The greatest keyboard of all time

Having worked in IT since the mid-1980s, I have seen tremendous advances in technology. Everything has progressed consistently for the better by leaps and bounds. CPUs, monitors, networks, pointing devices, on and on. Year-by-year, decade-by-decade, everything is faster, cheaper, brighter, more capacity, more bandwidth, better everything in every way.

With one exception. The greatest keyboard ever made was the IBM Model M, introduced in 1984. By ‘greatest’ I mean the best keyboard ever mass-produced for the common people, even included standard with off-the-shelf PCs. There are expensive gaming keyboards, hand-crafted artsy perfumed keyboards, keyboards specially made to excel at a certain something, that no doubt have their merits. But for a run-of-the-mill everyday office keyboard for regular people, the M rules and it ain’t even close. Since the M, keyboards have gotten progressively worse – flimsier and mushier – over time.

the greatest keyboard of all time

The greatest keyboard ever made

The M featured serious heft with a strong plastic frame and heavy steel backplate. As a colleague put it, “You could kill somebody with one of those”. The labels were virtually fade-proof – baked into the keys, not just applied to the surface. The M was so over-engineered and well-made it would literally outlast decades of constant use – many are still in use among fellow enthusiasts.

But the best feature – the defining feature – of the Model M was the buckling spring keyswitch. The M provided unique tactical and auditory feedback – I would unmistakably hear and feel every single key press. It was an absolute joy to type on. Like the rest of the keyboard, the keyswitches were designed to never wear out.

Over the years the M was offered in various flavors. My favorite was the M-122, a massive barge of a keyboard with a whopping 122 keys.

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A massive barge of a keyboard

IBM eventually bowed out of the PC business, and stopped making the Model M in 1991. Fortunately Lexmark, followed by Unicomp, produced clones of the iconic keyboard. Still today I can buy a Unicomp clone of the Model M – and I did, when I finally could no longer stand the flimsy mushy keyboards provided on today’s PCs. I got the 122, even though no one even remembers what some of the keys were for. My M clone does not have the heft or cosmetic manufacturing care of the original. I would be hard pressed to kill someone with it, but that was not in my plans anyway. The case has a blemish and rough spot or two. But the awesome keyswitch technology is identical to the original. Finally, after many years, keyboard typing is a joy again.

My Unicomp Model-M Clone

Just a warning though – by today’s standards the Unicomp is loud. We didn’t really notice back in the 1980s because we weren’t far removed from ubiquitous office typewriter noise – the M was actually an improvement. Today – if you are in a library or quiet cubicle environment – you will be noticed – click-click-click-click …

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