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An Introduction

...to IBM keyboards

As you may have gathered already, this website is dedicated to IBM keyboards. IBM keyboards are highly regarded by many people in the keyboard hobby, whether it's vintage folk continuing to restore and use these behemoths of the last century or modern folk who appreciate whether the devices they're passionate about descended from. But, would it surprise you to hear that there's in fact a lot more than meets the eye with these keyboards? Not unlike how people are continuing to experiment with new materials or switch component combinations, IBM keyboards contain a lot of nuances visually and under the surface. This website celebrates that diversity!

The IBM keyboards that various people are passionate about can be categorised into 5 distinct families; the typewriter printer-keyboards, Keyboard Bs, Model Fs, Model Ms, and ThinkPad keyboards.

  1. The typewriter printer-keyboards can be considered IBM's first generation of discrete keyboards, first appearing in the early 1960s in the form of modified IBM Selectric electric typewriters with the ability to input characters into a host terminal system. The term "printer-keyboard" refers to the fact these consoles can still print output.
  2. The Keyboard Bs (Model B/beam spring keyboards) were IBM's second generation of keyboards that dominated the 1970s. Unlike its typewriter-based predecessors, Model Bs had unique key switches and were indeed keyboards as we now know them. However, all were very tall keyboards with loud clicky switches and a sizable portion of them have solenoids inside to make them even louder. Besides this, they're considered by many to be the holy grail keyboard with unmatchable build quality, presence/character and key feel.
  3. The Model Fs were IBM's third generation of keyboards designed to improve ergonomics and resistance to contamination with dust over Keyboard Bs. They exclusively featured IBM's capacitive buckling springs switches, had well-armoured construction and also spawned a diverse number of variants for the various IBM terminals, personal computers and electronic typewriters sold in the first half of the 1980s. The most well know Model F, the IBM Personal Computer Keyboard, played a huge role in the success of the original IBM PC and its terminal siblings are well sought after and regarded amongst keyboard enthusiasts. As with most IBM products of the time, Model Fs were instantly treated as a standard in which many IBM-compatible clone manufacturers tried to emulate.
  4. The Model Ms were IBM's fourth major family of keyboards that dominated from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s and is still in production via Unicomp. Essentially a cost-saving evolution of the Model F and its capacitive buckling springs, the average Model M with membrane buckling springs succeeded the Model Fs in all markets whilst retaining good reliability and build quality but also improving keyboard layouts significantly and being significantly cheaper. The definitive Model M, the IBM Enhanced Keyboard, is quite possibly the most famous keyboard of all time and cemented the dominance of the ANSI and ISO keyboard layout standards that we still use today with only minor revision. Model Ms also spawned far more variants than previous generations, with Model M variants existing for the home PC, portable PC, educational PC, workstation, terminal, server, point of sale, typewriter and minor peripheral markets by the mid-'90s.
  5. The ThinkPad keyboards started as a variant of the Model M that grew into its own diverse fifth major family of IBM keyboards albeit largely limited to notebook computers. The original Model M6-1 keyboards set a high bar in the quality of portable computer keyboards upon their release, which started a pedigree that has survived to this day. Starting off with buckling rubber sleeve switches, ThinkPad keyboards have since become exclusively scissor-stabilised keyboards produced by a plethora of OEMs and are usually listed amongst the main selling points for IBM and Lenovo ThinkPads. By the 2010s, however, the original Model M6-derived line was replaced by the island/chiclet-style AccuType keyboards that whilst have vastly different layouts are still regarded as being amongst the most high-quality laptop keyboards still in production.

...to this website

In a nutshell, this website is...

Admiral Shark's Keyboards is r/ModelM moderator u/sharktastica’s passion project to research, review and preserve information on IBM, Lexmark, Unicomp, Toshiba Retail and Lenovo keyboards for desktop PCs, ThinkPads, point of sale machines, mainframes and terminals. The main features are the queryable keyboard part number database, wiki, research and review articles, guides, and technical and factual resource collections for those interested in IBM and family keyboards and machines.

This website was created out of the discovery of a lack of a centralised resource base for the IBM keyboard enthusiast hobby when I started out in August 2019. Great resources already existed, such as the deskthority wiki, YouTubers like chyrosran22, and personal websites such as kishy's, but I wanted something that could be completed in one place. The website is still in its relative infancy, but already it has begun to show its impact in the community as a valuable resource for those needing to look something else or learn more about IBM and family keyboards.

Keyboard part number database

Starting with the biggest and most well-known resource, the keyboard database is the most well known and used offering of the website. Inspiration came from the IBM part numbers page on the deskthority wiki, but I wanted to deliver a more detailed listing from a centralised database that could provide a lot more features, such as search engine-like querying, an API for external access, and the ability to develop 'applets' from using the data. And of course, I wanted to deliver more standardised data fields and include Lexmark, Unicomp, Lenovo and Toshiba Retail part numbers as well.

Wiki

Shark's Wiki is my own personal wiki on IBM and family keyboards, their history, the technology they employ, and the companies themselves. Development of the wiki is still in its infancy, thus the structure and quality of the wiki are subject to change.

Articles

Articles are my own opinion, research, or exploration pieces regarding one or more specific keyboards. These can be my findings when researching a particular keyboard, a comparison between two or more devices, digging inside one or more devices, or pretty standard reviews.

Topics

Topics of interest are the pure knowledge bases this website has to offer, from subjects like common questions, jargon-busting, plug and internal connections, notable external sites and pages, and recognised distinct keyboard types!

General Guides

Guides are exactly what you expect - tutorial pieces designed to help you with a particular situation, desire or problem. The focus is generally niché issues not widely described or solved elsewhere.

...to me!

Hi, I'm Shark!

I'm a guy in his twenties from Wales, a small but beautiful country inside Britain where the valleys, sheep and several hundred castles dominate the landscape! My interest in IBM was ignited the moment I received my first laptop, a ThinkPad T21, when I was thirteen or so years old. Whilst it certainly wasn't as sleek and elegant as the other kids' PowerBooks and MacBooks, the thing felt indestructible and I was more than happy to lug around an absolute unit of a laptop! About a decade later, I finally got interested in keyboards and decided to pull the trigger on a cheap eBay listing for a 122-key Model M in the summer of 2019. And, the rest is history...

This website is a testament to my love of high-quality and interesting keyboards and dedication to this hobby! I like to think I'm the helpful sort of person, and I'm more than happy to spend time and effort building this site towards being the greatest centralised resource in the hobby! I've also happily taken on the role of moderator of r/ModelM, r/ModelF and r/Vintagekeyboards, and I frequent the forums deskthority and geekhack.

Outside of keyboards, I'm a lover of technology in general, a huge sci-fi fan, interested in naval history, listener of heavy and thrash metal, and I'm a CompSci research student and web developer by occupation!

Sources

* IBM - IBM 3215 Console Printer-Keyboard Component Description [accessed 2021-09-12]

** The Henry Ford - IBM Displaywriter Word Processor and Printer, 1983 [accessed 2021-09-12]