Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Happy Birthday Model M!


The very notion that computer hardware that began its tour of duty in the mid-1980s is still useful today seems improbable. It seems even more improbable that such surviving hardware would have moving parts. But it is, and it does.

If 25 years of staying power doesn't impress you, this should: its story hasn't ended. New model Ms are still being produced today in Lexington, Kentucky, United States by a company named Unicomp . I don't mean that Unicomp just bought the Model M copyrights (which they did) and rights to use the buckling spring design (which they did) and began innovating with new designs only marginally related to the older Model M (which they did not), attempting only to capitalize on brand recognition (of which there is little, I fear). I mean that they bought the factory, tool and die. Unicomp's website won't win any prizes, but they crank the same exact keyboards out that were being cranked out in 1986 today with two minor exceptions: you can now buy a keyboard with Windows keys and you can buy a Model M with a native USB interface. These aren't "copies" of a Model M; these are Model Ms. Even the addition of Windows keys or the new interface doesn't mean very much: the Unicomp spring assemblies still fit in the a Model M case from 1986, and vice versa. You can even buy parts from Unicomp to fix your 1985 Model M. Unicomp's new keyboards arent the cheapest: they start at $69 for a basic bucking spring model. But, then again, if you enjoy using a keyboard, and it will last you for 25 years, almost any price is a huge bargain as far as I can tell. Would it really matter if you paid even $250 for it, given a presumption of that time scale?

I've occasionally wondered whether the new ones were the same as the old. I'm glad to know that if my Model M ever gives up the ghost -- going strong 10 years after pulling it out of a pile on the way out of the computer recycling center -- I don't have to start trolling eBay.

No comments: