A developers choice of keyboard is an intensely personal one. Some people favor the original IBM Model M with it’s mechanical key-switches. Jeff Atwood feels so strongly about the importance of choosing the right keyboard that he created his own.

In fact, Jeff once wrote:

I can’t take slow typists seriously as programmers. When was the last time you saw a hunt-and-peck pianist?

For many years I’ve been a devotee of the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000.

Though physically large, the split nature of the keyboard and the excellent feel of the keys themselves has made this a personal favorite. In fact, I’ve just retired my fourth! Two needed replacement when the keys wore out; one died due to a soft-drink mishap; the fourth (and last) just didn’t power on one morning.

Given that I’ve been using the same keyboard for the best part of a decade, I figured that technology must surely have progressed and I decided not to immediately opt for another of the same but to look around at the options.

I’m glad I did.

Unfortunately, the otherwise excellent Code Keyboard doesn’t come in an ergonomic “split” layout - a style that has proven (for me, at least) to be less stressful on the hands than conventional keyboards. (If there was an ergonomic Code Keyboard, I would have purchased one years ago - Jeff, that’s a hint!).

I did find a number of alternative keyboards worthy of consideration. After checking out reviews, I took a punt and opted for the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop in the hope that it was a worthy replacement for my trustworthy and recently deceased Ergonomic 4000.

As you can see from the image, this keyboard is significantly smaller and the numeric keypad is a separate piece, allowing me to place my Logitech Trackball significantly closer. (I’ve kept the sculpt mouse as well, mostly for when other people need to use my computer for a moment or two, but also for the odd occasion when a mouse is a better choice than my trackball.)

More importantly, the feel of the keys themselves is excellent and it’s a delight to use. There are a small number of keys in significantly different positions - most significantly that insert key is below delete (instead of above), though the placement of the home/end and pageup/pagedown pairs is also noteworthy. But, I’m quickly redeveloping the necessary muscle memory and those keys are no longer slowing me down significantly.

Overall, I’d rate the feel of this keyboard a superior to that of the Egonomic 4000, which is high praise indeed. If you’re in the market for a good split-style keyboard, there are plenty of worse choices to make.

If you’re using the default keyboard that came with your PC system, my challenge is for you to seriously try another keyboard - and not another sub-$20 piece of discardable tech either.


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