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The Great IBM Clickety-Clack Keyboard
By Thiravudh Khoman

I've used a lot of keyboards in my time. While most fall into the "so-so" category, some have been downright terrible (fortunately, the terrible ones were ones that I didn't use day-in, day-out). A lot of my earlier keyboards were in fact IBM-made. These included IBM keypunch machines, IBM timesharing terminals, IBM Selectric typewriters, and the venerable IBM PC-1. Perhaps it's fitting then that the keyboard that I'm currently using - one that I've been using for the past 10+ years - is a true blue, clickety-clack, IBM keyboard, one that was born to an IBM PS/2 Model 30 before being liberated by yours truly.

Ye Olde Clickety Clack

If you've never tried one of these clickety-clack keyboards before, you may not realize how very different is from most keyboards today. The first impression you'll have (as my wife will surely testify) is that it makes a holy racket when typing. Guilty as charged. But what really sets this above other keyboards is the "action" or feedback you get when typing. When you press down on a key, there is some resistance until you reach a "break through" point that provides tactile feedback that the key has been successfully pressed. This is different from other keyboards, whereby you often need to look at the display to verify that your keypress has registered. I'm a pretty fast touch typist and in my opinion, there is no better keyboard from a "feeling" standpoint.

From a "layout" standpoint, I'm a throwback to the good old days. In my opinion, the best keyboard layout was the IBM PC/AT keyboard. It corrected a number of awkward placements in the original IBM PC keyboard, but kept the function keys on the left side and the Ctrl-key in between the left Shift key and the Tab key. Having the function keys on the left side and the Ctrl key at mid-height means that you can press Shift/Ctrl/Alt key combinations without having your hands flying over the place as with a PS/2 keyboard. But alas, those days are long gone. My current keyboard is a so-called "101-key" keyboard; i.e. one without the the dedicated Windows keys.

IBM's clickety clack keyboards were ubiquitous in days past. The IBM PC, PC-XT, AT and PS/2's used it, as did many of the IBM dumb terminals. More recently, IBM has replaced these with cheap plastic keyboards on their PC models (I've used these also), unquestionnably to save costs. What a shame.

Missing You

In light of my current stay in the U.S., I felt it necessary to bring a keyboard from Thailand, since someone in the family would eventually need to type Thai (I also brought and installed my own Windows 98/Thai). As I had a lot of essentials to pack, I decided against bringing my favourite IBM keyboard because of its weight. Instead, I chose to bring a cheap but light, slimline Genius keyboard. Yuck! While useable, its impact on me was obvious - my typing suffered terribly and Wobble articles came to a screeching halt. On a recent trip back to Thailand, I concluded that for the sake of my sanity, I HAD to bring my IBM keyboard to the U.S. this time. On a hunch, though, I decided to see if I could mail order a 2nd one from the U.S. and save myself the misery of lugging over (and back) this heavy keyboard.

Bingo! A company called PCKeyboard.Com (https://www.pckeyboard.com) carries a bunch of IBM keyboards, including what they call the "IBM 101 Buckling Spring keyboard" (https://www.pckeyboard.com/special1.html). At US$49 it's somewhat pricey, especially given the fact that you can easily get a keyboard from Panthip for 300-500 Baht, but if it'll last 10 years (and I have no reason to doubt that it won't), $5 or 200 Baht/year isn't too high a price to pay.

One remaining problem though, was to get Thai lettering onto the keyboard. The standard solution for this is to get Thai keycap stickers and to paste them on. But that was a horrendous proposition for me. My IBM keyboard in Thailand has both English and Thai characters silk-screened onto the key tops, and I just couldn't bring myself to stick cheap stickers onto such a great keyboard. With this keyboard, though, there's a very simple solution: just pop the key caps off - they're really easily to remove - and carry them to the U.S. in a Ziploc bag - which is exactly what I did.

The end result is that I now have a new IBM clickety-clack keyboard in the U.S. with my old Thai/English key caps. The keyboard is exactly the same, but since it's newer, the springs are a mite stiffer, and therefore a bit noisier (or perhaps the acoustics of my room is different). But at least my Wobble articles are starting to flow again.

Copyright © 2000, Thiravudh Khoman