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A Kingly Gift


Last night, my brother-in-law Bill Roper presented me with a truly kingly gift: An unused Northgate Ultra keyboard, which he bought many years ago but never attached to any machine. I’ve been using Northgate Omnikey 102 keyboards almost without interruption since 1991 or so, and whenever we upgraded an early system at Coriolis to something that came with its own keyboard, I snatched the old Northgate and took it home with me. Several have died since then, though they may be repairable and still live in a box in my shop closet.

As I’ve reported here on a couple of occasions, I bought an Avant Stellar (an OmniKey clone) a couple of years ago, only to find that the decal keycap legends have begun wearing off on the most popular keys. “Double shot” key caps (one shot of plastic into the mold for the cap, a second for the legend) are mostly extinct, which is yet another reason I value the keyboards that I still have.

This one will take up its position as King of Duntemann Keyboard Country when I get it back home and attach it to the primary system in my office. It will go home by UPS (in a box surrounded by boxes of Trader Joe’s Joe’s O’s cereal) so to minimize the risk of getting dog piddle or McDonald’s iced coffee on it while we trek back to Colorado Springs.

There is a little exploring to be done. As shown above, the numeric keypad is significantly different from the Omnikey 102s that I’ve been using all these years. There are five keys I’ve never seen before:

  • comma Period Lock
  • Rate Select
  • SF Select
  • Pause
  • OMNI

Bill did not have the booklet that came with the keyboard and I have no idea yet what any of these do, although the SF Select key is intriguing. (And sure, an OmniKey should have an OMNI key, right?) The rest of the keyboard is basically an OmniKey 102 with the second set of function keys across the top, just below the thumb-drive groove.

All in all, a truly kingly gift. I’ve never had an Ultra before. Now I do–and it’s NOS. Bill, you are a prince!


  1. David Grenewetzki says:

    Love the Northgates!

    BTW, is this the video game Bill Roper? (An old friend of mine.)

    1. No, my sister’s husband is the other Bill Roper–who writes financial software for Oracle. (Just like we have the other Bill Gates…)

  2. Jonathan O'Neal says:

    Congratulations on a truly kingly gift! From one Northgate aficionado to another, here’s the original Northgate Omnikey Ultra manual:

    (This message was typed on my one-legged OmniKey/102, which is older than my college-aged daughter.)

    1. The 1994-era 102 down in my workshop has a nickel under one foot, else it wobbles when I type. I haven’t yet decided if the desk surface is warped, or the keyboard, but apparently you can still buy good things for five cents!

  3. Erbo says:

    Nice keyboard. The current one I’m lusting after is the Logitech G19, which has a bunch of programmable macro keys and its own built-in QVGA-sized auxiliary display. And I’d like to combine it with the Razer Naga mouse, which has its own panel of 12 buttons on the side, in addition to the normal mouse buttons and wheel. Basically, I’d like to just intimidate the living hell out of anyone else who tries to sit at my machine’s console. Maybe I need a pedalboard, too? 🙂

    The G19 seems to be the closest one can get to the old MIT “Space Cadet keyboard” for PCs. You gotta respect a keyboard with no fewer than seven different “shift” keys (Shift, Front/Greek, Top, Control, Meta, Super, Hyper).

    1. Heh. “Double bucky, you’re the one…”

      Seen those. Wowzers, what a keyboard!

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