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  • The Night Owl Review: Microsoft’s Wireless Laser Desktop for Mac

    May 31st, 2006

    Night Owl Rating: ★★★★☆

    Tell me, folks, how long should it take a company to take an existing Windows-oriented keyboard and change a couple of key tops to make it Mac-like? Well, you’d think a few days in the scheme of things, but it has taken Microsoft months to ready its $99.95 “first Mac-specific desktop.” What this means in the real world is that this is “Microsoft’s only keyboard without the Windows Start button.” The drivers are also Universal, making it compatible with both PowerPC and Intel-based Macs, and incorporates the standard preset hot keys for the platform.

    Other than these few changes, it’s otherwise identical to Microsoft’s Wireless Laser Desktop 6000, which has been available for a while. However, the Mac version won’t actually ship until the summer, although they were happy to send me an early production version for review.

    Now before you get the idea that I intend the pan the product, the answer is no. In fact, as wireless keyboard and mouse combos go, it’s quite good. It even has features, such as the slightly curved layout, that might appeal to you if you find your wrists sore after a long day at work in front of your Mac. I just wanted to get the spin out of the way, and deal with reality.

    Let’s start with the Comfort Curve option, which Microsoft claims “is preferred by a ratio of 3-to-1 over flat, straight keyboards.” Now this is not a so-called ergonomic keyboard, a design in which the keyboard is split into three distinct segments. Instead the main keypad is curved downward at the center. This may seem a bit strange at first glance, but if you’re a touch typist, you will probably adapt within a few minutes, as I did. And I am not fan of split keyboards.

    In fact, I’m inclined to agree with Microsoft that their design represents a potentially superior alternative to the standard, ruler-straight keyboards most of you are used to. It’s smooth, comfortable, and only suffers because of the clunky sound made by the key switches. I suppose in all that time researching how to change a few key tops, Microsoft didn’t bother to consider that Mac users prefer quieter environments, but they’re not the only offender here. Actually, the noise isn’t terribly obtrusive when compared against the usual sounds of a home or office environment. Or maybe Microsoft wanted to mimic the keyboard sounds you hear in movies and on TV when someone is working on a computer.

    The dark gray and silver keyboard also includes the standard array of multimedia features, with buttons for audio levels, iTunes playback functions, plus your chat, email, music, photo and Web applications. There are also five “favorites” buttons that you can, like the application launching keys, customize to your taste in the Microsoft Keyboard preference pane.

    In addition to the curved design, there’s a Zoom key that can increase or reduce text size in many applications. If you have trouble deciphering the five-point type used by some sites, this feature will definitely come in handy.

    The mouse is a typical Microsoft product, with smooth, fluid action. Unlike competing products, the tilting scroll wheel is silent when moving up or down through. It’s also far more comfortable than the scroll button in Apple’s Mighty Mouse, and unlike some input devices, the Microsoft mouse isn’t saddled with lots of extra programmable buttons to decipher. Aside from the standard two buttons and scroll wheel, there’s a button that, with the wheel, zooms the text, and another to move backwards through a site. These, and the click function of the wheel, can be programmed if you prefer to change the standard layout.

    If there’s anything to criticize, it’s the fact that the mouse uses USB and RF rather than Bluetooth for its wireless connection, but it’s fair to say that not all Macs ship with standard Bluetooth, so why saddle many of you with an extra expense if you want this product?

    While I may seem a little down on Microsoft’s Wireless Laser Desktop for Mac, I actually like it a lot. If I wasn’t put off by the marketing, and a few minor nits, I’d give it five owls. Now if Microsoft would consider a lighter color scheme and a quieter keyboard, I might like it even more.



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