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. 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, ⇞ Page Up, ⇟ Page Down.

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. 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 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 ❖ Window 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”. Buy at amazon Logitech K120 is just about the same. 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. (For example, 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 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 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 Emacs and vi Keys.

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

Reviewed- Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional 2 HHKB Pro 2. Happy Hacking Keyboard

Key Switch Mechanism

the “Professional” model of the HHKB has mechanical key switch. It uses capacitive switch (Topre), generally considered better than Cherry MX switch. It's more smooth, and doesn't have the feel of scratchy plastic rubbing and spring.

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

hhkb topre switch 36984
Topre switch mechanism.

〔►see Guide to Keyboard Key Switch Mechanisms

Type S

The “Type S” model, is Topre switch but more silent.

Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro 2 Type S Silent vs. Standard ! Happy Hacking Keyboard Type-S

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
〔photo by 002 from image sourceHappy Hacking Keyboard Pro JP Japanese

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. 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 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.

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


Compact Keyboards

Made by name brands, high quality, $100 or $200 less than HHKB.
CM Storm NovaTouch TKL keyboard 92663
CM Storm NovaTouch keyboard
(also topre switch)

at this price level, i'd go for

Truly Ergonomic Computer Keyboard-207
Truly Ergonomic keyboard

see also List of Keyboards with Topre Switch

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

Happy Hacking Keyboard