The Idiocy of Happy Hacking Keyboard

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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 lite2 3
The Happy Hacking keyboard, model lite 2. (rubber dome key mechanism) amazon (photo by ryuone @ www.flickr.com…, ©)

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 gone with the wind.

happy hacking keyboard pro2 ghosTM55
Happy Hacking Keyboard model Professional 2. amazon (photo by gitcafe.com )

On the “professional model”, there's not even arrow keys.

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

Missing Modifier Keys

Ok, now you lost 33 keys to automate your work. To make up the lost keys, the Ctrl Alt Meta 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 Pro model), 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.) 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 {Windows, Linux, Mac}.

Microsoft wired Keyboard 200 2
Cheapest Microsoft keyboard the “Microsoft Wired Keyboard 200” ($10). amazon Logitech K120 ($12) 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 in thumb deeper.

Many cheap PC keyboards have the modifier keys symmetrically positioned. (⁖ “Microsoft Wireless Keyboard 2000” ($21), Microsoft Comfort Curve ($17), “Microsoft Natural Elite” (≈$30) amazon, 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 MaltronKinesis.).

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. Or, alternatively, as Caps Lock on left side AND the Enter ↵ on right side. (a design point advanced by Truly Ergonomic keyboard.)

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

Key Switch Mechanism

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

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

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

happy hacking keyboard professional 2 custom keycaps whiskerBox
Happy Hacking Keyboard model Professional 2, with custom key caps. (photo by whiskerBox. img src) amazon

Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro Japanese Layout

if you really want the HHKB, i suggest the Pro JP version.

happy hacking keyboard pro jp-2
Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro JP. (img src guilleguillaume at deskthority.net…)

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

happy hacking keyboard us layout
HHBK US layout.
happy hacking keyboard jp layout
HHBK Japanese layout. Lots extra keys, but note the tiny Space bar, tiny right ⇧ Shift, and the key columns are less staggered than us version.

There are 2 issues to watch out:

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 and Tiny Shift Key

For the tiny Space bar problem, just use left thumb for it, or map the key next to it to space.

For the tiny ⇧ Shift, if you are a emacs user, you can also solve it because you don't need to type ⇧ Shift ever. You set emacs to type them by key sequences. I do this, to avoid any key-chords.

For example, to type #, you can type 【▤ Menu k 3】, where the ▤ Menu key should be something easy on the bottom or left of A, and the k should be a key on home row.

you can set it up in emacs like this:

(global-set-key (kbd "<menu> k 3") "#")

or, in OS make the ⇧ Shift key do F13, then in emacs, make 【F13 3】 type #.

The above is assuming you do 99% of your typing in emacs. Which i do. You need to set a function key that instaneously switch you to emacs, and another function key that switch to last app. For how, see: Keyboard Tip: One Key to Switch to {Firefox, Emacs, Terminal}.

Alternatives

If you really like Happy Hacking's compact size and mechanical key switch, i'd recommend Filco Majestouch Tenkeyless or Cooler Master. There, you have physical F keys, plus nav keys. Highest quality keyboard, yet about $150 cheaper than HHKB.

Cooler Master Storm QuickFire Rapid Keyboard SGK-4000-GKCL1-US
“Cooler Master Storm QuickFire Rapid Keyboard”. amazon 3608×1064

For Mac users, you might be interested in Matias Mini Tactile Pro.

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