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Happy Hacking Keyboard -- Get Your Own, This One's Mine!

May 06, 1999, 23:50 (34 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Dwight Johnson)

by Dwight Johnson Happy Hacking Keyboard

The Happy Hacking Keyboard made by PFU America, Inc. and for sale from their Web site is a product designed specifically for the keyboarding professional. Only half the size of a standard 104-key PC keyboard, the Happy Hacking Keyboard has just 60 keys and frees up a remarkable amount of space on your desk. At the same time, the keys and the distance between them are all full-sized so that no unpleasant adjustment of the mind and hands is needed to switch to it from a standard keyboard.

Next after its diminutive size, I was struck by its weight. As soon as I lifted it, I knew I was holding a carefully crafted and manufactured tool. When I placed it on my desk, it sat down solid and flat. When I type on it there is no latency whatsoever between the keyboard and my desktop. The keys have a rather heavy touch that favors the worker with strong keyboard skills.

The Happy Hacking Keyboard is manufactured to be compatible with SunSPARC, PC (PS/2) or Apple Macintosh personal computers and comes with cables individualized for each type.

A four page user's guide is required reading. It shows in pictures the details of cabling for each PC type and the mode switch settings which determine the scan codes which special keys will generate according to each user's preference.

A most important detail mentioned in the user's guide on page two is: Caution -- To avoid damage to your system, always power off your computer before you connect or disconnect the Happy Hacking Keyboard.

Fortunately, I do read user's guides. But for the majority who do not, I recommend that PFU America place the warning on page one of the user's guide or even better on a separate tag taped to the keyboard itself over the interface jack.

The most remarkable feature of the Happy Hacking Keyboard is what is missing. There is no separate numeric keypad. There is no separate editing keypad. There is no separate function key row. There is no Caps Lock key. There is no Windows key.

Instead, all of the keys are integrated into the main keypad so that the touch typist never needs to get his hands out of position to enter any keycode.

A special plus is the Ctrl key placed just above the left shift key where it is extremely convenient for entering Ctrl-key sequences without the awkward wrist rotation required on the standard PC keyboard and without the necessity of reprogramming the Caps Lock key to serve that function. This placement of the Ctrl key is ideal for rapid work using the VI and Emacs editors.

The Esc key is also in a more convenient position -- just to the left of the "1" key.

A Delete key is placed above the Return key and the mode switch setting determines whether this key functions as a Del key or Backspace. I chose the mode setting to make it Del, because the happy placement of the Ctrl key makes it extremely convenient to enter Backspace with Ctrl-h.

Below the Return key is a Fn key. Pressing and holding down the Fn key and then pressing one of the keys across the top row of the keyboard enters the corresponding numbered function key. For example, Fn-1 enters F1. The editing keys are also associated with the Fn key and are situated on the right sight of the keyboard. Pressing and holding down the Fn key with the little finger of the right hand, it is very easy to use the other fingers of the right hand to enter any of the editing keycodes. The keycode which each key enters when used with Fn is printed on the side of each key.

The Happy Hacking Keyboard was clearly designed to achieve maximum keyboarding speed by someone with excellent keyboard skills.

I found the Happy Hacking Keyboard extremely easy to learn to use even though I had been using an ordinary PC keyboard for many years. Within an hour, I was as fast as I had ever been on an ordinary PC keyboard. Now, several days later, I am much faster. I find I make many fewer mistakes because my hands are always able to stay in position on the main keypad.

In fact, having used it for only three days, I already know that the Happy Hacking Keyboard will be my keyboard of choice from now on.

I suppose that for many the thought of spending $139.00 for a mere keyboard may seem outrageous when complete PC systems can be had for under $500 and ordinary PC keyboards can be had for $20.00. But the difference between even a genuine IBM PC keyboard and the Happy Hacker Keyboard is enormous. For the person who spends all day, every day, at the keyboard, having all the keys in the right places for rapid work is easily worth the modest investment.

You say you'd like to borrow mine to try it out? So Sorry, but mine is busy at the moment. You'll just have to get your own.

Dwight Johnson writes from the Dungeness Valley in the rainshadow of the Olympic Mountains of Washington State and is one of the founders of Linux Today. On the rare occasions when he is not at his keyboard, he enjoys stroking one of his eight cats or making a squawk with one of several musical instruments.