A compact keyboard layout for traveling programmers
TL;DR: Look at the pictures below and let me know which one you think is better.
I spend most of my waking hours at my laptop, so I tend to think about laptop design a lot. Most of my work day is spent writing code, docs or email, so I care an awful lot about the keyboard. This post is about an extremely compact keyboard layout I’ve been designing. The goals is that the keyboard should:
- fit an 11" laptop (300mm x 200mm)
- have full-sized keys (19mm key pitch)
- leave space for a large touchpad and trackpoint buttons
- keep all the keys easy to hit, including things like Alt+F4 and Home
- stick as close to the traditional layout as possible, and keep any deviations intuitive.
This is probably an opinionated design; it reflects my priorities and acquired tastes. (I’ve been using ThinkPads for eight years, and I’ve run some kind of Linux most of that time.)
To save space, 5-row keyboards drop the usual top row of function and media keys that most laptops have; the challenge is to move all of those functions onto the other keys while keeping it obvious where they are and making it easy to hit them.
I’ve put together two slightly different layouts:
- The Caps Lock key is removed; a tap on the Shift key can be interpreted as Caps Lock. This frees up some valuable and easy-to-hit space on the home row. (Chromebooks do the same thing, squeezing in a search key there.)
- Page Up/Down, Home and End are accessed through Fn + Arrow keys. In most text editors, this provides a nice progression: Arrow keys move the cursor one character, Ctrl + Arrow moves it one word and Fn + Arrow moves it to the beginning or the end.
- F1—F12 are accessed through Fn + 1 through =
- The function key will now see more frequent use, so it makes sense to move it from its traditional place on the bottom row to somewhere more easy to hit. The space left by the Caps Lock will do nicely.
- Delete goes into the space left by the Fn key. This is somewhat non-traditional, but then delete is one of the keys that seem to have no standard location on modern laptops. Also, there is some symmetry in Delete being (almost) diametrically opposite Backspace. This arrangement also keeps the Windows, Ctrl, Alt and Delete keys next to each other — which somehow seems… right.
- Most of the other buttons — volume and brightness control, toggling the external monitor, wifi, camera and mic, etc. are accessible through Fn + Alphabet keys. Where possible, memorable key combinations are used: for example Fn+W toggles wifi, Fn+P is print screen, Fn+C toggles the camera, etc. Others (mute, volume, brightness) are kept at easy-to-hit positions.
- In Option 1, the top left corner contains just the escape key, and the backtick/tilde key shares the Caps Lock spot with the Function key. This makes Escape easier to hit, and the keyboard looks less cluttered.
- In Option 2, the top left corner position is shared between escape and backtick/tilde. This is easier to get used to, and allows a much larger and easier-to-press Function key.
Which one do you prefer? Comment on the facebook post to let me know.