back to article Linux laptop biz System76 makes its first foray into the mechanical keyboard world with dinky, hackable Launch

With an air of inevitability, System76 - the maker of laptops for Linux users - has produced its first mechanical keyboard. It looks great but cheap it is not. Dubbed the Launch Configurable Keyboard (LCK), the company's foray into this space is true to form, touting firmware that's completely unlocked and hackable. …

  1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Meh

    Way over the top price for me

    I got a nice backlit, clicky, and reasonably configurable keyboard for about 40 squids. Has a nice solid metal chassis, removable keycaps - even has a keycap removal tool clipped underneath. Does one job and does it well... and has done for about 3 years now.

    P.S.

    I don't use a thumb for the space bar - whatever finger is nearest.

    1. Chillihead666

      Re: Way over the top price for me

      Care to share the make / model please?

      1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

        Re: Way over the top price for me

        TECHNET X705 dunno if it's still available.

        It has colour backlights for the keys you can play about with if that's your 'thing' but I have it static, medium brightness and each row a different colour. I seem to find I hit the right row more often (not necessarily the right key on that row).

        I liked it so much I almost immediately bought a second one!

    2. Shadow Systems

      Re: Way over the top price for me

      I don't hit the space bar with my thumbs either...

      *Smashes forehead down to whack the key*

      =-)p

  2. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Headmaster

    That is not TKL

    It's missing more than the number pad. Seems like... (squints)... something like a 75% keyboard to me.

    And it's not ISO... If only there were a hot-swappable ANSI/ISO board.

    1. Tom 38

      Re: That is not TKL

      They found space for DEL, but not INS (so that's a hard no from me as a vim user), PRTSCR, SCRLK and BREAK.

      Even my ultrabook laptop keyboard has room for INS.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        They didn't find space, they made space :-/. This thing is ugly... you have no 10-key, half a nav and a cramped writer that nobody is trained to type on. You can find rainbow colored children's ABC keyboards that have more usable writers (literally).

        I assume mechanical keyboards are popular, but if you've ever been forced to use one you'd probably understand that it was the layout of the old keyboards that "old-timers" like (really like) and most certainly NOT the arthritic nature of loud springy keys.

        1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

          if you've ever been forced to use one you'd probably understand that it was the layout of the old keyboards that "old-timers" like (really like) and most certainly NOT the arthritic nature of loud springy keys.

          Ha, pesky kids! Get off my lawnkeyboard!

          This old timer(*) likes the feel of the keys. Admittedly my keyboard has Cherry MX brown keys which are (nominally) quiet. If you wanted noise an IBM 029 card punch or an IBM golf ball typewriter were the go to devices.

          (*) This year is 50 years since I started working with computers professionally.

  3. spireite Silver badge
    Joke

    The price is high....

    .... and I'm moving on.....

    Logitechs my number one.....

    1. Evil Scot Bronze badge
      Joke

      Re: The price is high....

      We will have none of that round here Blondie.

      1. David 132 Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: The price is high....

        But I Want That, Man.

        I'll get it One Way Or Another, though it might take a Long Time.

  4. Rich 2 Silver badge

    Why?

    Forgive my ignorance but why is unlocked firmware on a keyboard desirable/a selling point? I mean, I’m not complaining but as long as the thing works, who cares what the firmware is? To me, a keyboard is a “plug in and forget” component; it’s not something anyone is going to bother messing with - is it??

    1. 45RPM Silver badge

      Re: Why?

      Have a thumbs up. I’ve never upgraded the firmware on my old keyboard. I couldn’t even if I wanted too. I’d argue that we’re making life too complicated!

    2. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Why?

      Possibly so you could change it to generate the right keycodes for customisable keycaps placed in whatever position you want. But then again their software should sort that out on the computer too.

      But then again System 76 is open source where possible so they're offering it out of principle.

      1. Warm Braw

        Re: Why?

        I looked into this a while back as I thought it might be useful to have an "auxiliary" keyboard to generate accented letters for other languages while retaining a familiar keyboard layout for general use.

        I kind of assumed that keyboards had moved on a bit, but it seems they still basically just report the "down" status for keys in defined grid positions*. This means that with the aid of keyboard firmware you could swap around the position of keys within a specific keyboard layout - but you can't add symbols that aren't in the keyboard layout selected on the host computer. You'd also have to go to some lengths to change the pairing of (say) shifted and unshifted characters on a single key.

        That kind of interaction between the keyboard and the OS keyboard layout maps is going to negate much of the possible benefit, I suspect.

        ----

        *Although the USB HID standard defines character codes (rather than the scan codes of previous standards), they're still effectively key position codes: for example it recommends (or did) that German keyboards should generate "Y" when "Z" is pressed because the "Z" key is in the position occupied by the "Y" key on North American keyboards. It makes no helpful reference to accented characters. Though it does permit the user to be notified of whether their laser disc is playing in constant angular velocity or constant linear velocity mode.

    3. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Why?

      The only benefit I can see is that you could write macros which would automatically press keys in order. You can't easily use it to add new symbols since it's still just reporting key states, but if the keys you want to press are already available, it can issue them without you having to do so yourself. That would allow you to establish a bunch of custom keystrokes. This sounded interesting when I first thought of it, but now I'm having trouble trying to figure out why as I've never had an interest in doing that before.

      1. Cuddles

        Re: Why?

        There are already plenty of keyboards that allow you to create and run macros. Usually they're gamer-oriented keyboards with extra keys specifically for them, but that's not required. But as others have noted, it's trivial to do that sort of thing in software, you don't need to be able to edit the firmware.

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: Why?

          That depends on the quality of the software and what you want to run the macros on. Two differences come to mind. First, if you want to use the keyboard to issue macros on something on which the software won't run, then this keyboard can do it but others can't. Second, most macros I've seen are rather basic, taking a (usually finite) sequence of key presses only. With the ability to write custom code, you could create macros which take parameters and act accordingly. Again, not sure why you would want to, but it's an option.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why?

      "Forgive my ignorance"

      You're forgiven... a keyboard shouldn't even have firmware.

      1. DougMac

        Re: Why?

        Everything has firmware. Your coffee pot has firmware. Your electric toothbrush has firmware.

        Your car has 100's of CPU chips each with firmware.

        Anything that needs to talk USB has firmware.

        Keyboards have had firmware since the days when they switched off matrix input in the 70's.

        Almost everything since the 70's through early 2000's probably used an 8051 micro controller.

        So much ancient code out there.

        I'd agree that there's not a whole lot of need to hack on keyboard firmware, everything I want to do for remapping/macros can be done in the OS easily.

    5. oiseau
      Facepalm

      Re: Why?

      Why?

      Well ...

      Just like the ongoing RGB crappiness, to get punters to buy one.

      What else?

      ... stored directly on the keyboard's internal memory ...

      Right ...

      What could possibly go wrong?

      So much nonsense, so little time.

      I tell you, we are doomed.

      A.

      1. David 132 Silver badge

        Re: Why?

        First keyboard firmware virus for this thing incoming in 3, 2, 1...

    6. tankplanker

      Re: Why?

      There are a lot of tricks you can program into a QMK keyboard and everybody can program in exactly whatever they want. It becomes more important as you get to smaller and smaller keyboards. I only use 40% keyboards, normally a minivan or equinox so I have to double up a lot of functionality to get what I need out of such a small board.

      For example, my shift keys when tapped once do (), tapped twice do [], tapped thrice {}, but on hold work like a normal shift key. Double tapping backspace deletes a whole word, triple tapping deletes the whole line. Layer 2 for backspace turns it into the same but with delete.

  5. 45RPM Silver badge

    I must be getting old. I see RGB and I think “No way” right away. Perhaps the fun has been drained out of my soul.

    I’ll be sticking with my faithful old AEK II keyboard, with Alps mechanical switches. 30 years old, and still the most comfortable keyboard I’ve ever used.

    1. vtcodger Silver badge

      Best keyboard ...evah

      By far the most comfortable keyboard I ever used was the keyboard on IBM Selectric Typewriters. A lot of us thought that back at the dawn of time when the Selectric was the crown jewel of then modern offices (and also the console for the CDC1604/3x00 series). To my knowledge, there has never been PC keyboard that matched the Selectric's touch and feel. Not sure why not.

      1. 45RPM Silver badge

        Re: Best keyboard ...evah

        I was a cheapskate. I had an old EX44, which I also used as a printer. That felt pretty good too.

      2. Missing Semicolon Silver badge

        Re: Best keyboard ...evah

        I thought the model M was intended to emulate the Selectric feel?

  6. Big_Boomer Silver badge

    I just recently bought a Kingston HyperX Alloy Elite 2 for £130 delivered and I'm loving it. No, the RGB doesn't really appeal to me either. I don't want a disco going on whilst I'm typing but it is useful as you can select your own solid backlight colour and brightness. I also programmed a mode where only the WASD keys are lit for when I'm gaming. The USB port is useful as is the volume control but I have no use for the media control keys. Having a NumPad is a must for me.

    I would love to be able to disable one key. WTF is the point of the CapsLock key? I'll be mid combat and all of sudden I start moving slowly,..... because I've accidentally hit CapsLock,.... again! Very frustrating. Guess I'll have to remove the key cap the same as on all my other keyboards. <sigh>

    1. jemmyww

      Remap the caps lock key to escape. I originally did this after getting a mac with a terrible pretend esc key, but now I do it for every keyboard. It's a much more useful key to have a large button for.

      1. Big_Boomer Silver badge

        Thanks all, I learned a new trick today :-)

        Windows Mouse and Keyboard Center only works for MS keyboards. However, I did find out about SharpKeys https://github.com/randyrants/sharpkeys that lets you remap any keyboard how you would like it, so my CapsLock is now disabled completely, without having to mess with keycaps.

    2. vtcodger Silver badge

      Disable Caps Lock

      You could probably just pry the key cap off and drop in a small rubber washer sufficiently thick to prevent the key from depressing fully. I actually did that for someone once. But what if you break the key? Well, you wanted it disabled did you not?

    3. Martin Gregorie

      Altering CapsLock operation

      If you're running Linux, then the command set:

      xmodmap -e "clear lock"

      xmodmap -e "keycode 66 = NoSymbol Caps_Lock"

      xmodmap -e "add lock = Caps_Lock"

      should change key assignments so that SHIFT+CAPSLOCK is needed to toggle between the capslock state and the unlocked state. Put them in a file called /etc/profile.d/capslock.sh and make it globally readable: most local versions of ~/.bashrc should find it there and and execute it as part of the login process.

      Hopefully, Windows and Apple OSen will have a similar user configuration process that can reassign keys on a per-user basis.

      1. ThomH

        Re: Altering CapsLock operation

        On the Mac side of the fence things are inevitably more limited, but you can still turn caps lock into a useful key. Via System Preferences -> Keyboard -> Modifier Keys... you can set your physical caps lock key to act as any of caps lock, escape, control, option or command.

        Setting caps lock to act as control is the first thing I do on any new Mac. Also if you're using an old PC keyboard, from the time before Windows keys, using that same dialogue to switch the other modifiers lets you keep the command button where it is intended to be.

        1. Irony Deficient

          Re: Altering CapsLock operation

          Under OS X, using Karabiner, Seil, and a customized DefaultKeyBinding.dict file, my Caps Lock key acts a Compose key that makes use of RFC 1345-style mnemonics, e.g. Compose ! = produces ≠, Compose ? 2 produces ≈, Compose w R produces ♖.

    4. Mage Silver badge
      Coffee/keyboard

      Caps LocK

      I remap it to Compose.

      Both shifts if I REALLY WANT CAPS LOCK, any shift cancels.

      Also I regard any keyboard without \ left of Z as suspect.

      The only change I'd make on my keyboards with the Loooong right shift is to have prime and double prime (′ ″) on one key, with something else as the AltGr pair. I can type every other characters extra I need either with AltGr or Compose

      I don't use « and » (AltGr z and AltGr x) and AltGr Z and AltGr X just duplicate < and > So perhaps I could map AltGr Z and AltGr X to ′ ″, the “ ” ‘ ’ are AltGr v b V and B.

      Greek letters are all Compose g <key> and Compose G <key>. Cyrillic could easily be added.

      So I can't see the point of this keyboard, though I do find the Num pad section pointless. Maybe good for accountants? But you can get a USB num pad.

    5. Steve Graham

      All my computers have a customised keyboard map in /usr/share/X11/xkb/symbols/ to disable the Caps Lock.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'd rather they expanded beyond US shores

    They are USA-only and that's a a shame, they are one of the very few vendors who seem to be supplying relaitvely decent GNU/Linux kit. Even if it is for a price.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: I'd rather they expanded beyond US shores

      Have a look at Tuxedo and XMG on this side of the pond.

  8. VTAMguy

    Way too many keys

    This thing has too many keys that are superfluous and useless to me - arrow keys, PgUp, PgDn, Home, blah blah blah. I don't even know what all those things are for but they're not in my world. The Ctrl key is in the wrong place, as it is with most keyboards. LED lights are utterly pointless (pro hint: many of us who use mechanical keyboards are not "gamers" we are programmers who don't like flashy lights when we're trying to think). Split space bar idea is weak. Besides remapping keys, what firmware things might I want to modify? Perhaps I could turn it into a 5 rotor Enigma machine? I'd like to have heard more about the keyboard feel since I'm not very familiar with those switches. I'm very happy with the Topres in my HHKB Pro2 thanks anyway. Overall impression: meh; not convinced of the value.

    1. DarkwavePunk

      Re: Way too many keys

      Can't agree with everything you say as I definitely use arrow keys and page up/down. I do however agree with "Crtl key is in the wrong place". As long as you consider "right place" to be where the annoying "Caps" key is on nearly every keyboard out there these days (I know I can re-map). I miss my Sun keyboard layout.

      Also US keyboard layout is a mess for me these days due to where the pipe symbol is.

    2. David 132 Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Way too many keys

      and it has caps lock and shift and punctuation keys i mean who uses those

      signed ee cummings

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not enough keys

      The difficulty with a minimalist keyboard is no 10 minimalists will ever agree on which keys they need. This is only an issue when a hardware manufacturers want to avoid bankruptcy by selling the stock of the last run they made.

      While some of the splits would be worth a serious look to me if I was logging more mileage, most of us need something that is close enough to one of a small number of "standardish" layouts that it doesn't brain crash us when we have to jump from machine to machine, or deal with compatibility and driver issues. The two forks in the road are, drag a keyboard and mouse everywhere, at which point it can be as wacky as you want as long as you can lug it, or stick to a normal enough layout you can still touch type safely on whatever happens to be plugged into the machine you need to jump on. The second camp is where I land as I can't walk into someones server room/closet and plug in some custom Datahand split keyboard and start doing emergency server administration. Back when I was doing more development work and spent 10 hours at the same desk I might break the other way. Ergonomics are about what works for you.

      Funny thing is that not ONE of the linked companies currently offer a full size stick board. I'd drop 200$ cash for one that doesn't have shady closed source drivers/firmware that dial home to china and the hackable drivers a nice selling point. But instead, I am still using a 75$ amazon special because it's "good enough" and dropping on an apple or IBM layout is close enough my fingers don't get a case of "Alien limb". I have a couple "programmable" keypads that aren't nearly as useful as they could be becuase they are stuck with logitech/razer/chinesee crapware drivers.

      Honestly, it would be great if there was a open source hacked driver for all those single vendor "gaming" devices, cause the phone home "cloud" crapware drivers are the worst part of what would often be some great hardware. Sadly, while a USB filter board has been sitting in my adafruit cart for a while now, don't count on me knocking one out, I just finished the last season of the Mandolorian, and after that I'm getting OUTSIDE.

      But I hope these guys drop a full size IBM style, and I hope the Reg does a followup if they do.

  9. Dave559

    Weird layout

    One thing that immediately strikes me as odd is that ctrl, alt, super are in Mac order (rather than PC order: ctrl, super, alt) on the left hand side, and, then, for extra weirdness, their counterparts on the right hand side are in the same order (well, with an extra Fn, instead of super) rather than being a mirror image of the left, as normal.

    And the enter key is a bit stunted for no good reason, there's clearly room to make it almost an extra half-keywidth wider, and more tidily line up with the right hand side of the keyboard in doing so. Strange choices.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Weird layout

      The bottom three rows on the left-hand side are slightly indented. I guess the intention was to do the same on the right-hand side so the indent on the enter key matches the indent on the left-hand side, but then you've got the cursor-key cluster underneath that on the bottom two rows spoiling the effect because they've got nowhere else to go.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Model M

    I would like to get a Unicomp to replace my long serving Model M. It still works as new but has a UK keymap, no Windows key and a lot of motherboards don't have PS2 ports anymore. Can't find a distributor in Australia though.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Model M

      New Model M does have a Windows key and a USB version.

      1. Chairman of the Bored

        Re: Model M

        The new Model M looks fantastic!

        But what's this about PS/2 and USB ports? Everyone knows a real keyboard uses a full size DIN connector. Something that looks like it was been from a solid block of black plastic by German craftsmen, surrounded by metal that looks like it's been stamped from only semi-refined ore.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Model M

          Not many motherboards with the DIN connector though. I may still have an AT to PS2 adaptor kicking around somewhere in my "bag o' bits". My Model M is a relative youngster though so has a PS2 port. Hewn from the right stuff in Greenock in 1997. Serial number 1234565, P/N 1391406. Just had its 24th birthday on 29th April. Celebrated it with a clean. The less said about what came out from underneath the removable key caps, the better.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Model M

        I know, I just cannot source one here in Australia and shipping cost from the US is criminal. Plus, Unicomp are in Kentucky, so I am a bit worried the courier might not make it round the roundabout.

        https://www.theregister.com/2021/04/27/swings_and_roundabouts_kentucky_residents/

    2. Missing Semicolon Silver badge

      Re: Model M

      Mine's mostly happy with a PS/2>USB adaptor. You have to try a few until you find an un-crap one though.

  11. KalF

    ur choice of firmware, but not keycaps?

    I can hack the firmware, great, but I will probably never do it.

    Can I use custom keycaps with that split space bar tho? There's a community of ppl who do like to change up the hardware of their keyboards, from the switches to the key caps. This appears to service some other non existent community that likes to modify firmware but not much else.

    and it isnt quite what most ppl would expect in a TKL keyboard which is 87/88 keys. They have borrowed a key from the bottom right hand cluster you normally have on a TKL for the second space bar. No big deal since that rarely does anything other than RGB profile control. They have also taken 4 keys from the top right cluster where you'd expect PRT, SCR, INS etc.. the reason for that is less clear. if TKL is too wide, use the compact form factor other keyboard providers use.

  12. NullNix

    Ergonomic is a different price world thought

    Of course, Maltron can basically charge what they like, because their customers are a captive market: they buy because they have to, because they're escaping a world of non-metaphorical pain. Well, OK, they could also buy a Kinesis if they didn't mind it wearing out in three years, but if you want a contoured keyboard that'll last a decade or so there is really only one choice.

    I mean... all these firmware-updatable hackable keyboards look really nice to me and I'd be in the market for one in a shot, *but* it'd need to have Maltron/Kinesis's contouring, or for me it's not a keyboard, it's a portable agony device I can't use for more than five minutes at a stretch. And oddly almost all these keyboards are flat, flat, flat. Some of them have interesting key layouts, but still flat, flat, flat. I guess it's cheaper to make things that are flat. Shame the human hand isn't really bult for it...

    1. ThomH

      Re: Ergonomic is a different price world thought

      My Kinesis Freestyle (original, not the Freestyle2) is still going strong after seven years.

  13. ecofeco Silver badge

    How much?!

    LOL. No.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How much?!

      Sorry, but if I paid that much for a keyboard I'd want the keys to visibly move by themselves when it runs a macro.

      I just could not bring myself to spend that much on a keyboard. In addition, lights. I'm old school, I don't need my gear to accessorise as a disco, but these days that kind of stuff is even considered a feature. Ugh

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like