Focus/Northgate Box/Serial Number!

User avatar
Polecat

03 Jun 2020, 04:23

Not quite sure how to organize this, or what I'm even asking. A while back I saved some photos of what was probably a Focus FK-555 on ebay. The computer I saved them on died right after that, and I just now resurrected it. Coincidentally I was digging in my storage and found a plain white box with a Model F AT keyboard inside (definitely not its original box), which had a Focus/Northgate style inspection/serial number label on the corner. This is a big, Northgate-sized box (I have a couple of those...). I checked that number against the ones in my Northgate and Focus database files, and to my surprise it was only three units off from the FK-555 keyboard that was on ebay. The ebay listing included photos of the original box for the FK-555, and unlike mine it was decorated with some graphics and "Intelligent Keyboard". The FK-555 has a couple interesting features, which include an ON/OFF switch like Ducati_M's very early gold label Northgate 102, and also a white painted metal base as seen on Northgates.

So what am I asking? It's pretty amazing to me that the two serial numbers are only three units apart, but the boxes are completely different. The two may or may not be connected, but I suspect they are. I don't have a clue what keyboard came in my box, only that I've had it for probably 25 or 30 years now. I know, they're just boxes, but I've seen some interest in these from a couple people here.

Does anyone have an original Focus or Northgate box that's plain white, with such a serial number on it?

Does anyone have a Focus or Northgate keyboard with the ON/OFF switch on the back or bottom?

Does anyone have a clue what a Focus FK-555+ or FK-102 keyboard is? (those are on the cover of the FK-555 book that came with the ebay keyboard)

Photos attached.
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fk-555nos.jpg
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fk-555book.jpg
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fk-555ser.jpg
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fk-555back.jpg
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fk-555label.jpg
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fk-555box.jpg
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my plain white box
my plain white box
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User avatar
Polecat

04 Jun 2020, 03:10

Probably nobody interested in this, but that's ok. I had an idea pop into my head late last night about one possible explanation that might tie this all together. It goes something like this. What if Focus sold a keyboard that was the same as the gold label Northgates, under the FK-102 model number? We know (or we think we do...) that there were some Gen1 Northgate-style keyboards with no gold label or Northgate badging. I own one myself. And we know the Gen1 Northgates were called Model 102. My plain white box is the size of a Northgate box; longer than a normal Focus box. And it has an early Focus/Northgate style inspection/serial number on the top, just like some early Focus boxes. So...did one of the no-label 102 keyboards come in it originally, and was it what Focus called an FK-102? I know that's a lot of speculation, but I'm throwing it out there in hopes of learning something, whether my guess is fully or partly correct, or completely and totally wrong.

Does anyone out there know what a Focus FK-102 is? (or an FK-555+ for that matter?) So far I haven't found any info online about either of these keyboards, other than the reference on the cover of the FK-555 book above.

User avatar
Chyros

04 Jun 2020, 09:38

I think it would make perfect sense is the FK-102 is the non-badged version of the OmniKey 102. I kind of automatically assumed it was the Focus identifier for the OmniKey, but it would would make even more sense if it was specifically the non-NG version. That Focus considered the 555 and OmniKey related enough to keep them under the same manual and FCC ID was very telling for what the origin of these keyboards was, I thought.

I don't have the manual at work, but isn't there a layout picture of the FK-555+ in it?

User avatar
Polecat

05 Jun 2020, 04:45

Chyros wrote:
04 Jun 2020, 09:38
I think it would make perfect sense is the FK-102 is the non-badged version of the OmniKey 102. I kind of automatically assumed it was the Focus identifier for the OmniKey, but it would would make even more sense if it was specifically the non-NG version. That Focus considered the 555 and OmniKey related enough to keep them under the same manual and FCC ID was very telling for what the origin of these keyboards was, I thought.

I don't have the manual at work, but isn't there a layout picture of the FK-555+ in it?
I don't have a copy of that manual unfortunately. I'm hoping someone here does so we can figure this one out. I found some more clues on my old computer, and in the serial numbers from the early Focus keyboards, but nothing so far that I would call "proof".

The very early Focus keyboards had the model number as the first three digits of the serial/inspection number. I have examples on record of "555xxxxx" (FK-555, 5 on record) and "727xxxxx" (FK-727, 3 on record). But there's also an FK-555 with a 102xxxxx label. Later FK-555 examples had an 80xxxxxx number instead (4 on record).

On the Northgate list there are two Gen1 102 keyboards with a "102xxxxx" number. Then 45 examples with an "80xxxxxx" number. And the three with no Northgate badge or label and a seven digit number beginning with 100, 101, or 102 (1 each, probably just a sequential number with a "1" as the first digit).

Regarding the boxes I found a few photos of early Northgates and their matching boxes. Two 102 gold label boxes had the number tag on the corner like mine, and had some graphics and "Enhanced Keyboard" identification. A third gold label box slightly later had the same text and graphics, but no number label (its keyboard was #80428342).

One of the ebay Northgate listings showed the detail from a sales catalog, and three keyboard models were offered at that time. The first was a "C/T" 84 model (probably an FK-727). Second was a "C/T" 101 model (probably an FK-555). Third was the familiar OmniKey 102. Northgate also supplied keyboards from Monterey and Silitek, but that was probably later.

To my surprise it seems Focus is still in business. The history page on their website lists some interesting information about their keyboards, but nothing that specifically answers my questions here:

http://www.focus.com.tw/about.php?id=5

Photos attached. Yeah, I know, I need a hobby.
Attachments
keyboard and box 80428342
keyboard and box 80428342
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inner and outer shipping boxes 80418226
inner and outer shipping boxes 80418226
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keyboard notes
keyboard notes
80208238morelit.jpg (359.92 KiB) Viewed 753 times
serial on corner 80208238
serial on corner 80208238
80208238box.jpg (322.85 KiB) Viewed 753 times

User avatar
Chyros

05 Jun 2020, 07:46

Great pics, really like the sales catalog too :D .

Here's an upload link to the manual btw. I misremembered; the 102 is the ISO version of the 555 and the 555+ is the Northgate one.

https://we.tl/t-TEQL3NaP9L

As for that website; they haven't been doing anything on it for years, it's WAY out of date. They also don't respond to any correspondence.

User avatar
Polecat

06 Jun 2020, 03:01

Chyros, major thanks for that link to the FK-555 manual! That's exactly what I was looking for. I'm quite ok with being wrong if I learn something new in the process.

From that book it looks like the FK-555+ has a similar layout to the FK-555, but with 1u "+" and "=" keys on the numpad like a Northgate instead of the 2u "+" key. The FK-102 is the ISO version of the FK-555, in several non-U.S. layouts. So neither of those numbers would match up to the generic Northgates. So much for that idea!

My plain white Northgate-sized box has an 80xxxxxx serial/inspection number instead of the 10xxxxx number found on the three known examples of the no-label Gen1 Northgate-102-style keyboards, so that's probably a bad guess also. Focus boxes, at least the later ones, usually have their name prominently displayed, unlike their keyboards, so perhaps mine is from a generic or rebranded version of an FK-555? Uh does anyone have actual measurements of an FK-555 box?

I'll keep digging and update if I find anything new or come up with any other bright ideas.

User avatar
Polecat

21 Feb 2021, 20:37

Revisited this thread while digging for Northgate info, and there right in front of me was the answer to my ON/OFF switch question on the FK-555, and presumably on the very early Northgate gold label 102. Here in the FK-555 manual posted by Chyros it shows the ON/OFF switch on the FK-555 being used to swap the Ctrl and CapsLock locations. The keycaps on those two switches had dual legends, with the "second" function on the front edge of the cap. Having the Ctrl key next to A was normal in the early days, and programs like Wordstar heavily made use of the Ctrl key in their menu functions. (this was before mouse-driven pull-down menus became the norm...) When the IBM Model M came out it had the Ctrl key moved down to the bottom row and CapsLock next to A. That became the new standard, but it made Ctrl-key-based menus much harder to use. So to appeal to those users Northgate (and Focus) allowed for both layouts. As mouse-based menus came into being and Ctrl-key-based programs were replaced with pull-down menus this feature found a smaller and smaller market, but Northgate kept it as an option to the very end of the Omnikey series.

Anyway, the very early Northgate 102 models had a similar ON/OFF switch (and probably came with extra keycaps, instead of double legend ones), as evidenced by the two known examples with 1u backspace having opposite locations of these two switches. The "normal" Gen1 102 Northgates that followed (2u backspace) had Ctrl next to A, and no ON/OFF switch. The Gen2 and Gen3 Northgates again came with extra caps to swap layouts (and a keycap puller tool) but the swapping was done with dipswitches. The left Alt key on those was also swappable with the left Ctrl in some cases. Early Focus FK-2001 keyboards also had this swap feature, with a small slide switch on the back edge of the keyboard, and double-legend caps just like the FK-555.

User avatar
zrrion

Yesterday, 23:46

Image

Image

Pictures taken from the eBay listing, don't have it in hand yet so no word on the serial on the box or any possible info in the manual. From what I understand it could have either blues or whites, no idea which it might be. I'll update the thread with that info once I have it in hand.

I have an omnikey 102 with whites, serial is 2029315, rev 7.03, no serial on the box.

User avatar
Polecat

Today, 03:50

zrrion wrote:
Yesterday, 23:46

Pictures taken from the eBay listing, don't have it in hand yet so no word on the serial on the box or any possible info in the manual. From what I understand it could have either blues or whites, no idea which it might be. I'll update the thread with that info once I have it in hand.

I have an omnikey 102 with whites, serial is 2029315, rev 7.03, no serial on the box.
Wow, thanks for the info and photos, that's a nice one. I haven't seen the Comtex (?) branding before. Probably clone switches from others close in serial number, but there was some overlap with genuine Alps switches around that time.

The Omnikey is a Gen3, from 1992, and should have pine white switches. Another nice find.

User avatar
zrrion

Today, 04:48

Polecat wrote:
Today, 03:50
I haven't seen the Comtex (?) branding before. Probably clone switches from others close in serial number, but there was some overlap with genuine Alps switches around that time.
All the serial numbers I found greater than this one were for whites, so I'm assuming that is what this has.

is there a rough timeline for the layouts? After giving it some thought I'm assuming the Asian 102 layout came between the winkeyless Focus layout and the introduction of windows keys since they have the same top housing for both layouts, but Focus is weird enough that I could see them offering the Focus and Asian 102 layouts simultaneously.

User avatar
Polecat

Today, 05:15

zrrion wrote:
Today, 04:48
Polecat wrote:
Today, 03:50
I haven't seen the Comtex (?) branding before. Probably clone switches from others close in serial number, but there was some overlap with genuine Alps switches around that time.
All the serial numbers I found greater than this one were for whites, so I'm assuming that is what this has.

is there a rough timeline for the layouts? After giving it some thought I'm assuming the Asian 102 layout came between the winkeyless Focus layout and the introduction of windows keys since they have the same top housing for both layouts, but Focus is weird enough that I could see them offering the Focus and Asian 102 layouts simultaneously.
Several close ones to that had white clones, which later changed to cream clones. But no clean break points, and some higher serials do indeed have white SKCM. We don't even know that the serial numbers were assigned in order. They definitely were not on early Northgates, which is why I tend to call them inspection numbers rather than serial numbers on those.

Early FK-2001 boards had spaces between the Ctrl and Alt keys on the bottom row. Around 93xxxxxx they went to what I'm assuming is what you mean by the "Asian 102", with a blank "Any" key on the left, and backslash on the right. Definely some overlap in the serial or inspection numbers, not a clean break point. Then the Windows keys layout came out in the 95xxxxxx range. From the blurbs on some of the later boxes we know the latter two layouts were available concurrently, for a while at least. The Windows keys were only useful for Windows 95 (and later versions as they came out), so a Windows 3.x user wouldn't have had any use for them.

There were some very late Windows key versions with an extra row of keys in the nav area, and some of the later cases had a pop-out insert above the arrow keys (the ones that had square blocks there, or at least some of them) to allow for those extra keys.

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