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The Subliminal Snap of Keyclick

Long before I owned a personal computer, I had an IBM Selectric typewriter, and all was right with the world. What I loved wasn't just its changeable fonts (though these were essential to my work, letting me type in both Ancient Greek and English); something about the feel of the keyboard, shared also with IBM's card-punch machines of a slightly earlier era, was uniquely satisfying, clear, and positive. With it, I could type very fast and accurately. In a way, I've sought ever since to recover that same keyboard feel.

Here at TidBITS, we're all heavy keyboard users, and we've run occasional stories about keyboards we found particularly satisfying. In "The Majestic Alps and the King of Keyboards," 2004-03-29, Adam waxes nostalgic about the Apple Extended Keyboard and enthusiastic about its reincarnation in the Matias Tactile Pro. But when you're on the road with your portable (and "the road" could be merely one end of your living room), and can't attach an external keyboard, you must "dance with the one that brought you." I'm not particularly negative about my new MacBook's keyboard (discussed, when the first model appeared, in "MacBook Fills Out Laptop Line," 2006-05-22), but I'm not all that positive about it either. That's why I'm so enthusiastic about Keyclick, by Peter Sichel, a developer best known for his networking utilities, but who is also just an all-around nice fellow, always willing to share his expertise with total strangers who approach him at trade shows (guess how I know that?).

Keyclick is a System Preference pane. It doesn't affect your physical keyboard at all; it just makes noise when you type. So how can it be helpful, as claimed on the product's Web site, "if your keyboard seems mushy, or you've ever longed for the crisp feel of an older keyboard"? Why does it make me a better typist on my MacBook? It's because the noise it makes, though little more than a faintly detectable pop each time I press a key, tells me almost subliminally that I have pressed a key. Even more, Keyclick tells me (by its silence) when I've failed to press a key, or when I've held down a key long enough to produce multiple, repeated characters. Thus, as if I were a rat in a maze being rewarded for my successes, my brain and my fingers are guided to press just the right amount to produce that satisfying pop. And so, in short order, I run the maze better and better.

Actually, Keyclick helps me even more with two further bits of functionality. First, it makes a noise when I click the trackpad button, and when I release it. That's very important, because the MacBook trackpad button is extremely firm, so I often think I've clicked it when I haven't. Before Keyclick, in such a situation I was left slowly noticing that nothing on the screen had changed and wondering why; now I get instant feedback. Second, Keyclick makes a noise when I use the scroll wheel. On the MacBook, that means stroking the trackpad with two fingers; thus, it's important to distinguish this from a single finger, which moves the cursor. Again, sometimes this fails, and I used to wonder why: was the cursor not over the window I thought it was, or was my gesture not understood as scrolling? Thanks to Keyclick, I now know much better, and much sooner, what the computer thinks I did. I make fewer miscommunications with my machine, and when I do make one, I know immediately and can react quickly.

Only experimentation can tell you how to set Keyclick's various options in order to make it most useful. You can turn the keystroke noise on or off, and adjust its volume and pitch; you can turn the scroll wheel noise on or off, and adjust its volume and pitch; and you can turn the mouse click noise on or off, and adjust its volume. (You can also elect to have a different pitch produced when a keystroke includes a modifier key such as Command or Shift, and you can elect to silence Keyclick when certain applications are frontmost.) The matter is purely one of psychology. Indeed, on my iMac G5, where I have a clicky keyboard, trackball, and scroll wheel, Keyclick's noises feel like an annoying distraction, and I don't use it! Yet on my MacBook the very same noises seem both essential and all but unnoticeable. So download it and give it a try; that's the only way you'll discover whether Keyclick is that little extra that you needed all along to increase your happiness and productivity.

You can try Keyclick free for 21 days. It's a 312K download, and requires Mac OS X 10.4 or later. (Incidentally, Keyclick performs its magic through a little-known technology, new in Tiger, called Quartz Event Taps; these are essentially hooks that let the programmer receive and modify user input before it reaches any application's event loop. A neat tool for experimenting with event taps is PreFab Software's freeware Event Taps Testbench.) You can register Keyclick for a mere $5, yet another example of Peter Sichel's generosity. Plus, Peter is very responsive to his users' feature requests and suggestions for Keyclick. This utility is a pleasure to use and the developer is delightful to work with; what could be better?


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