In defense of quiet keyboards


Like many sysadmins I learned to type on an IBM Model M keyboard. That was a mechanical switch keyboard and any time you made a key-press there was a click sound. It was also made to engineering standards unheard of today, and the very keyboard I learned to type on two and a half decades ago would probably still work today if it were still with us (it got lost in the great AT to PS2 interface switch).

That keyboard was a joy to use. Good key travel, nice feedback when typing.

However, it had a bad habit. It was noisy. A fact I didn't mind since the computer was in the basement and I didn't have to share that space with anyone.

Fast forward to the modern era of open-plan office space where even the paltry protection of our cubical walls is being taken away from us in favor of tables in clusters and such keyboards are downright anti-social. Pack 5 power-users into a small space with concrete floors, give each of them a mechanical switch keyboard and it'll sound like a horrible accident at a pachinko ball factory; only going on for 9 hours.

Like many sysadmins I've learned to type really fast. When I'm rattling out command-lines as fast as I can think, it can sound like repeating gun-fire (really: that analogy was drawn for me back at WWU during an intense trouble-shooting session at 4am).

As a kindness to my office mates, I stay away from mechanical switch keyboards and stick with the soft thud of a scissor-spring keyboard. Since I learned on a Model M, I hit those scissor-spring keys with about twice as much force as I need to so even they clatter a little bit. It isn't as nice as that old Model M, but it sure as hell is a lot easier to live next to me as a result.

Back at WWU when I shared an actual office with one other person I could possibly have gotten away with a mechanical-switch keyboard. Now that I share a table-cluster with two other people, and we're close enough together we can hear each other mutter darkly as we debug, that's no longer the case. Head-phones to drown out the typing sounds of your neighbors should not be required-issue for working in an office.

My current office keyboard is not the engineering marvel of that Model M. It's only 8 years old and most of the home-row key-caps have simply eroded off. What's more, there are very shiny spots on the spacebar where my thumbs have polished nice divots. Also, the U and the I keys are beginning to get erratic. It's probably time for a new one.

Happily, like that Model M, they still make the model I'm using.


I learned how to type on the Amiga 1000 keyboard which used Mitsumi mechanical switches. Not nearly as robust as the IBM they were still somewhat stiffer than what we have now. The two modern keyboards I've liked the most are the Dell Quiet Touch and the Apple A1243. I wouldn't expect either to last even the 8 years of your current keyboard but the Dell I used happily for 4 before the silk screening worse off too much. The Apple is the loudest of the two but sounds only slightly more clicky than a MacBook chiclet.

Like you, I learned how to type on a Model M keyboard. (I actually had one of the old pre-PS/2 models with an AT connector!) It was great when I had an office to myself, but now I work in a cube farm.

I've also found the Apple A1243 to be a really good replacement. I like them so much I've gone out and bought several -- even for my PC. I had to remap a few of the keys (alt was in the wrong place, as was a few others), but now that I've done that, it's a wonderful keyboard to use.

Bunny <3

It is unfortunate that we are made to sacrifice good tools for a cheaper/more distracting working environment. The problem is that they took away your office/cubicle walls, not that your keyboard is too loud.

I love my Cherry MX keyswitches. There are two sources of keyboard noise, generally: The key click and the key bottoming out. If typing properly you really shouldn't bottom out the key but some amount is inevitable. On Cherry MX keyswitches you get can little o-rings to put on the stem of the switch to soften to blow from bottoming out. That cuts the noise significantly while still leaving you with the nice tactile feedback of the click.

For anyone interested in good quality keyboards check out

The Cherry MX key designs are apparently quiet mechanical switches. eg: