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  • Keyboards: From Half-Ergonomic to Full Ergonomic

    February 21st, 2008

    Night Owl Rating: ★★★★½
    Pros: Smooth, comfortable keyboard action; easy setup, good Mac compatibility.
    Cons: So where’s the caps lock indicator?

    As most of you know, I’ve been hugely impressed with two keyboards that sort of mimic the ergonomic style. What I mean is that the bottom portion of the keyboard spreads sideways. Logitech expanded on this approach with its Wave keyboard, which does what the name implies, and that is to eschew the typically flat style and have the keys rise higher in the center and lower at the sides, a sort of wavy approach.

    All this is, in theory at least, supposed to allow you to type more comfortably for hours on end. Now I cannot say that this scheme necessarily works for all people, but after typing for long hours each day over a period of well over four decades (I started real young by the way), I find that my wrists seldom ache at the end of a busy session. I might be lucky, it may be because I exercise six days a week, but perhaps using these specialty keyboards has helped in recent years.

    Now keyboards are, obviously, a huge deal for me, but I’m rather fickle. I tire of one after a year or so, and tend to swap it for another. On this particular occasion, I wanted to return to Microsoft’s Wireless Laser Desktop for Mac. Unfortunately, the keyboard was dead; even a new battery wouldn’t restore its functionality.

    So I rung up Microsoft and they sent me one of their Natural Ergonomic Desktop 7000 boxes as a replacement, which includes a hefty, egg-shaped multi-button mouse. If you’re keeping score, this product carries a street price of $125, which is somewhat more expensive than most desktop combos.

    For the price, it’s hefty, rugged looking and full-featured with lots and lots of extra buttons on both the keyboard and mouse. Even better, Microsoft makes it clear the black and silver 7000 is Mac compatible on the box, and that’s true. However, there is no Command or clover left symbol on the appropriate keytops It just says Alt in the Windows style, although the Mac software maps it to the correct function.

    The rest of the defaults are well-integrated, except for the Search button that wants to find Apple’s now-discontinued Sherlock. Oh well. It’s also true that the software hasn’t been updated in nearly a year, so maybe Microsoft just didn’t anticipate Leopard, or wanted to consider folks using older Mac OS versions. Meantime, you can program it as you wish, using the Microsoft Keyboard preference pane. Naturally, I set it to invoke the Spotlight search window.

    Of course the big attraction of the 7000 keyboard is its strict adherence to ergonomic design. Between the two halves of the sloping alphanumeric keypad, by the way, is a Zoom button that I’ll get to in a moment.

    Over the years, I have avoided true ergonomic keyboards on sight alone. I just didn’t want to force myself to learn to type all over again — or at least that’s what I expected. But when I managed to take to the semi-ergonomic style within a couple of hours, I opted to get it another whirl.

    Sure enough, after about a day of heavy-duty work, I found myself about 80% adapted to the new design, and it is indeed supremely comfortable. I find, for example, that I’m making fewer mistakes in my typing, and I’m one of those burst typists that concentrate more on putting letters on the screen than on absolute accuracy.

    The programmable action buttons are all large and smooth in their operation, but I’m most impressed by Microsoft’s concept of a Zoom button. You see it doesn’t just blow up the text in a supported application window. It also uses Quartz text rendering, so the lettering remains sharp and crisp. Good job, Microsoft.

    The form-fitting mouse is also nicely designed, falling comfortably into my hand and helping me absorb hours and hours of intense audio editing, which requires lots of repeated mouse movements.

    All right, despite being a Microsoft product, everything seems to be sweetness and light. But with them, there are always exceptions. This elaborate keyboard doesn’t present a caps lock light or display, nor is there one on your menu bar, such as Logitech delivers with their Wave combo. Then again, that’s Microsoft for you. You’d think that such a basic feature would be essential, but I suppose I could always request it for the next edition of their Mac software.

    I haven’t tried it under Windows yet, so maybe it exists in that environment. Someone let me know.

    Sure, you can buy lots and lots of desktop combos for a lot less money. On the other hand, if total comfort is important to you, and you want lots of programmable keys to play with, I suppose Microsoft’s 7000 Desktop is as good as any, and better, frankly, than most.



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    6 Responses to “Keyboards: From Half-Ergonomic to Full Ergonomic”

    1. John says:

      Full ergonomic keyboards take a while to get used to, but the end result is extreme comfort.

      I use the Kinesis Advantage.

      http://www.kinesis-ergo.com/advantage.htm

      It took me about three weeks to become proficient in using it. Many keys are in completely different locations and the arrow keys can only be used with two hands. But now, my hands fly on it and even after 8 to 10 hours of work, I don’t feel a thing or any kind of discomfort.

      I had to use ‘normal’ keyboard a while back for about three hours and let me tell you, I felt that session for three days after. Now, whenever I go somewhere where I know that I’ll be doing extended time on a keyboard, I lug my bulky Kinesis with me.

    2. Dana Sutton says:

      Probably keyboards are the most controversial hardware there is, because personal choice plays such an important role. Until Biff the cat woofed on it, taking out the letters Q and W, I was using an ancient Apple Extended liberated from the back of the supply room where I work, attached to my Intel Mac Pro by a Griffith serial-to-USB adapter, andGod did I love that keyboard, nothing has ever been built to equal it, that was real quality construction you can’t match with anything built since (albeit not cat barf-proofed). Apple’s internal nickname for that was the “Saratoga,” and one can see why, it was as huge as the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. My wife swears by an ancient MacAlley which I loathe because the keys slop around sideways. I’ve gone through a whole bunch of modern ones by various manufacturers, including the current Apple aluminum one (which I stopped using because the spacebar fails to work half the time). So at the moment I’m using its Apple (plastic) predecessor, which is fine except that it is such a dirt-collector, eventually it collects a lot of grunge that only a C.S.I. team could love, proudly displays the grunge as if it were a museum exhibit, and is almost impossible to clean out because it has so many dirt-traps. There’s an expensive Canadian third-party copy of this keyboard with individual switches for each key, which is great except it has the identical dirt problem and is so loud that when you use it it sounds like a mah-jong tournament in full swing. I guess the moral of the story is that when it comes to keyboards one man’s m. is another man’s p., and we could go on arguing their merits endlessly.

    3. Mr. Reeee says:

      The old Apple “Saratoga” Extended Keyboard was a fine beast. I used one until my first PowerBook G3 (Lombard), then I switched to some USB keyboard that was purple.

      When I moved in with my girlfriend, my late night click-click-clicking on the keyboard messed with her sleep, so I got a Macally IceKEY because it has laptop style scissor switches. Yes, it’s QUIET! It’s pretty nice and even has volume and eject buttons. AND a nice bright light to alert me when the caps lock key is on. (It helps!) I’ve recommended it to several people and they like it a lot.

      I admit that as a non-typist, ergonomic keyboards don’t really work very well for me. I use a trackball with my right hand and keep my left hand on the keyboard to “drive” application command keys. A flat keyboard makes this much easier that an ergonomic one, because it’s easier to reach across the keyboard without moving my hand too much. Yes, I’ve tried ergo boards. A client has a Kinesis, which looks cool, but I find nearly impossible to use.

      I really like the new Apple USB keyboards. I bought one of the little Apple Bluetooth keyboards for plugging my MacBook Pro into my HDTV for looking at photos, web surfing and emailing from across the room.

    4. Arch Riker says:

      Regarding the lack of a CAPS LOCK light on the Microsoft keyboard. I have been using a Microsoft Wireless Comfort keyboard for a number of years (along with a Logitech 8-button wireless trackball). The base station part of the keyboard ( the part that plugs into the computer’s USB port) is a mouse sized and shaped device which has lights for the F-Key and Caps Lock. I just did a quick search to see if the newer MS keyboards still use this rather large base station or whether they use a finger sized dongle but did not find the answer.

      So, Gene, does this solve the mystery for you?

      arch riker
      jacksonville beach, fl

    5. Regarding the lack of a CAPS LOCK light on the Microsoft keyboard. I have been using a Microsoft Wireless Comfort keyboard for a number of years (along with a Logitech 8-button wireless trackball). The base station part of the keyboard ( the part that plugs into the computer’s USB port) is a mouse sized and shaped device which has lights for the F-Key and Caps Lock. I just did a quick search to see if the newer MS keyboards still use this rather large base station or whether they use a finger sized dongle but did not find the answer.

      So, Gene, does this solve the mystery for you?

      arch riker
      jacksonville beach, fl

      The previous Microsoft keyboard I used had that kind of transceiver, but the current one doesn’t. It’s a tiny device designed to plug directly into the USB port, with nothing but a connection button on it. Not a mystery, but a lost feature.

      Also, the last Logitech keyboard I used put its Caps Lock display in the menu bar.

      Peace,
      Gene

    6. Andrew says:

      I’m a huge fan of the ancient IBM Model M keyboard. I use the new Apple (wired) keyboard most of the time because the feel and layout are identical to my MacBook, but for serious writing I take out the old (1986) model M (with USB adapter).

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