Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional
PFU Limited
Take a look at the keys. Notice anything missing?
By Columnist
msnbc.com
updated 7/8/2005 2:04:01 PM ET 2005-07-08T18:04:01

Think you’re a good typist? How many words per minute can you type?  How many mistakes do you make? Do you have to look at the keys?  I know a good way to test your typing skills. It’s called the Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional.

PFU Limited, a division of Fujitsu, makes a bunch of very cool, high quality keyboards that you can use instead of the flimsy $10 device that came with your computer. All you have to do is plug one into your computer’s USB port (PC, Mac, UNIX or Linux) and type away. 

So far, so good.

But, there’s one particular HHKB-Professional that will push your typing abilities to the limit.  It’s the model appropriately named the Blank Key Top Model. Look at the photo above. That’s not an optical illusion. There is nothing printed on the keys!

Now, you might ask “Why would anyone want a keyboard with blank keys?”  Many HHKBP owners would answer back: “Why not? If you’re a good touch typist why would you need marking on each key?"

I’ll answer that in a minute.

Happy Hacking Professional keyboards are solidly made devices. They are small (11.6 by 4.7 inches) and weigh a little more than a pound. The HHKBPs are equipped with 60 keys said to be good for 30 million keystrokes or more. They look like a cross between the original Macintosh keyboard (size and shape) with the incredible feel of the original IBM computer keyboards (but without that super-loud clicking noise).

The keyboards feature what PFU calls a cylindrical step sculpture (where the keys are placed for fast, safe typing) and uses an electric capacitance system instead of an electrode system underneath each key for softer keystrokes and longer keyboard life.

The keyboards are also adjustable to your operating system. With just the flip of a hidden dip switch or two you’re able to change a number of keyboard parameters including moving the keyboard between a PC (with "Alt" and "Windows" key functionality), Macintosh or UNIX machine.  Regardless of the interface or model, the layout is the same.  Your hands should know what to do and where all the keys are.

Now, to the typing.  I thought I was a very good typist.  Forgetaboutit it!  Without a guide printed on the keys typing on the HHKBP was (and is) a nightmare for me. Yes, it comes with little bumps where your fingers should go — but not being a perfect touch-typist meant I was doomed to hundreds of mistakes (that’s hundreds more than I usually make).  To their credit, PFU supplies a key map that you can tape on the wall. I tried that but found it’s not the same as having the letters and symbols printed beneath my fingers.

Fortunately for me, this keyboard does come in a version with the letters and other symbols on the keys. That's the one I'd opt for. Still, I may be in the minority. The Blank Key Model is a hot seller here and in Japan. As a matter of fact, the PFU people had to search high and low to find one for me to try. Check their Web site to see if and when HHKBPs are in stock.

I find this extra amazing because Happy Hacking Keyboards are not cheap.  In this world of $10 to $20 keyboards, PFU is selling the HHKBP for $259.  It does come in both beige or gray though. That’s a lot of money for a keyboard but because of the technology behind it and the way it’s built it should last a lot longer than any cheaper, throw-away model.

PFU also makes two scaled-down versions of the HHKBP: The Happy Hacking Keyboard (non-professional) for $119 and the Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite 2 for $69.  Neither was tested – but based on their more-expensive brothers, they could also be worth a try.

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