The keyboard that comes with the laptop I use for my main work machine currently a 2011 MacBook Air is pretty great. The low, square keys look great, and they feel good enough for me to not even notice them when I put in long hours at the keyboard. I like it so much that I now have three Apple keyboards in use at the three different computers in my life.
I've caught whispers of the custom keyboard crowds - the Cherry MX, Ducky and others, and figured them valuable mainly to the gaming crowd for reasons mostly known to the gaming crowd. Because I don't game a whole lot on my computer, I didn't really pay those whispers much heed.
In my quest to be more platform agnostic in the computer related things I do I have adopted a number of command line tools, many of which are not only highly configurable, but also consider the limitations and efficiencies of the keyboard as a primary and sole input device.
When I first came across the Ergodox, I thought it was pretty neat - an open source keyboard designed by a keyboard enthusiast. When the office mate that introduced me to it talked about how configurable it could be, and how its reconfigured layout took into consideration the physics of the human hands, I began to see the pattern of efficient design that I have come to appreciate in my command line tools. After spending more time looking it up I learned that it only came in a kit that required some pretty good nerd skills to put together. I knew I had to have one.
After paying the larger than expected amount, which is on par for mechanical keyboards apparently, I waited. The keyboard finally arrived in 3 months - the parts were sourced as a group buy from parts suppliers and fabricators in China by Massdrop.
The keyboard came neatly packaged and in pieces. I soldered around 80 surface mount diodes, one for each key, and a few resistors and plugs.
A Teensy microcontroller is the brains behind the whole thing, and layers of laser cut acrylic make up the case. The soldering took up the most time, and putting the case together was simple. In about two hours, I had a new keyboard.
Not long after finishing the keyboard assembly, I went down to Maker Labs in Vancouver and replaced the top layer of my Ergodox case with some bamboo, and engraved lines into the home keys so I can recognize my hand position by touch.
Groups of keys are now located near my thumbs, the strongest fingers on my hand. I do appreciate the wider posture my hands have to assume as it is less claw-like than I'm used to, and the tightness in my hands and wrists has become noticeable over the years. The split keyboard design lets me relax my arms onto the armrests of my chair, which is much more comfortable than having to hold them together in front of me while I work.
The open source community has provided a configuration tool for owners of the Ergodox to customize the layout of their keyboards. Don't like hitting enter with your right pinky finger? Move it down to your right thumb. Want to switch between QWERTY and DVORAK? Switch between key mappings on the fly with a quick press of a button.
The keyboard isn't perfect - the pause/play button for my Mac doesn't yet have a mapping as far as I know, and it does feel a bit spaced out for my hands, which may change as I get used to the amount of space now afforded to me by my keyboard. The springs are also a little firmer than I'd like. But the open source and custom design of this project means that anyone can download the firmware to tailor it to their own needs, or tweak the case design to something slightly different or improved, and re-release it back into the Ergodox community. I've already ordered coloured keys and lighter springs to tweak my keyboard experience. I do have some leftover bamboo and am thinking of making a laser cut tenting solution to tilt the keyboard to better fit my hands. I'll get around to it, when I find some time.