The Idiocy of Happy Hacking Keyboard

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

There is a computer keyboard, called the Happy Hacking keyboard (HHKB). It is a keyboard often loved by “hackers”, and is one of the most idiotic keyboard. Let me count the ways.

happy hacking keyboard pro2 7U27JT99KO4688J77IR7Z-s
Happy Hacking Keyboard model Professional 2. amazon

Missing 12 Function Keys

It lacks 12 function keys. TWELVE of them! One, two, three, …, four, five, six, and more. Continue counting: seven, and eight and nine. Then, we add another digit to hit 10 in a decimal system. Then, eleven as in Seven-Eleven, and twelve, as in: twelve days of Christmas. Twelve programable keys down the drain! What to do if you need them? You have to press 2 keys: 【Fn+‹key›】. What happened to the concept of efficiency?

Missing Page Navigation Keys and 20 Extra Function Keys

Bygone are the extremely convenient dedicated page navigation keys: ↖ Home, ↘ End, ⇞ Page △, ⇟ Page ▽.

Of course, PrtScn, ScrLk, Pause keys, and the entire set of 17 keys on number-keypad are gone too. Sure, you can do without them, but for programers, that's another 17 programable function keys down the drain.

Happy Hacking Keyboard is supposed to be used by hackers, right?

No Arrow Keys!

google pacman

Can you play pacman while eating pizza?

happy hacking keyboard lite2 3
HHKB, model lite 2, has arrow keys, but rubber dome key switch. amazon (photo by ryuone @, ©)

Missing Modifier Keys

Ok, now you lost 36 keys to automate your work. To make up the lost keys, the Control Alt Meta Super must be going strong on the HHKB. Let's count.

There's AltCtrl, ok, and there's ◆ MetaFn. Where's my ❖ SuperHyper keys? On a standard $15 PC keyboard, there are 3 more modifier keys than the $260 Happy Hacking. WTF⁈

$80 Happy Hacking or ≈$260 HHKB Pro, you have:

1 Control, 2 Alt, 2 ◆ Meta, 2 Fn. (the Fn can't count here because usualy it is hard-wired in the keyboard circuitry thus the OS doesn't see it so you can't remap them.) That's a total of 7 modifiers. If not counting Fn, then it's 5.

On $15 nameless USB keyboard, you have:

2 Control, 2 Alt, 2 ❖ Win key, 1 ▤ Menu key, 1 Caps Lock. That's a total of 8 modifiers, all of them can be individually remapped by software on { Linux, Windows, Mac}.

Microsoft wired Keyboard 200 58681
Cheapest Microsoft keyboard the “Microsoft Wired Keyboard 200”. amazon Logitech K120 is just about the same. amazon

Non-Symmetric Position of Modifier Keys

If you look at the distance from F to the left ◆ Meta versus J to the right ◆ Meta, you see that they are not symmetric. The right side modifer requires you to curl your thumb deeper.

Many cheap PC keyboards have the modifier keys symmetrically positioned. (➢ for example: “Microsoft Wireless Keyboard 2000”, Microsoft Comfort Curve, “Microsoft Natural Elite”, and lots others from other brands.)

¿Designed for unix, vi, emacs?

I presume those who like HHKB are unix users and the reason they like it is due to some key's layout.

happy hacking lite2 keyboard us layout
Happy Hacking keyboard US layout.

Each of these key positions are actually inferior to optimal. For example, if you are vi user, the optimal position for Esc is where the PC keyboard's Caps Lock is at, or, one of the big Alt right under thumb (a design point popularized by Kinesis.).

If you are a emacs user, the optimal position for Control is the 2 big Alt key on Microsoft ergonomic keyboards right under your thumbs, 2 of them, symmetrically placed, pressed by a strong finger thumb.

See also the original keyboard vi is designed on at How Emacs & vi keys came to be.

For why the function keys are important, see: Increase Productivity Using Function Keys.

Key Switch Mechanism

Note: the “Professional” model of the HHKB amazon has mechanical key switch. It uses capacitive switch (Topre), generally considered better than Cherry MX switch. See: Guide to Computer Keyboard Key Switch Mechanisms.

The “model lite 2” model's key mechanism is rubber dome.

What does HHKB Type-S do?

The Type-s models are quieter. The “s” stands for Silent. amazon

Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro Japanese Layout

If you really want HHKB, i recommend models with Japanese layout.

happy hacking keyboard pro jp-type-s 447832
Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro Japan. 〔photo by 002 from image source

This is a better HHKB, even if you only type English, because:

happy hacking keyboard professional 2 type s
HHBK US layout. Happy Hacking Keyboard, Professional 2, Type-S. amazon
happy hacking keyboard jp layout 38609
HHBK Japanese layout. Lots thumb keys.

There are issues to watch out:

  1. In Japanese layout, key columns are less staggered than US version (compare the vertical line from Q to Z).
  2. In Japanese layout, the Space bar may not be comfortably reachable by right thumb.
  3. In Japanese layout, the Enter ↵ key is 1 column more to the right than standard PC keyboard layout.
  4. In Japanese layout, the tiny ⇧ Shift key on the right, and is 2 columns more to the right than standard PC keyboard layout.

Japanese keyboard are like that because there's little use for space or capital letter. See: Should You Type Space After Comma? and Tiny Space Bar on Japanese Keyboards

Solution to Tiny Space Bar, Tiny Shift Key

For the tiny Space key problem, just use left thumb for it, or make the neighbor key do space.

For the tiny ⇧ Shift key problem, turn on Operating System's sticky key feature. So, you don't need to hold ⇧ Shift. Just press left ⇧ Shift, release, then type a letter key.

If you use emacs, there's more advanced way to solve the ⇧ Shift key problem. See: Emacs: toggle-letter-case


If you really like Happy Hacking's compact size and mechanical key switch, i'd recommend the following.

They are half the price of HHKB. Some has the same key switch mechanism as HHKB.

CM Storm NovaTouch TKL keyboard 92663
CM Storm NovaTouch TKL keyboard. Topre Switch. 〔➤see key switch closeupamazon
Cooler Master Storm QuickFire Rapid Keyboard SGK-4000-GKCL1-US
“Cooler Master Storm QuickFire Rapid Keyboard”. amazon 3608×1064
filco majestouch minila keyboard 89676
Filco Majestouch Minila. The 6 dip-switch in the back lets you change keys. amazon

For many more compact mechanical keyboards, see: Keyboards without Numeric Keypad.

List of Keyboards with Topre Switch

List of Keyboards with Topre Switch

girls holding Happy Hacking Keyboard Japan
好 Happy Hacking 喔. 2048×1598

Happy Hacking Keyboard Gallery

Happy Hacking Keyboard Gallery

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