Economy of Effort

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No Numpads

My mother is an accountant. Walk by her office on any given day, and you’ll likely hear the mechanical sounds of an accounting calculator printing its results to a stream of paper.

I used to make fun of the endless crunch-crunch-crunch sound that echoed down the hallways.  These days, she tells me, the ol' hand calculator doesn’t get quite as much use as before. More and more of the accounting business is computerized.

It comes as little surprise. Computers were invented to crunch numbers. When computers became machines that fit on a desktop, the “killer apps” were all about numbers: the first two applications named in Wikipedia’s entry for killer applications are Visicalc and Lotus 1-2-3.

Accordingly, it did not take long for personal computer manufacturers to take inspiration from those hand calculators and add the number pad to the right of the typewriter key layout.

Personal computers, however, have moved well beyond the domain of the office desktop. Indeed, for most people, the computer is no longer thought of as a device for performing calculations. They are used for communication, and for accessing and storing data. I don’t have data to back it up, but I would wager that most computer users don’t punch in long sequences of numbers regularly.

And yet, while the computer has evolved, the number pad remains. Like the wings of a flightless bird. the vestigal number pad sits unused, eating up space on millions of desktops.

Oh sure, you use the number pad, you say. And perhaps you do. But do you really use it enough to dedicate 6 inches of desk width for it? More to the point, does every computer user? People are buying laptops and netbooks for their computing devices more and more, and I don’t ever hear people complaining about how much they miss the numpad.

And yet, the vast majority of keyboards for sale include the numpad. Finding keyboards without them takes some effort.

One of the few I became aware of when starting the search was the Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite.

It’s a nice, small deck. It uses a “UNIX” keyboard layout, like the ones on the old Sun boxes in one of the computer labs back at university.

Apple has come around on the idea of ditching the numpad. New iMacs come with a wireless keyboard that has no numpad.

I considered picking up one of these. And I actually did pick up a couple of Apple’s discontinued wired USB tenkeyless keyboards.

They’re not bad as spare keyboards to have around, but they were not going to be my primary keyboard. (My wife is using one on her desktop machine, though).

One keyboard I really want is the 84-key “Space Saving” version of the IBM Model M.

Sadly, they are awfully hard to come by. I watch for them on but it’s just an endless list of SOLD boards.

But the keyboard that ended my search was the Leopold Tenkeyless Tactile Touch from EliteKeyboards. It combined my desire for a compact no-numpad keyboard with the desire to have a mechanical keyboard.

It’s been a couple of years now since I bought this keyboard, and while the idea of spending $100 on a keyboard was a tough pill to swallow at the time, I would not hesitate to do it again. The compact size make life nicer on my desk, and the action of the mechanical key switches is so much more enjoyable than mashing the rubber dome switches on a non-mechanical keyboard.