August 31, 2005

A Cherry keyboard cometh

Author: Brice Burgess

The Linux edition Cherry CyMotion Master keyboard is coming to the United States. According to the German company, the $65 Linux-centric keyboard will be available from major US technology distributors late this fall, following the port of its drivers to Red Hat Linux. I tested the keyboard this week, and I rank it "recommended".

The first thing you notice about the Cherry CyMotion Master is its attractive two-tone black/silver aesthetics. The second nice touch is the glamorous portrait of Tux, Linux's penguin mascot, covering the key usually labeled with the Microsoft Windows Logo. You may be happy to know that it is mapped to the same keycode as the Windows key, and is usually configured to open KDE/GNOME's main launcher.

Beyond this superficial excitement lies some quality German manufacture. USB is standard equipment for this keyboard, a rarity in today's namebrand PS/2 "desktop" keyboard/mouse packages. A PS/2 converter is included if you need it.

Once you get to typing, you'll notice the keyboard's one peculiarity: while reaching left to press Shift, you may instead hit a hotkey, as they are placed to the left of Shift. The learning curve is very minor: you'll soon forget all about this inconvenience, and get onto appreciating some of the finer aspects of the keyboard such as a grooved caps lock (which aids in preventing you from accidently pressing it), large ("20% larger") keys, and a full size layout. I also enjoyed the soft touch plastic keys. While it may have soft touch plastic, it certainly doesn't exhibit the mushy typing that suggests. Typing is clicky and firm with this keyboard, the way it's meant to be. Now, before I get any more subjective, lets talk about the hotkeys.

Flanking either side of the keyboard is a column of 5 hotkeys. The hotkeys are intended to extend the keyboard's functionality, offering single click access to functions like Cut, Paste, Undo, Redo, and the like. Optionally, these hotkey's can be turned off via a keyboard button to mask them as F1 -> F12. In addition to these flanking hotkeys are special keys unobtrusively placed at the top and bottom of the keyboard. These keys are intended to control applications such as a web browser's forward, back, stop, and refresh shortcuts or multimedia based ones with keys for volume and media playback. In order to utilize these keys, some type of system modification must be done.

Cherry has released a GPL program, keyman, to harness the extended functionality of this keyboard. Official word is that SuSE, Debian, Red Hat, and Mandrake will be directly supported. The keyman distribution sent along with my keyboard included source code, making it a breeze to port to other distributions. Let me assure you that I was able to get the hotkeys to function despite the fact that I'm running an unsupported Linux flavor. All keys send standard scan codes, so I mapped the simple function keys using xmodmap -- a program commonly distributed with X. For media control and other application specific keys, I used the lineak open source project, which was invented specifically for the cause.

I can easily recommend this keyboard based on my positive experience with it. It is well built and pleasant both tactilely and aesthetically. The keyboard is well suited for desktop productivity with a full size layout and generous key size, bringing it to just over 18 inches long. My only qualms are the lack of color and wireless options. All in all, the keyboard is cherry, especially for a Linux enthusiast.

Click Here!