Computer-literatured folks usually put keyboard, mouse, scanner and other substitute peripheral devices into one category: input devices - tools to feed data into the computer. While keyboard is long been recognised as standard input device, mouse and other peripherals are often considered as computer ergonomics to make operating a computer easier.
With more than 2000 build-in commands, plus countless custom key bindings in different modes, Emacs's true power can only be released by swiftly typing long keyboard commands, mostly backed by muscle memory. E.g., Ctrl + u, Ctrl + u, TAB to reset the outline view in org-mode.There is a comprehensive set of commands for moving course around in Emacs, by characters, by words, by sentences, switching between buffers, Emacs knows it's way around. Any other input peripherals, including mouse, will only slow a true Emacs power user down.
GNU Emacs is primarily designed for use with the keyboard. While it is possible to use the mouse to issue editing commands through the menu bar and tool bar, that is not as efficient as using the keyboard.
To be productive, one needs to know his tools and get the best that money can buy. Unfortunately there are not many keyboards on the market which are designed particularly with Emacs in mind. To understand what is a good Emacs keyboard, we need to understand a bit of history about Emacs and the old good Lisp machines.
Emacs key bindings, shortcuts you may call them, were designed specifically for the space-cadet keyboard which is commonly used for Lisp machines in the 80s. In those keyboards, Ctrl key is the main modifier key and Meta is right after it as the secondary modifier. In today's IMB PC keyboard, the Meta key has been replace by Alt and the Ctrl key is placed in the corner far away out of thumb's reach. Strange enough, in spite of the fact that IBM has changed the keyboard layout and made Ctrl one of the most costly key to press, almost all the software designs have followed the tradition of using Ctrl key as the main modifier key along with the HCI guidance published by IMB itself and Apple.
Fast forward to 2012, most people are likely to acess more than one computers in day to day life, with variety of operating systems, physical characteristics (laptop, desktop, tablet…) and of course, different keyboard layouts. Among all these variables, the positioning of Ctrl key tend to vary the most. This is killing Emacs users like me.
Remap Caps Lock Key is a popular solution to the ever change Ctrl key positioning. It is partly based on the fact that traditional UNIX keyboards typically had the control key where the Caps Lock key is now. This is not without caveat that it may decrease efficiency if you like to use both Ctrl keys. On the positive side, the position of Caps Lock key seems to be very consistent across all keyboards.
Remap Caps Lock key solves the problem of Ctrl key, but what about the Meta (alt) key? It tends to be shoved into strange places by manufactures in favour of their useless function keys. The solution - nothing beats a good keyboard itself in terms of Emacs efficiency.
Good Keyboard, Bad Keyboard
This is without doubt one of the best accessible keyboards you can get as a programmer. It has split keys oriented for each hands, very large modifier keys. Most importantly, they are symmetrically positioned on each side, which is the perfect design for people use modifier keys a lot. If that doesn't satisfy you, you can even re-map the modifier keys with the IntelliType software which comes with the keyboard. For example, you can swap Ctrl and Alt keys to make the keyboard function exactly same as original Symbolics Keyboards.
On the other hand, Mac keyboard is the worst in terms of
Ctrl key positioning everything. It is
understandable that Apple put the ⌘ key in the prominent position where Ctrl would be in Symbolics keyboards - Ctrl is
only the tertiary modifier in OS anyway. However, the quality of this beautiful keyboard is pouring. Sticky, sluggish,
almost has no reflex-action and extremely mushy, even the key stroke noise is unbelievably annoying. It is definitely
one of the worst membrane keyboards out there. I can only wish Apple bring the old good Apple Extended Keyboard back.
While most consumer keyboards use membrane switches, it's gleeful to see a few quality mechanical-switch keyboards out there on the market, most of them are elite gaming keyboards with flashy back-lit lights. Back to our Emacs world, we have some less known but especially designed for geeks keyboards, plain, simple but incredible powerful, just as our dear pal Emacs. The top one on my list is the wonderful wonderful wicked Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional 2. It cost almost £300 for a S-Type (quieter version, mechanical switches are VERY load). It is designed for people who know what a good keyboard should be.
There you go, we have the very pleasing Microsoft Natural Ergonomic 4000 keyboard, the extremely bad new shining Apple wireless keyboard which you should avoid at all costs. If you take typing seriously, it is definitely worth considering investigating on a Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional2.
Searching for the perfect Emacs keyboard continues.