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Keyboards: From Half-Ergonomic to Full Ergonomic

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.