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An Introduction

Contents

...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 where 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, switch lubrication or switch component combinations, IBM keyboards contain a lot of nuances visually and under the surface. This website celebrates that diversity!

The keyboards this website covers can generally be summarised into six distinct categories that constitute the main generations of IBM keyboards.

1949-1965: Keypunch-based keyboards

IBM's first generation of keyboards - keyboards as we recognise them today - are generally considered to be the keyboards IBM used with its electromechanical keypunch systems, starting in 1949 with the IBM 024 Card Punch and IBM 026 Printing Card Punch systems. Keypunches were used for transcribing data or program code onto hard paper cards by punching precise holes based on an operator's input. Before the heyday of the IBM 024 and 026, keypunching was a labour-intensive hand-operated job. One neat thing about these IBM keypunches was that their keyboards were already distinctive input devices in their own right, differing from typewriters since they are able to encode characters in 6-bit BCDIC (024/026) or 8-bit EBCDIC (later 029) code themselves and transmit them through a cable to their host system. IBM frequently reused their keypunch keyboard assemblies for non-keypunch related systems such as the IBM 1050 and 1130, setting the stage for many recognisable keyboard designs and kickstarting IBM's keyboard pedigree.

1965-1971: Typewriter-based keyboards

IBM's relatively brief second generation of keyboards came in the form of typewriter-based keyboards, usually derived from the IBM Selectric family of typewriters and also possibly reusing keypunch-based keyboard assemblies. Launched in 1961, the IBM Selectric was an extremely successful typewriter that was known for utilising an internal mechanical binary coding and two mechanical digital-to-analog converters to translate a pressed key into a typed character on its 'golfball' like typing element. IBM repurposed the Selectric design for use with some of their terminals mainly in the latter half of the 1960s, typically used in a configuration where typing on the typewriter inputs characters in a terminal console whilst also printing out characters and console output through the typewriter mechanism. IBM referred to these as printer-keyboards. The IBM 2741 Communications Terminal for IBM System/360s is a well known Selectric-based printer-keyboard. However, IBM also experimented with alternative typewriter designs such as the IBM 3215 printer-keyboard for IBM System/370s that uses a dot matrix print head instead of a Selectric golfball.

1971-1981: Model B keyboards

The Model B family (simply known beam spring keyboards) was IBM's third generation of keyboards that dominated the 1970s. Unlike its keypunch/typewriter based predecessors, Model Bs had unique plate spring-style capacitive key-switches called beam springs and indeed finally shed keypunch and typewriter elements, making these keyboards as you would expect in the modern sense. Model Bs were generally very tall keyboards with fairly loud clicky switches but many have solenoids inside to make them even louder. They're considered by many to be the holy grail typist's keyboard with unmatchable build quality, 'desk presence', character and key feel.

1981-1987: Model F keyboards

The Model F family was IBM's fourth generation of keyboards designed to improve ergonomics and resistance to contamination with dust over Model B keyboards. They exclusively featured IBM's capacitive buckling spring 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. However, Model Fs would be the last time IBM spared no expense on its keyboard design.

1984-present: Model M keyboards

The sizable and diverse Model M family was IBM's fifth major family of keyboards and is IBM's most famous, widespread and influential group of keyboards. Essentially a cost-saving evolution of the Model F and its capacitive buckling springs (something made necessary due to falling PC costs in the wake of intense clone PC competition), the average Model M with membrane buckling springs succeeded the Model Fs in all markets whilst retaining good enough reliability and build quality to last several decades, but also improving keyboard layouts significantly. The definitive Model M, the IBM Enhanced Keyboard, is quite possibly the most famous keyboard of all time and is responsible for cementing the dominance of the ANSI and ISO keyboard layouts 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 (POS), typewriter and minor peripheral markets by the mid-1990s. Model Ms also experimented with adding pointing devices onto the keyboard itself and at one point even split-keyboard ergonomics. Model Ms have also reached beyond buckling springs, with buckling rubber sleeve Model Ms becoming IBM's main portable computer keyboard from 1991 to 1996. Today, Model Ms are still produced by Unicomp, a company founded by former Lexmark (and by extension, IBM) employees who bought the IP and tooling for buckling spring Model M keyboards. Toshiba TEC, who bought IBM Retail Store Solutions in 2012 to become Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions, still produces various POS Model Ms.

1992-present: ThinkPad keyboards

The ThinkPad keyboards started as a variant of the Model M that grew into its own diverse sixth 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 having vastly different layouts are still regarded as being amongst the most high-quality laptop keyboards still in production.

...to IBM and family

These are the companies that have made or continue to make IBM's wide range of keyboard designs. IBM designed most of their legendary keyboards in-house, but IBM has for a long time been a business that spins parts of itself off - usually when IBM and its practices become no longer profitable. However, most of their divestitures that included something relating to keyboard design retain a lot of IBM's DNA in some shape or form. IBM and the companies mentioned below have all been involved in designing and manufacturing the keyboards mentioned above.

IBM

Photo ibm.png

International Business Machines Corporation was founded as the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company in 1911 and for the following century, it had played a pivotal role in the development of computing and by extension modern computer keyboards. IBM's achievements are already impressive not considering keyboards, having been credited with inventing or at least played a major role in the development of ATMs, dynamic RAM, electronic keypunches, floppy disks, hard disk drives, magnetic stripe technology, relational database, scanning tunnelling microscope and SQL to name a few. IBM of course also kickstarted the x86 personal computer market that persists to this day and designed the instrument unit for the Saturn V rocket that took humanity to the Moon. Today, IBM focuses on artificial intelligence, quantum computing and services. IBM's keyboard pedigree is also impressive, with every generation of their keyboards - from their first keypunch to their last ThinkPad keyboard - making a name for itself in their respective markets and eras and are revered by many.

Lexmark

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Lexmark International is an American company that today specialises in printers and imaging technology. It was founded in 1991 via an IBM divesture of its IBM Information Products Corporation, IBM's US-based printer, typewriter and keyboard manufacturing in Lexington, Kentucky and Boulder, Colorado. For the first five years of its operational history, Lexmark and IBM were in an agreement that saw IBM market a vast number of Lexmark products as IBM products, including keyboards. Lexmark was at the helm of the Model M family during this time and saw the introduction of many new variants including the Models M4 through M15 and fuelled IBM's widespread adoption of buckling sleeve key-switches. Lexmark was also the primary OEM for IBM's portable computer keyboards such as many early IBM ThinkPads. Lexmark also marketed its own branded keyboards and laptops called Lexmark Lexbooks, both using the IBM-originating key-switch designs. Lexmark also produced IBM-originating keyboard designs for a plethora of other companies such as AST, Better On-line Solutions (BOS), Dell, GTSI, Lynk, Reply and Tadpole.

Unicomp

Photo unicomp.png

Unicomp, Inc. is an American keyboard manufacturing company based in Lexington, Kentucky and is the sole remaining manufacturer of buckling spring Model M keyboards. It was founded in 1996 by former Lexmark (and by extension, IBM) personnel after Lexmark decided to exit the keyboard business by April of that year due to the shrinking market for high-quality/high-cost keyboards in the 1990s and IBM's decision not to renew their US-based keyboard production contract with them. Unicomp picked up the pieces of Lexmark's keyboard operations and spent the rest of the 1990s reobtaining some tooling from IBM's other factories before debuting a robust lineup of keyboards by the turn of the millennium. Unicomp quickly found footing in the role of manufacturing keyboards for other companies, mainly in the medical, point of sale, and terminal emulation sectors where high-quality or legacy-designed keyboards would be needed. The companies included Affirmative Computer Products, Bed Bath & Beyond, BOS, Decision Data, General Electric (Healthcare and Marquette) and I-O Corporation. Unicomp also produced Model Ms for IBM until at least 2007. Despite their priority towards working for other companies, they maintain a consumer-facing presence and would sell its keyboards, parts of keyboards and customised keycaps to anyone.

Lenovo

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Lenovo Group is a Chinese company founded originally as Legend in 1984 and grew to dominate the Chinese computer market by the late 1990s. Legend renamed itself Lenovo in 2003 and then bought IBM's Personal Computing Division in 2005, creating the modern Lenovo. They further acquired IBM's x86 Server Business in 2014. Both acquisitions gave Lenovo a considerable amount of former IBM IP, including the ThinkPad family and its laptop, tablet and keyboard designs, and makes them the main spiritual descendent of the original IBM PC. Until 2012, Lenovo continued to produce ThinkPad keyboards to a similar design as their immediate IBM predecessors but then created the AccuType style of island-key keyboard designs for its laptop and tablet lines. Despite this change, Lenovo continues to be well regarded for its laptop keyboard designs. Lenovo also inherited a portion of the SK-8835/884x family of UltraNav desktop, server console and sysadmin keyboards and continued to have them produced as late as 2017.

TGCS

Photo toshiba.png

Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions is a subsidiary of Toshiba TEC that is largely comprised of IP from IBM Retail Store Solutions, which IBM sold to Toshiba TEC in 2012. This included the only remnants of the Model M family outside of Unicomp that was still in production by that year. TGCS continues to manufacture IBM-designed and IBM-derived POS terminals, infrastructure and keyboards, the latter including the Retail series (Models M7, M7-1, M8, M9 and M11) and Modular series (67-key, MANPOS and MCANPOS Model M-e) POS keyboard designs that employ IBM buckling rubber sleeve key-switches. Toshiba quickly discontinued the Retail series by 2015, but Toshiba continues to produce Modular POS series keyboards to this day with a relatively unchanged design.

...to this website

In a nutshell, this website is...

Admiral Shark's Keyboards is my IBM, Lexmark, Unicomp, Lenovo & Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions keyboard database, wiki, research & review articles, guides and documentation. A passion project to research, review and preserve information on keyboards for desktop PCs, ThinkPads, point of sale machines, mainframes and terminals, ultimately serving as a technical and factual resource collection 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 Part Number Database is the main offering of this 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 Global Commerce Solutions 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, 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

  1. Ben Franske - File:IBM26.jpg [accessed 2022-02-07]. License: GFDL 1.2 or later.
  2. IBM - IBM 24 Card Punch & 26 Printing Card Punch Reference Manual [accessed 2022-02-07].
  3. ComputerGeek7066 - File:IBM 1052.jpg [accessed 2022-01-09]. License: CC BY-SA 4.0 (cropped).
  4. Oscar.nierstrasz - File:IBM2741.JPG [accessed 2022-01-22]. License: CC BY-SA 4.0.
  5. IBM - IBM 3215 Console Printer-Keyboard Component Description [accessed 2022-01-22].
  6. Spitzak - File:IBM 3277 Model 2 terminal.jpg [accessed 2022-02-07]. License: CC BY-SA 4.0 (cropped).
  7. The Henry Ford - IBM Displaywriter Word Processor and Printer, 1983 [accessed 2022-01-22].
  8. zrrion - donated photo.
  9. webwit - Index of /input/ibm_misc [accessed 2021-09-12]. License: public domain.