End of a (Keyboard) Era

Today, I’m replacing my workstation keyboard. Not really a big deal, until you consider I’ve been using the same one for 16 years. In 1994, Microsoft released their Natural Keyboard, and after I had tried it at the local computer store, I was hooked.  I know, I know, Microsoft!  But, despite the fact that I, er, dislike their software, for some reason they tend (tended?) to make great hardware.  I bought one, and in the next few years would buy 2 more. Nice and solid, the typing feel and the ergonomics were always perfect for me, and I quickly realized I needed one for my campus office (I was still a student working part-time at a great sysadmin gig in one of the departments), one for home, and one for my workstation at a new start-up I was spending more and more time at.

My original MS Natural Keyboard

That the original one I bought has lasted this long is not only a testament to how well these things were built, but also a fortunate thing for me: in 1999, Microsoft changed the design such that the keys were smaller and the feel was very mushy.  I had been hoping to upgrade, but just 30 seconds on the new one and I took an instant dislike to it.

One of the three stopped working some time ago, and this one is showing signs of wear: some of the keys are just sitting loose after several disassembles for cleaning, and some keys aren’t contacting as well as they should be (a well-used and worn shift key chief among them), so I’m finally taking the plunge.  This is fuelled by a couple of things: first, I’m starting to find other keyboards that I like (despite what it looks like, the new thin Apple Mac keyboard is quite nice), and switching back and forth is a still a little jarring. Second, the connector is still the PS/2-style and computers with those ports are getting rarer to find; I’d rather adjust now before being forced into it. I’m not going too far though: I’ve chosen the Logitech Desktop Wave. Even though the two halves of the keyboard aren’t physically separate, the keyboard is still curved, which I think (hope) is the main reason I like the Natural (I’m a little fearful that part of the reason for my affinity to the Natural *was* the physical split, but like all things, it’s probably just a matter of getting used to it).

One last note: the upper right-hand side of my Natural has an interesting feature: a “linux inside” “sticker” (ok, not a sticker, it’s stuck on there with 16-year-old scotch tape).  Around the same time I got the keyboard, my friend and mentor PJ had come across a postscript file with nice renderings of “linux inside” done in the style of Intel’s “intel inside” logo that they were using.  The keyboard had, of course, the Microsoft name stencilled in the upper corner, and we couldn’t have *that*, so I seized the opportunity.  I think I might miss that as much as the actual keyboard!  Oh, one other thing I will miss: the look on most people’s faces when they come to my office to change their passwords, look down at my keyboard, and realize they’re going to have to try to type on this thing! I’ve had several comments over the years although everyone seems to manage ok.

I’ll probably follow this post up at some point with an update on how things are going, especially as the new keyboard has a bunch of special keys and controls on it, so it might be interesting trying to get this to work on Linux, but I’m thinking I may be pleasantly surprised…we’ll see.