- Published 27 October 2019
- Updated 14 November 2021
- Est. Reading Time: ~4-8 minutes
Detective Shark here this week trying to discover more information about a particular IBM keyboard that came to my attention last week (as of the time of writing). I am on the hunt for more information about it, but I have pieced together something worth a read. And so, here is the keyboard in question:
I first came across this mysterious keyboard on a three-year-old Deskthority post by Engicoder about an advert for the IBM System 9000. The 9000 was a family of IBM Instruments laboratory computers introduced in 1982, which eventually consisted of the 9001 benchtop computer (pictured left), 9002 desktop computer (right), and 9003 factory computer (unpictured). The 9000 was an upmarket 16-bit/32-bit Motorola 68000-powered microcomputer developed shortly before but launched after the legendary but effectively inferior 8-bit Intel 8088 powered IBM Personal Computer (5150). Columbia University has a good and more detailed overview of the system in case you are interested, and the full advert for the IBM Systems 9001 and 9002 was found via archive.
Both the so-called Standard Keyboard and the in-question Hybrid Keyboard are clearly Model F/XT variants. They would be the fourth and fifth variations of the F/XT respectively, coming after the IBM 5322 System/23 Datamaster integrated keyboard, the IBM 5150/5160 Personal Computer Keyboard and the IBM 5291 Display Station Keyboard but predating the IBM 5155 Portable Personal Computer Keyboard and the IBM EMR and EMR II Keyboards.
More about this Standard Keyboard
The original keyboard for the system is relatively well documented and confirmed to be a Model F/XT underneath and that Columbia University overview confirms it to be a regular PC keyboard. The 1984 announcement letter from IBM for the 9002 states that the standard keyboard's part number is 4780898. As far as I can tell, the IBM System 9000 Standard Keyboard was its official name. Deskthority also has wiki page about this keyboard.
Being an F/XT, you can assume the standard keyboard to be a very solid keyboard with legendary capacitive buckling springs switches but with a perhaps archaic layout. Should you encounter one for a fair price, it might be worth investing in one of these rare keyboards! Information is still quite limited with only a few examples documented in recent times, but just one of these standard keyboard encounters shed more information than what is collectively known about the hybrid keyboard.
Speaking of which...
As far as I could tell, the aforementioned announcement letter from 1984 is the earliest reference available for the hybrid keyboard. In it, the keyboard is stated to be brand new and integrates a "functional keypad" that contrasts the previous offering of the now-retroactively named standard keyboard with the separate "General Purpose Keypad" that can be seen in Columbia University's overview (which they refer to as a touch panel) and came with an overlay to provide the legends for the keypad. This overlay is also included with the hybrid keyboard, which could mean that in both cases the functional keypad was likely reprogrammable (or at least program-dependent) otherwise they might as well printed the keycaps onto the keypad. The apparent lack of physical keys and the fact that the original discrete keypad was referred to as a touch panel means it was likely a pure membrane pad and that you could probably write on it since it looks pretty whiteboard-esque. From here on, I will be referring to the main F/XT style keys and the main block and the functional keypad as the membrane block.
The keyboard indeed looks quite formidable and I would not be surprised if the design was derived from the 1983-launched "unsaver" IBM Functional Key Keyboards for the IBM 3290 Information Panel and later IBM 5080 Graphics System. In fact, the hybrid keyboard bears a striking resemblance to that 104-key keyboard as shown with this little pixel art diagram:
The obvious difference is the replacement of the 24 function keys with three rows of 19 membrane pads. Combined with the 83 keys in the main block, the hybrid keyboard bears 140 total keys! That surpasses all known Model F and Model M keyboards as well as all but one type of Model B keyboard.
As can be seen with this much better photo above, the feet style is also 104-key/122-key type. This is further evidence that the hybrid keyboard is based on the same chassis that the unsaver used.
So, what do we actually know?
It is probable that the hybrid keyboard is also hybrid in the sense that it borrows the unsaver's case and feet style, but is actually equipped with an F/XT assembly and has a 57-key membrane growth grafted to it. Given that the well-documented IBM System 9000 Standard Keyboard speaks traditional Set 1/XT, it is likely this keyboard does too. The membrane was most likely reprogrammable through software to suit different lab environments.
And finally. Considering that this is uncharted territory, I am very much seeking information about this keyboard. So if you happen to know anything more about this keyboard, please get into contact with me - either through my email address found on the about page or DM me on Reddit (u/SharktasticA). In keeping with the nicknaming prevalent in the keyboard community, we should name it right here! My vote goes to "escort carrier" since its membrane block looks like a small flight deck. Like how actual escort carriers far smaller than normal aircraft carriers and even battleships and battlecruisers, the analogy fits here since the hybrid keyboard is quite a bit smaller than a 122-key Model F or M but packs a punch for its size.
This article was originally published on my old blog that I no longer update as of July 2020. Whilst the two versions of this article are mostly the same, there may be subtle differences between this and the original. This one is the most updated version and takes precedence.