This is a model M0115 Apple Extended Keyboard first sold in 1987 as an option for the Macintosh II and SE models:
And this is what I am typing this article on right now:
This article is about both of these keyboards. How I converted the first one into the second, why I did that and finally an apology for doing that.
First, I think most important is the why and there are two major whys I believe, why this keyboard and why convert this keyboard to 60% size?
Why This Keyboard?
The original Apple Extended Keyboard is notable for several reasons. One very major one is the key switches which are Alps SKCM Orange or more commonly called Orange Alps. These are a sort of holy grail of tactile key switches. Thomas Ran, aka Chyrosran22, who has tested more keyboards and key switch types than anyone else I am aware of rated Orange Alps as the greatest tactile switch of all time.
Unfortunately, these switches have been out of production for many years and there is no modern switch that is really the same. The most common way to get this switch is from a few very old Apple Keyboards but they were used in PC keyboards by a company called Wang and perhaps a few other PC keyboards but these are all quite rare.
So, if you want to use this switch getting an old Apple keyboard is probably the best way. Note that it isn’t a common switch even in Apple keyboards, it was only used in about 4 very old keyboards and sometimes the same model keyboard would use a different switch.
You can buy these switches individually for currently $2.29 per switch on eBay but they are pulling them from old Apple keyboards. For comparison, the current modern Cadillac of tactile switches, the Zealios, are $1 per switch.
However, beyond the switch, the keycaps and layout is, in my opinion, the best of any keyboard that ever had Orange Alps. Here’s some proof:
This Apple Desktop Bus Keyboard sold with the Apple IIGS has some pretty weird shaped keycaps but worse is the layout. Backtick and Slash keys on either side of the spacebar? Arrow keys all in a row? No thanks.
The Apple Standard Keyboard has better keycaps but the same weird layout as pictured above. The fourth and final keyboard from Apple that had Orange Alps was a keyboard built into the Apple IIc. It has the weird keycaps pictured above, weird layout and it isn’t a standalone keyboard but built into the IIc, so it probably the least suitable.
Why Convert This Keyboard to 60%?
The 60% keyboard is called that as it is about 60% of the size of a full-size keyboard like the Apple Extended Keyboard. In the case of this keyboard when converted to 60% size it also has exactly 60 keys. 60% keyboards are quite popular in the modern custom keyboard community but it isn’t really a form factor that existed in older keyboards. A very notable exception to this is the original Macintosh keyboard a 58-key layout:
Influenced by Steve Jobs and released in 1984, this keyboard inspired the 1996 60-key Happy Hacking Keyboard or HHKB designed by Eiiti Wada at PFU, a subsidiary of Fujitsu. This is a fairly popular keyboard with programmers:
As you can see, the function key gives you access to F-keys, arrow keys, Page Up/Down, etc. so you mostly have all the same keys available as a full-size keyboard. The idea behind the HHKB is that all your keys are closer to your home row fingers which helps improve speed. Having fewer keys should also improve muscle memory as there are fewer keys your fingers need to remember the placement of.
In 2011 we get the modern introduction of the 61-key 60% keyboard from KBC with their Poker keyboard. It is almost a cross between a modern PC layout and the HHKB:
This 61-key layout is the basis for most modern custom 60% keyboards like this Grid 600 one for example:
Modern 60% keyboards usually have programmable firmware so that you aren’t limited to the function keys printed on the side of the key but you can program any key to be your function key, or you can have multiple function keys triggers multiple layers. You can also have keys do certain things if you tap them versus hold them down or double-tap, and many more functions. That is why you don’t see print on the side of the keys on this modern 60% as you do on the HHKB or Poker, these keyboards can be programmed to have any key do anything.
Thanks for the history lesson, but again why convert the Apple Extended Keyboard to 60%?
The beautiful modern 60% keyboards have a pretty clear lineage back to the original Macintosh Keyboard as I’ve demonstrated. The original Macintosh keyboard is actually pretty close to what I’m looking for. It has Alps switches but they are Alps SKCC Tall Cream switches which are linear switches and have a much different feel to them.
I wanted a 60% keyboard for the reasons listed above as HHKB benefits but also for ergonomic/speed reasons to have the mouse closer to my right hand. There is no 60% keyboard in existence with Orange Alps switches. So I created my own that is like a cross between the original 1984 Macintosh Keyboard and the 1987 Apple Extended Keyboard. It’s a keyboard that doesn’t exist but should have. That leads us to…
How to Convert the 1987 Apple Extended Keyboard to 60% size
I realize this is controversial to some as this is going to involve mutilating a piece of computing history, more about that in the last section, my apology.
Get an Apple Extended Keyboard model M0115 with Orange Alps from eBay or wherever else you can find one. The M0115 also came with Alps SKCM Salmon. The Salmon switches a little bit heavier switch than the Orange and are not as highly sought after so you may be able to get a deal there.
Take the keyboard apart, desolder all the switches from the original PCB and remove them. Cut the case with a rotary tool, I used a cheap one from Amazon. Don’t cut too close to the final 60% size as the rotary tool isn’t too precise and you will be able to sand it down later to get the edges how you want. Also, cut the steel plate with your rotary tool to 60% size. Get an Alps64 PCB from here. That PCB will allow you to use USB instead of the old ADB connection on the original PCB and will give you full programmability with QMK.
Next, solder the diodes into your Alps64 PCB. Test your PCB and switches. Put your switches into your cut plate and PCB and then solder them in.
Optionally you can add a speaker and LEDs to the Alps64 which is what I did, but the atmega32u2 controller on the Alps64 is not supported by the audio features of the QMK firmware. You can program your own sound though using a method I figured out and opened as an issue in the QMK GitHub repository.
I use the LEDs and speaker to indicate certain layer changes and also for a startup sound when the keyboard is plugged into USB. The LEDs are also fun for demo or night-time usage.
Now you have a 60% Orange Alps keyboard but it doesn’t look too nice on the right and back sides:
Also, for support you probably want to remove a plastic support from the right side of the keyboard you cut off and glue it in as you see here otherwise there isn’t much support on the top right side of the board.
Now this becomes a real craft project to get it looking like this:
You’ll need to cut off 4 pieces from the right and backside of the other part of the original keyboard. Then, use epoxy putty, paint and sanding to get it to all lined up and looking reasonable.
Alternatively, what most saner people do is just skip cutting up the case and buy a new 60% case as this will fit in plenty of modern 60% cases like this:
You also don’t need to cut the plate as you can buy an Apple Extended Keyboard layout plate from Hasu who also makes the Alps64. However, it is made from PCB material so it will feel and sound (and weigh) a bit different than the steel plate in the original keyboard.
A beautiful example of this is actually an aluminum 65% case the Lunar:
Those lines look a little bit familiar, don’t they?
As you can see, I’m not the first to harvest these old Apple keyboard switches or keycaps. There are multiple products catering to people who do exactly that. The reason for my apology is cutting up the case which they aren’t making any more of. I know that there are people concerned about preserving these pieces of computing history. So, I’m sorry for that.
Others have had the same idea with other apple keyboards. I mentioned the Apple Standard Keyboard earlier as another keyboard with Orange Alps but a weird layout (at least for me). Reddit user oluigenuma did something similar what that keyboard turning this Apple Standard Keyboard:
And cutting the case somewhere along those red lines to make this:
I think this looks great, better than mine with that nice symmetry on the left and right sides. To conceal the lines where the pieces were joined they needed to sand and paint the case. I wanted to keep the original finish and also that fun “undo cut copy paste” text which corresponded to the F1 to F4 keys. Those F-keys were shortcuts for that in the classic Mac OS. I believe only the Apple Extended Keyboard had those shortcuts printed on the actual keyboard. However, those are minor things compared to the key layout, I still much prefer the layout on the Apple Extended Keyboard.
Someone else may have cut up the Apple Extended Keyboard in the same way that I have, I’m just not aware of it. If you have, please let me know, I’d be interested in how it turned out.
I’m sorry if this inspires anyone to make a keyboard like mine leading to more cutting up of historic boards. That is not my intention. I just like having that original Apple rainbow logo on my keyboard with a layout that I like and key switches which are some of the best ever made and I like it so much that I wanted to share it with people.
Finally, to anyone to anyone who has used Orange Alps and Apple keycaps in a new case, what did you do with the original Apple case? Did you sell it, put it in the closet, something else? I know in theory that keeping the case means you can restore it back to its original condition but I wonder how many people will ever actually do that.
Some final shots: