wireless Keyboard.

Fade from Macbook Air (black keys) to Wireless Keyboard (white keys)

These keyboards match each other exactly. The keys are the same size and are exactly in the same relative locations. Which means that the muscle memory to use them remains the same, and switching from desktop to laptop and back causes me fewer problems.

Of course, the mushiness of the ‘chicklet’ keyboard, the lack of keycap shape and texture, the fact that the wireless keyboard is so light and tends to drift around the desktop, and the different key travel depth between devices do provide the worst of all keyboarding worlds.

But for a self-taught typist who programs all day and night, having the keys in the same place when I use the wrong fingers to press them makes jumping between devices just so much easier.

So go on using your big, heavy, reliable, great-feeling, seriously productive mechanical-switch keyboard. I truly am jealous that you can jump between that and the laptop mushy chicklet keyboard with ease.

I’ll stay with perfectly matched “not the clicky keyboard” for now.

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