Apple Keyboard first impressions

This time, it's war

The box containing my "old" Apple Keyboard with Numeric Keypad had a sticker on the side that said something to the effect of "this keyboard requires Mac OS 10.4.7 or later". Apart from the fact I happened to be running a buggy Linux kernel at the time (thanks, Ubuntu), it actually worked fine on my Linux boxes. It worked fine on my Macs, too, though they were running suitable versions of Mac OS.

Anyway, the new Apple Keyboard (MB869LL/A), the one without the numeric keypad, its box says something like "blah blah Mac OS 10.5.6 or later". (I'd quote exactly, but the poltergeist that throws my stuff out while leaving its own stuff lying around appears to have paid another visit while I was at work yesterday.)

I scoffed when I saw this, but it turns out it's actually true.

Mac OS 10.4 compatibility

On Mac OS 10.4.11, the function keys' functions don't match their glyphs. If you have fond memories of the good old days when it was F12 to activate Dashboard, you'll love this keyboard. Despite the Dashboard glyph being on F4 and F12 having the increase volume glyph, F12 activates Dashboard.

Also, despite the fact that this keyboard looks exactly like a MacBook keyboard, unlike the MacBook, you can't use fn and the arrow keys to get home/end and page up/down. Presumably you can if you're running 10.5, but those of us planning on going straight to 10.6 are out of luck.

Linux compatibility

It should go without saying that if Mac OS 10.4 users are out of luck, Linux users are screwed, but none of Ubuntu 6.06, 8.04, or 8.10 have any clue what to do with this keyboard. I've mailed USB id updates to the guy who maintains the list (so at least lsusb(1) will show what you've got connected), but I had the strangest sense of deja vu as I was doing so, and a strong feeling that my previous submissions never made it into the list.

Windows compatibility

I don't have a Windows machine, but I see no reason to assume things are any different there. The box certainly didn't say anything about Windows compatibility. This probably presents quite a problem for Windows users. I can suffer without home/end and page up/down, as I used to on my sort-of-Happy Hacking keyboard, but as I understand it, Windows users can't even log in without a delete key. And though Mac keyboards say delete, they mean backspace, and if you really want delete, you need a working fn key.

So if you're a Windows user who likes Apple's keyboards, I'd be really cautious about this particular one, though the Apple Keyboard with Numeric Keypad had two delete keys, one of which actually was delete, so you'd probably be fine there. I certainly used to use it on Linux, judging by the number of times I've hit the desk where that key ought to be over the past couple of days.

First impressions

Having the mouse closer to hand is great. That feels good. The downside is that I'm actually having to use the mouse more because I'm without the editing keys.

I'm coping with the scrunched-up arrow keys, though I still have to look for them, and sometimes hit the wrong one, even with my rather slender fingers.

I'm not missing home and end much, though I'd rather I still had them. I'm missing page up/down more, though I can cope. The surprise winner of most-missed-key is actually delete (aka forward delete, as opposed to backspace). I'd really like a working fn key, and can't really recommend this keyboard to anyone not running Mac OS 10.5 right now, because that seems to be the only OS with the right magic. I don't know enough about USB keyboards to understand the problem here, but it seems quite an unfortunate situation. Surely pseudo-modifiers like fn should be handled in the keyboard itself, and some kind of uniform key code (plus uniform set of modifiers) sent to the computer? Surely requiring each OS to understand each keyboard's layout (and its international variants) is something from the dark ages?

I wasn't expecting the fn key to be where it is. Despite the fact that it's in exactly the same place on my MacBook Pro. I guess I just don't really use my MacBook Pro enough to have noticed or cared; it's a glorified web tablet, really. A heavy battery-hungry one at that.

Anyway, the trouble with the fn key's position isn't where it is so much as that it moves the control key across one place. Which moves the alt key across one place. So if you've ever experienced modifier-key confusion, expect to experience it even worse now. On the other hand (the other metaphorical hand, that is), the control key's new position actually makes it possible for me to type control-shift combinations without ridiculous discomfort. Previously I'd have to bend my left thumb so far back to reach the right edge of the control key that it literally hurt. The combination of a more accessible control key and an out-of-place alt key might actually get me to switch to using control-shift instead of alt in Linux terminal emulators.

Assuming I stick with the new keyboards. I'm left more than ever wishing for the "Apple Keyboard without Numeric Keypad but with all those Useful Keys that come between Keyboard and Numeric Keypad". If I had a working fn key, that would be one thing. But genuinely losing my home/end and page up/down keys is harsh.

And I don't even know whether I need a new kernel, X server, xkb configuration, or some GNOME thing to fix my problem. Too many layers of bureaucracy fighting for control of a triviality.