Microsoft Wireless Optical Desktop Pro Keyboard

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Review of Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard

Xah Lee, 2005-11, 2009-02, 2009-07

In 2005, i bought Microsoft Wireless Natural Multimedia keyboard (MS WNM), introduced in 2004. This is basically a one-piece split keyboard with special buttons on top. (as of 2009-07, the keyboard is renamed to “Microsoft Wireless Optical Desktop Pro Keyboard”)

I'm a input device nerd. I find this keyboard in general better than all i've used in my 14 years of computing experience.

Microsoft Natural Multimedia keyboard

The Microsoft Wireless Natural Multimedia keyboard. amazon

Microsoft Natural Multimedia Keyboard Microsoft Natural Multimedia Keyboard

Outstanding Features

• Quality split design. If you type than few hours a day, then try to get used to a split keyboard. It prevents your wrists from bending. Once you get used to split keyboard, typing on a flat keyboard will immediate feel discomfort.

• Large Alt and Ctrl keys. Large modifier keys are especially nice if you are a programer, in particular, if you are a Emacs user.

• The modifier keys are positioned symmetrically with respect to your thumbs. Many keyboards, especially those made by Apple Computer, the right-side modifier keys are placed far more to the right, so one has to curl the thumb way inward to press them, making the key essentially decorative in nature. See: Photo of a Apple 2006 Keyboard.

• Very nice tacticle feel of the keys. This is important for professional typers such as writers, game chatters, programers. Notebook style shallow keys will quickly give you wrist problems after prolonged use.

mwm mm keys2

• The multi-media keys are fantastically convenient. You can switch to next song, pause playing, adjust volume, without needing to switch to music player first.

app keys2

The application special keys, are extremely convenient. There are a total of 9 of them, not counting the mute and sleep buttons. These keys can be reset to any application thru the bundled IntelliType software. (works for Windows and Mac)

IntelliType

MS keyboards come with IntelliType Software. It lets you customize the keys fairly extensively. For example, the function keys can be assigned to launch applications or do other commands. For the Mac, and the meaning of “Start” key and Alt key can be swapped (suitable for Mac users), and Caps Lock key and Ctrl key can be swapped as well. Any of these modifiers can also be disabled. The IntelliType comes in both Windows and Mac versions.

Neutral

Home Cluster Keys Arrangement

wnm keyboard home cluster2 nek 4000 2

Two type of arrangement of Home Cluster keys. On the left, vertical, on the right, traditional.

The standard block of 6 keys: Del, Ins, Home, End, Page Up, Page Down, traditionally arranged in a 2 by 3 block, is re-arranged into a vertical block of 3 by 2, with 5 keys only. The Insert key is gone, and the Delete key expand to its place.

Whether you like this new shape depends. Opinions vary. For me, i hated it in the beginning. But after using this for 2 years, i find the traditional arrangement annoying. Here's some analysis of the situation:

  • The Ins key is removed. It is arguably a good move. The Ins key is obsolete key. It is useless in vast majority of software. So now, the Delete key, expand to take its place. The Delete key frequently used in about every application.
  • The left and right placement of the Home/End keys is more logical to how these key functions on Windows. Because, in Windows, Home goes to the beginning of line, and End goes to end of line. So, a left/right Home/End is intuitive. However, on the Mac, Home and End is beginning and end of document. So, a vertical Home End placement is more natural for Mac users.

Quietness

This keyboard is not one of those super quite ones, nor is it particularly loud. What i hate are some keyboard where there's a outstanding thud every time you press the space bar.

Flaws

Over all, i think this keyboard is far superior than any in my 14 years of computing experience. However, here are a few design flaws i see:

Hidden Cap Lock LED Indicator

The led indicators for Caps Lock, F Lock, Num Lock are not on the keyboard. They are on the wireless receiving device. (the little mouse-sized block connected to the USB) So, if you tuck your receiving block under your desk, then these leds are not in sight, making them useless. (2009-02-04 addendum: this is fixed in later versions.)

Problem with F Lock Key

• The F Lock key is a pain. For detail, see: Problems of F-Lock Key and How to Disable It.

F Keys Not Touch-Type Friendly

• The function keys are arranged together in two groups of rows on top. The left row is F1 to F5, the rigth row is F6 to F12 and F Lock. This is different from the standard arrangement of 4 keys per cluster. The continuous arrangement makes touch-typing of these F keys impractical, because touch typing are much enhanced by the gaps in the 4-key-per-block arrangement. The continuous row makes the keys in the middle of the row impossible to easily touch type. So, effectively, F8, F9, F10 are made unusable to me. (coupled with the F Lock key problem, F11 and F12 are both also made unusable for those who use f-keys with touch typing.)

(I use F-keys extensively. For launching/switching apps (email, web, emacs, terminal, IM, ...), close window, hide app)

Mingled PrtScn/Break etc Keys

wnm keyboard home cluster2

Mingled PrtScn/SysRq, Insert, Pause/Break, ScrLk keys.

• The functionalities of PrtScn, Insert, Break, ScrLk keys are mingled together into two physical keys. Their function depends on the F Lock. This is done in a very confused way with confusing labels on the keys. The left key has these 3 lables: “PrtScn, SysRq, Insert”, and the right key has “Pause, Break, ScrLk”. The third label are printed in front of the keys.

Normally, it wouldn't be a problem of jamming 4 functionalities into 2 physical keys thru a state-toggling key. However, in this case, it's very confusing because the PrtScn, Break, ScrLk are conventionally a set of 3 keys often considered as one unit. To put these 3 keys plus the Insert key, into 2 physical keys, is confusing. What made it worse is that the PrtScn, Break, ScrLk keys are somewhat historical and they do not have a definite purpose today (except the PrtScn key). Also, there's another esoteric key SysRq that is sometimes confused or jamped into the same key as PrtScn. Somewhat similarly, the Break key is sometimes labeled Pause. These reasons made it very confusive.

All this shouldn't matter to most users, since these keys are almost never used. But if you are a heavy keyboard macro user, and want to assign functions to every available key so you have 1-button operation for many tasks, then the jamming of PrtScn/SysRq, Insert, Break, ScrLk/Pause into 2 keys with a state key is bad. Because it's painful to figure out which is what.

2010-08-16 Addendum. This keyboard is discontinued. Its replacement is Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, which is also my favorite.

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