The best computer keyboards ever made (even when compared to the original IBM model M keyboards) were the Northgate Omnikey keyboards. They were heavy keyboards built like tanks, featuring buckling spring key-switches notable for their distinctive clicking as you typed. These were real keyboards — no crappy “rubber dome” key switches allowed.
I used only Northgate Omnikey Ultras for years, lugging them from job to job like an itinerant medieval carpenter carrying his tools with him from town to town, and using special keyboard plug adapters when keyboard plug design evolved first to PS/2 and then to USB.
But tools get worn and dirty and a few years ago my Ultras were terminally filthy and starting to fail. That was when, thanks to the twin miracles of the Web and Google, I found Bob Tibbetts and his Northgate Keyboard Repair web site. Bob belongs to the school of minimalist website design, but his keyboard expertise and repair skills are totally maximal, and he really saved my
bacon keyboards. He also, in a manner of speaking, saved my wrists.
After 25 years of coding, the joints in my hands and wrists were starting to protest. I switched from using a mouse to a using a trackball (I prefer a Logitech Cordless Optical Trackman), and that helped a lot. Carpal tunnel syndrome forced a friend of mine to retire on disability and put The Fear into me. A bout of online research convinced me that we really need more ergonomic keyboards, so I went shopping for one.
The major feature of an ergonomic keyboard is a split design in which the left and right halves of the keyboard are split apart, separated by a few inches, and angled slightly so that you can type without bending your wrists. The result is a keyboard that is shaped like a V rather than like a straight unbroken line. In a sense, the keyboard is bent so your wrists don’t have to be.
What I really wanted, of course, was an ergonomic version of the Omnikey Ultra.
One day, in an email to Bob, I mentioned that although I loved my Ultras (one of which Bob was cleaning and repairing at the time), what I really wished for was an ergonomic V-shaped version of the Ultra.
Well, I nearly fell off my chair when Bob told me that such a thing actually existed. It was called the Omnikey Evolution keyboard. Evolutions were very advanced for their time, and very few were made. But a few — new in the box — still existed, and he had a few for sale.
I immediately ordered one, tried it out, and loved it. It is my favorite keyboard ever. So I followed my Mom’s tongue in cheek advice (“Get ‘em before the hoarders do.”) and got more. I now own 5 — one for work, one for my home Vista machine, one for my home Linux machine, and two backups.
As I type this, it is almost midnight on March 11, 2011, and Bob has only 3 Evolution keyboards left.
The good news is that if you have a beloved old Northgate that is showing its age, Northgate Keyboard Repair is still in the business of cleaning and repairing Northgate keyboards.
Finally, if you’re looking to purchase a keyboard with buckling spring key switches, you might check out the Customizer line of keyboards at pckeyboards.com. It is a reincarnation of the original IBM model M.
And keep on clicking…
## updated January 1, 2012