A keyboard is a coder's best friend. Or a gamer. Or any nerd really. It's easy to get hung up on your favorite keyboard too. Like myself, I'm still using a keyboard that's been out of sale for about 20 years now (Trust ErgoTrack!). I still have two or three copies in my attic in case this one breaks down. Unfortunately, of course, there's currently nothing like it on the market. But at some point you've got to move on...
I picked up my first copy of this keyboard for about 35 euro's, or 70 guilders back then. Best thing I ever did. Yes the broken keyboard takes a little to get used to but up to this point it's still the best keyboard ever. So I've tried searching for a proper image of this ergotrack keyboard but it seems to be so old proper images cannot be found. So here is a photo of the one I'm currently using :) This is my second, as the first one died after trying to give it a wash. (So it's not that
Microsoft made a similar one at the time, but completely (and I mean completely) screwed up on the arrow keys and those above it, ugh! It kept doing that arrow design for a while but I think they finally came to their senses.
The more current Microsoft's Natural Ergonomic 7000 keyboard doesn't even come close to Trusts design. I've worked on their thing for a year (programming) but was ultimately not as satisfied. It seems no other manufacturer wants to enter this land anymore, either.
Back to the ErgoTrack. It's also been released as a "US-Logic SK600", though that had a slightly different key configuration. While the keyboard doesn't have any particular features to boast about, apart from the obvious broken or "ergo" model, it's just very reliable. Loud but proper keys. I think they're considered heavy by current standards but they're pretty smooth for me. I've never really used the middle buttons (one toggles a mouse mode for the keypad, a tab key, and a backspace key). And the key in the top-right corner is pretty much dead. The other keys are ordinary and don't do anything special.
The layout however is of course what keeps me from switching. There are three things in particular that you don't find anymore;
- The backspace key is to the right of the right-shift key. I love this but you won't find it on any keyboard anymore. As a programmer I tend to use the backspace and pipe more often and I find access to the key here easier than above or left of the return key. Single handed pipes on this keyboard are very easy.
- The number keys are split between 5 and 6. Most ergo boards split between 6 and 7 for some reason (including Microsoft's) and that's very annoying when typing blind. It's very easy for me to identify the 5/6 keys on my board since it's got a huge gap between them. Of course on regular boards this split is not an issue, though finding the 5 is much harder when trying blind.
- Similarly, the board breaks the F-keys on F5 and F6, and another split on F11 and F12. I often bound macro's to F10 because it was easy to find. Most ergo boards break between F6 and only have one split on the F-keys. *shudders*
The beauty of an ergonomical keyboard is that it may take some time getting used to, but once you do you can type perfectly fine on them. But you can still type on regular keyboards as well! So you're more versatile, in a way. Even the backspace thing is not a real problem when I program on my laptop. My wife had to get used to this ergo keyboard though, but I think she's fine on it now. I think it's a bit comparable to the trackball mouse design (the one where you operate a huge ball with your thumb rather than the classic mouse design). Takes a while to get used to but once you can operate it makes you more versatile on "foreign" systems, like my moms... :p
While I don't really know whether these split keyboards are indeed better on ergonomical terms, I can attest that I've never had any RSI from it. No wait, actually, I remember a time where I used a certain F-key as macro key to farm something in a game and after two days the "bridge" stance of my wrist caused a short RSI. Of course changing the key such that my wrist did not have to bridge like that made the RSI go away quickly. So while I like the split keyboard design, I'm not particular hung up about it.
Maybe it's time to switch. Get it? Switch. Hur hur.