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microsoft natural keyboards: evolution or devolution?


I am, like many of us, very specific about certain things in my work environment, and there's stuff that I have "requested" (read: demanded!) everywhere I've been to in the last few years. One of those things is a Microsoft Mouse. The other is a Microsoft Natural Keyboard.

Yep, that's two Microsoft products I actually like a lot (the other main one is MS Bookshelf, which sadly got discontinued in 2000 and got swallowed by Encarta, which is ok but too big for basic dictionary/thesaurus needs).

I got a Natural Keyboard when it was first released (it was one of the first USB keyboards) and then got a new one in '99 when MS released the Microsoft Natural Keyboard Pro. That very keyboard has been with me since then in every machine I have at home, crossed oceans back and forth and been in as many cities as I've been, and it's been a rock. Nice feel, good construction and key placement. I particularly like that the keyboard is huge, and since I have big hands I feel comfortable with it.

I have yet to meet another person that feels as comfortable as I do with this keyboard, I wonder if I'm the only one buying them. :) But my problem is that in recent years, as the new Wireless versions have appeared, Microsoft has been "compressing" the width of the keyboard, with the result that even the Pro version compresses the Insert/Delete/Home/End/PgUp/PgDn key set from a 3x2 configuration to a 2/1/2 configuration (the insert key is gone, the alignment is vertical instead of horizontal, and the delete key is two keys tall).

What truly drives me crazy about this is that there is no option to get the old keyboard layout (and don't even get me started on the crosshairs cursor keys of the Natural Keyboard Elite! For a while it seemed that every new keyboard came with a different key layout). You either get the Natural Keyboard layout with vertical keys over the cursors (and compressed design) or a regular keyboard layout, with more space.

Also, every new version keeps adding weird function keys, integration and whatnot. It's starting to become a problem, like the million features in Microsoft Word that no one uses. Wake up MS! You had a great product with the basic Natural Keyboard and regular keyboards, along with Intellimouse. Stop adding buttons and lights and gizmos. Just make a good, simple keyboard. Notice how Apple keeps going for simplicity? Try that for a change!

So last night I "retired" my old set of Keyboard/Mouse and now I've got a new one, the Wireless Optical Desktop Pro, which is as close as it gets to the old version. It's the Natural Keyboard, plus the Intellimouse explorer, but alas bluetooth versions don't yet come in the "Natural" split-keyboard format.

Here's hoping that when they do, Microsoft will restore the standard Insert/Delete/Home/End/PgUp/PgDn 3x2 key arrangement over the cursor keys. And enlarge it a little bit. And remove some (just a few) of the crazy functions they keep adding to the keys. That, and I'd be happy.

PS: Since I'm asking... also, there's a trend of designing Mice so that they adapt ergonomically to the hand. This is fine, but it becomes a problem for people like me, who frequently switch the mouse hand throughout the work day. I'll probably have to end up working with two mice at once. :)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 6 2005 at 1:13 PM

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