The Idiocy of Happy Hacking Keyboard

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

2020-05-20 New. wireless version came out.

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 KbXnk2-s1000
Happy Hacking Keyboard model Professional 2. 5312×2583 Happy Hacking Keyboard

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, PageUp, PageDown.

Of course, PrintScreen, ScrollLock, 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
Google Pacman

Can you play pacman while eating pizza?

happy hacking keyboard lite2 3
Happy Hacking Keyboard lite 2, has arrow keys, but rubber dome key switch.
Mac Buy at amazon, PC Buy at amazon
[image source flickr, by Ryuichi Maeno, © [] ]

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.

There's Alt and Ctrl, ok, and there's Meta and Fn. Where's my Super and Hyper keys? On a standard $15 PC keyboard, there are 3 more modifier keys than the $260 Happy Hacking. WTF⁈

~$260 HHKB Pro, you have:

1 Ctrl, 2 Alt, 2 Meta, 2 Fn. (the Fn can't count here because 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 5 modifiers.

On any $10 cheap Microsoft keyboard, you have:

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

Microsoft wired keyboard 600 42
Microsoft Wired Keyboard 600
$13 as of 2018-04-24. Buy at 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.

Most PC keyboards after year ~2005 have the modifier keys symmetrically positioned. (e.g. all Microsoft Keyboards around 2011. [see Microsoft Keyboards])

¿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 Escape is where the PC keyboard's CapsLock 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 Ctrl is the 2 big Alt key on Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard 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 History of vi Keys .

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

Reviewed- Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional 2 HHKB Pro 2
Mar 24, 2011

Topre Key Switch Mechanism

The “Professional” model of the HHKB uses Topre switch.

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

Type S

happy hacking keyboard pro 2 type s 06017
Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro 2, Type-S

The “Type S” model, is a bit more silent, by adding rubber ring in the key switches.

Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro 2 Type S Silent vs. Standard !
Nov 20, 2015
HHKB Pro 2 Type-S review (silenced Topre)
Nov 16, 2018

Happy Hacking Keyboard Type-S

Bluetooth Version

A bluetooth version came out, in 2016.

Happy Hacking Keyboard bluetooth

Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro Japanese Layout

If you really want HHKB, i recommend the Japanese layout ones.

happy hacking keyboard pro jp type s 447832
[image source, photo by 002] Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro JP Japanese

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

hhkb keyboard pro2 type s zsQpf
HHBK US layout. Happy Hacking Keyboard Type-S
happy hacking keyboard jp layout 38609
Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro JP

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 Shift key on the right is tiny, 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: Tiny Spacebar

Solution to Tiny Space Bar, Tiny Shift Key

For the tiny Space key problem, just use left thumb for it. Or, remap one of the thumb keys to 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 want to spend as much as the HHKB, i consider the following far better.

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

Now, add an extra boost to your gear.

colorful vibrator keyboard 2017 03 04 92839 s
4032×2268 [image source reddit, 2017-03-04] Buy at amazon

See also:

xah talk show 2022-05-24 best stylus, pen input, trackball, and why happy hacking keyboard sucks

xah talk show 2022-05-24 best stylus, pen input, trackball, and why happy hacking keyboard sucks

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