Everybody wants to save the earth, nobody wants to help mom do the dishes.  --P.J. O'Rourke

Monday, March 7, 2011

1990's IBM ThinkPad Butterfly Keyboard

Set The Way Back Machine to 1995....

The IBM ThinkPad range had a well deserved reputation for bomb-proof build and clever I.D.  The Thinkpads of the era were akin to the MacBook Pro's of the present, head and shoulders above the competition.  I had the opportunity to use a few of these 701's and the way the keyboard would magically rise and fold out was a source of endless nerd joy.  I found myself repeatedly opening and closing it trying to find a position where the mechanism would bind, catch or jam, but each time it folded and stowed itself perfectly- within a whisker of being caught by the edge of the lid.  But the greatest thing about this Thinkpad and all of its contemporaries was was an unfailing dedication to producing great keyboards that were not an afterthought.  I was reminded of the old 701 while typing on my Lenovo S10 Netbook. (Lenovo of course famously purchased the IBM PC/Laptop business and has faithfully carried on the tradition of building tough and innovative business laptops - albeit with an aesthetic firmly rooted in 1997 - frankly I doubt IBM would have done as well).  The Lenovo S10 is a wonderful machine and within the inherent graphics limitations of it's Atom chipset it has done everything I could reasonably expect with aplomb.  My only gripe with the S10 and all 10inch Netbooks is their XX% keyboards.  The major querty keys are generally a non issue, the keys are reasonable sized and fall more or less at your fingertips.  The devil however is in the details.  The arrow keys, enter key, shift, ctrl, function, tab and the rest of the 'non querty' keys get shrunk and moved around.  Which becomes a serious pain when you are trying to use keyboard shortcuts or keyboard intensive apps requiring a lot of alt-this and shift-that.  So why don't modern Netbooks use the butterfly?  It does make for a thicker design, but the extra 1/3 of an inch hardly makes a difference considering the bulky extended life batteries many people use.  I hope someone resurrects the butterfly someday - because to quote Han Solo "Capacitive Touch Screens and Hokey-Touch Gestures Are No Match for a Decent Enter Key"

1 comment:

  1. I was in the thick of the notebook PC industry at the time. We bought one of those and took it apart. The keyboard was really a beauty to watch deploy. 3MM key travel felt great. It did have a tendency to rattle on the edges a bit. I've always hated the trackpoint though. Wonder if you could incorporate a trackpad with the same design. Our response was to design a keyboard that splayed open on deployment...much better ergonomically. That product never saw the light of day.