Originally published at: New Model M Is an American-Made Keyboard That Puts a Spring Back in Your Typing - TidBITS
The classic IBM Model M keyboard has been reborn in Kentucky, and you can even get one that’s customized for the Mac.
Originally published at: New Model M Is an American-Made Keyboard That Puts a Spring Back in Your Typing - TidBITS
Until COVID I was never a fan of external keyboards because I prefer not to be tethered to a desk. So I found an alternative, an app that plays sounds on every keystroke. I set this up with Selectric typewriter sounds and found the illusion really improved my enjoyment of the keyboard.
Unfortunately the app that did this died years ago; I’ve been meaning to see if I could replace it with Keyboard Maestro.
First, your youngest son is a kick.
The keyboard looks good, I like that type of feel. I still use a really old USB keyboard with my older iMac because it has a similar response. Thanks for the heads up and review.
Great to hear the young Centers at work…
I long to have one such as this but my wife would go crazy, next studio over…
I just heard from Unicomp, and good news: the Mac layout will be a standard option for the New Model M in the next couple of weeks. Hopefully, it’ll be a little cheaper too.
Nice. My only nits (which were the case for the SpaceSaver M as well) is that the layout doesn’t match any of Apple’s standard layouts, current or historic. For comparison, my Apple aluminum USB keyboard differs in:
- The position of the eject key. Apple puts it next to F12
- The position of the fn key. Apple puts it where PCs have Insert (and Unicomp put eject)
- The presence of F16-19.
But I completely understand why Unicomp did this. In order to match Apple’s layout, they would require different plastics for the front bezel and probably the underlying circuit board as well, which would make it cost far more than an extra $20. Using the layout they selected, they can use the same board and bezel as the PC version and just change the key caps and firmware.
As for whether to buy the Mac or PC version, Mac users will definitely want the Mac version. Even if you don’t use the media keys (I rarely do), replacing the PrtScr, NumLock and ScrollLock keys (which are useless on Macs) with F13-15 (to which you can assign functions) is really convenient.
I have an old Model M from an IBM PS/2 I used in college. I still use it as my primary work keyboard. One day, our unit’s student assistant had a birthday. Maybe I spilled some cake crumbs down the keyboard, but for some reason, I flipped it over to give it a good, overdue shakeout. The manufacture date stamped on the bottom indicated that it was three years older than our student assistant.
The Model M’s are indeed built to last but I also have a Unicomp keyboard on my primary home desktop and I have no doubt it will last just as long.
I like having my cake and eating it too. Having these old tactile keyboards is awesome. But I want to be able to customize as per my needs and program any key to behave exactly as per my requirements.
There are people who change the controller of these keyboards with a programable controller and achieve that. For example, you can have the F13-F24 by pressing Left-Control+F1 to F12. Or map Ctrl+Alt+Del to the Scroll Lock key like I do.
In my case, I map characters that I use when writing in Spanish, line ñ, á, ¿ or ü, without having to change the keyboard layout language. I also map Windows Sniping tool to Print Screen and can control volume and screen brightness with the arrows keys, among other customizations.
Instead of buying a recreation of the IBM Model M and replacing the board for a programmable one, I bought a recreation of an IBM Model F keyboard (the predecessor of the Model M) since it comes with a programable controller. In addition, it has a metallic body (better than plastic) and will just last longer since it doesn’t have the plastic rivets that die in the model m keyboard.
One joke that I make to people that come to my home office is: ‘Hey, hand me a little paper that is under my keyboard’. Nobody have raised the keyboard before the 3rd try. This is a tank.
If you are curious, just Google ‘Brand New Model F Keyboards’. I’m not related. Just a happy customer.
Yeah, I had actually considered a Model F. I think I heard about them from Steve Troughton-Smith. But I had a bad case of sticker shock.
I hear you. I got the same initial impression.
But I justified this way: it is a much more elegant, the key press is lighter and crisper, will last much longer without having to repair and the programmability will give me much more value. Since I work in the keyboard more than 50 hours a week (writing and programming), it will pay for itself.
Really, by the time that I pass it down to one of my sons, I know that I’ll be paying less than $12-$15 per year for it. If the concept of a keyboard doesn’t become obsolete, he will use it for his lifetime too, because the internals of this keyboard are made of steel and designed to be repairable. No plastic rivets here.
Be aware that the original IBM Modem F used to sell for about $350 in the '80s, which is about $650 in today’s dollars. So you are getting this keyboard at a much lower price.
Interesting, but it’s a completely custom layout. They haven’t copied any of IBM’s “model F” layouts:
For example, they don’t have any function keys. At least the pictures on their web site doesn’t show any.
One keyboard that potentially interests me is Unicomp’s PC-122. This is designed for 3270 terminal applications, but I’m thinking that having all those function keys would be wonderful if they can be recognized by macOS (and therefore be assigned functions in the Keyboard preference panel).
I had to edit the article to correct myself on ghosting vs. n-key rollover. I did the research, but it turns out my sources also had the two confused, which seems to be common.
Ghosting is when you press two keys at the same time and a third “ghost” keypress is registered, unrelated to the two keys you pressed. So you press “a” and “m” and “y” randomly appears in what you’re typing. That would indeed be a very bad thing for typing, and I have no experienced that with the New Model M.
N-Key Rollover is a technology that addresses the opposite problem: keys that don’t register when you press multiple keys at once. I originally mistook this for ghosting in the article. N-Key rollover means you can press all the keys you want simultaneously and all keys will register.
However, n-key rollover is often sold as anti-ghosting, which adds to the confusion.
This video makes the difference clear.
Is there an advantage to having a programmable keyboard controller instead of making the key assignments in software with something like Karabiner-Elements? The advantage of using something like that is you can choose whatever keyboard you want and pair it with the key mappings you want.
Note that MacOS also has a built-in facility to create custom keybindings, that can be useful for simpler cases (though creating the custom file is a bit technical). Full details here.
Finally, the Xah Code website is an amazing resource for all things keyboard – both info on hardware and all the software details and options on Mac, Windows, and Linux.
Besides the fact that this solution only work on one computer, and conversely, some of those mappings don’t make sense when connecting another keyboard to the same computer? This wouldn’t work in a laptop.
For example, I used in the past a keyboard without Windows key (very simple mapping). The mapping solution only solved the problem with that particular computer-keyboard combination.
But my problem goes beyond that. I’m very restricted on what kind of software can be installed in my work computer. And, I cannot edit the registry at all.
Beyond that, I have not explored the application that you suggested, but Microsoft PowerToys cannot enter Unicode characters, for example. Can you imagine a keyboard-OS combination that cannot enter emojis with a single Fn-n or or Right-Ctrl-n for ñ?
My wife’s laptop is even more restricted.
With a programmable keyboard when I want to send Thumbs Up,:
- The keyboard verifies if it is in Windows, OSX, or Linux mode
- If Windows, it checks I verify the NumLock status
- If disabled if enables it
- It sends Alt+164
- It reverses NumLock status if necessary.
The function is a little more complex to be able to send Ñ, but you get the idea.
Now try that with a mapping.
In a more robust OS like OSX or Linux entry of Unicode is much more simpler, however.
For a more expanded Unicode support in Windows QMK developers recommend installing WinCompose. However I’m ok with the characters that can be entered as Atl+codes.
Correction, I mentioned about entering emojis above. You can do that only in Linux an OSX without additional software. Maybe you can do that with mapping too. In Windows you cannot enter emojis I unless you install additional software like WinCompose. But that’s is not an option for me.
Just curious, so I put one in the cart, then added 2 of the Customized with “Use Mac Layout” as the comment. So with S/H its about $142~ to me (10-14day lead time). Well… I can’t order it. Form keeps saying fraud alert (I used several different cards that are known good…its their merchant and/or my browser…or something dumb like that I have both a PO box and street). Worse, I called but reach no one. So I emailed support with the issue. We’ll see. Great article and I also have a 5/21/90 Model M from an IBM…so I x fingers…
Let me know what they say. If customer service doesn’t help, I have a high-up contact there.
Support was quick to respond, but they acknowledge “We have been experiencing issues with our ordering portal on our website”. I did check out as guest, as they suggested, but I think there is another issue that irks me with online merchants: I have a PO Box that is because I live in a historic town, and many won’t ship to PO. And with UPS/Fedex, mostly to a street address. So I have to be “exact” on the ship to/bill to from. I’ll keep ya posted. Nope-Keep getting declined by Fraud Service on proper “exact” address and billing. Got it to work under Paypal…ironic its same card. So I suggest use PayPal.
Please do. I’ve seen a lot of vendors (including big-name vendors like Dell) reject purchases for what seems to be entirely capricious reasons. The story usually goes something like:
- I visit the web site and place an order. Often using an account that has been used many times in the past on other orders.
- The order seems to go through and I receive an e-mail confirmation.
- Soon afterward (between 4 and 24 hours later), I get an e-mail telling me that the order has been cancelled, with no explanation why.
- I try again. Same result.
- I try to contact customer service. After spending hours on hold and being transferred about the company, I’m told that this is some security measure. I try to find out what the reason is and get nothing but vague hand-waving
- I contact my bank - they didn’t reject the charge. Either they didn’t even receive the charge or they received and approved it.
- I go back to the vendor. They have no clue why the order should be rejected, but they will try to invent reasons why. A popular one is that the name on my credit card doesn’t appears in my e-mail address. Another is that my e-mail address is on a list of suspicious domains (even though these are ISP-provided mailboxes or mailboxes from big-name providers like Google, Yahoo and others).
- Eventually they start asking for all kinds of personal identification documentation. Paypal wanted a notarized copy of my passport and birth certificate, for example.
- At this point, I tell them where they can stick it and never do business with them ever again.
I don’t know why this happens so often. I assume they have installed some kind of AI-based security system and nobody working there actually understands how it works, so when it fails catastrophically, they’re left making up excuses to try and get you off the phone.
Here’s hoping that Unicomp isn’t as incompetent as Dell, Paypall and eBay (and many others) have been to me in the past.
I had the same issue. I tried with two different cards, and then decided maybe this was fate telling me it wasn’t meant to be. I gave up.
I might take a look again if they come out with simpler way to order - and one that makes it possible to pay.