Do you remember the old ASCII terminals like the Wyse 50? Remember the small keyboards with no function keys, cursor keys, or numeric keypads? How about trying to find someplace to jam a full-size keyboard next to your main system console, only to find out the keyboard is a couple of inches too long to fit conveniently? Maybe you’re a vi user and don’t care about numeric keypads or special keys on your keypad. For all these people and a bunch more, there is a small solution: the Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite.

The Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite is a very trimmed down keyboard. Take a standard PC keyboard and use a hacksaw to cut around the basic QWERTY keys, eliminate everything else, and you have a good idea of what the Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite looks like. According to the manufacturer, PFU, the Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite was designed for Linux and UNIX developers. It has a standard QWERTY layout except for a Ctrl key where the Caps Lock usually is, and a Fn key to give the function key combinations with standard numeric keys. The entire keyboard is 11.5 inches by 4.5 inches, and quite light. The PS/2 interface works with most current PCs and UNIX boxes (we tested it on a SparcStation with no problems), but you can buy an adapter to the older 5-pin DIN connector and use the Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite quite easily on older machines.

What’s to say about a keyboard? Well, it’s available in two colors: beige and black. It’s designed for easy use of both vi and Emacs with the Ctrl key properly positioned. The keys feel good, with a positive depression tactile feedback. It’s a lot smaller than a standard PC keyboard and gives you some desktop back. All these are good things. Bad things? Since most Linux and UNIX systems are going GUI these days, the lack of easily accessible cursor keys and function keys could be a problem. Plus, it takes a while to retrain your fingers to use the Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite keyboard layout. However, for those of us who remember the old character terminals days fondly, this is a nice return to fast keyboard usage.

The two-page “manual” accompanying the Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite covers connecting the keyboard to the computer (duh!) as well as showing how to reassign some of the keys such as the backspace key. The CapsLock can also be deactivated. Other then a few trivial settings toggled with DIPs, there’s nothing to do with the keyboard (although those who don’t read the User’s Guide first will find the backspace key causing unpredictable results on some systems).

I worked with the Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite for a couple of weeks. After getting over the “toy” feeling, I found I was enjoying using the older editors (Emacs and vi) with this keyboard much more than a PC keyboard, but switching between Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite and regular PC keyboard did drive me nuts at times. Where the Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite really shone, though, was on my system administration rack, fitting in perfectly with a rack of SCO and Linux servers. Toggling through the rackmounted servers with a switch box, the Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite keyboard sat on a small tray and gave me excellent access to the character-based consoles of each server. The small size let the Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite keyboard sit easily on a shelf next to a mouse, instead of being squeezed by a PC keyboard.

The Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite is not inexpensive compared to some keyboards on the market (the higher-end model is almost twice as much again) and some will find it hard to justify the cost for a keyboard. However, for those dedicated UNIX editor users, as well as those with tight real estate, the Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite may be a worthwhile solution. With an optional cradle, the Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite can also be used with PDAs, which may be attractive for the Palm-addicted who want a real keyboard.

Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite
$69
3350 Scott Blvd
Building 34-B
Santa Clara
CA 95054
888-681-8878
408-327-1700
408-327-1701 fax
http://www.pfuca.com

Summary: A cute, Emacs and vi friendly keyboard with minimal real estate.