Microsoft Natural Keyboard: Back to nature
by Alan Zisman
(c) 1995. First
published in Our Computer Player, May 1995
"Why should I spend $129 on a keyboard? I got one free
with my computer.
Besides, that Natural Keyboard thing looks like it belongs on the
of the Starship Enterprise".
Microsoft, the software giant has only rarely ventured
into the realm
of selling hardware to the general public. Way back when, they produced
a CP/M card for the original Apple IIs... insert the card into
Apple and you could run CP/M business software, such as WordStar or
II... and run Microsoft's CP/M Basic. (Ironically, a strategy that
has revived, with its 486-card for Macs).
Then there's the industry-standard Microsoft Mouse.
This too was originally
sold to get users to purchase Microsoft software-- initially PC Word,
on, various early versions of Windows.
Now, Microsoft is marketing a futuristic-appearing
keyboard; with the
letter section split in the middle, with each section off at a
angle, gently sloping downward from the center. There's a large,
wrist-rest, making the whole thing almost appear to be some sort of a
between an ivory electric guitar and a typewriter.
And it comes with a manual whose first page starts off
as if it were a cigarette package.
That's because the computer industry as a whole is
being forced to pay
attention to Repetitive Stress Injury-- a range of problems that can be
related to the long-term use of computer keyboards. On the same day
I received my Microsoft Natural Keyboard, the newspaper reported that
had settled out of court with a woman who had sued the company,
that she had not been properly notified that use of one of their
could be dangerous.
With studies suggesting that use of computers could be
linked to syndromes
including Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Tendinitis, and Tenosynovitis, and
employers as well as computer manufacturers being potentially liable,
it makes good business sense to design computers around human physical
needs rather than try to force people to adapt to computers.
Try this little experiment-- first hold your hands out
as if you are
typing; arms bent at the elbows, hands and wrists straight. Does it
natural? Comfortable? Hold it in the air that way for 30 seconds or so.
Now repeat the test, only this time, let your thumbs
gently touch. With
your elbows at your sides, let your arms make a 'V'. See how your hands
tend to slope down. Doesn't it feel more comfortable? Especially if you
hold it for some time.
A traditional keyboard forces you into the first
keyboard lets you take the second position-- the one your hands
Despite its unusual appearance, this keyboard feels
Still, it took me a little while to get used to typing on it. I'm not a
trained typist, and when I'd make my furtive little peeks at the
the letters were no longer where I expected to see them.
As well, I've always preferred the crisp, hard
keyclicks of a classic
IBM keyboard, and have purchased an equally hard Northgate for my
use. Compared to those, the Microsoft has a soft, almost mushy feel.
claims its healthier).
Still, within a half hour or so, I was happily
almost as fast as ever, aside from a distressing tendancy to reach for
the space-bar with my left thumb and hit the ALT key instead. I also
the oversized ENTER key of my Northgate, replaced with a more
key on this keyboard.
The lights indicating the various key-locks are
with a number 1 for the num lock light, a letter A for the caps lock,
a down-arrow for the scroll lock (does anyone actually use that anyway?
And what is SysRq?)
There are two new keys on this keyboard... one has an
icon that looks
like a drop-down menu. In Windows 3.1, it brings up an enhanced version
of the Windows Task Manager, assuming you've installed the keyboard's
The second key, with the Flying Windows icon, does nothing at all under
In Win95, however, that key brings up the Start
menu... equivalent to
clicking on the Start button. The other iconized key is the equivalent
of a right-mouse click, bringing up a Properties menu.
I mentioned that the keyboard comes complete with
software. This works
with Windows 3.x only-- it won't install under NT or WIN95 (I can't
on OS/2). It installs a Program Manager group, and an (ugly) icon in
Control Panel. Either gives you several tabbed pages worth of
over the repeat rate and sensitivity, and a wide range of optional
replacements. Water drips anyone? Maracas? How about silence?
As well, you can set the keyboard to emulate the
mouse, using the number
pad. As well, there's a nice feature that can find your missing cursor
when you press the Control key.
Even with its comfort and customization features, many
people may find
it hard to justify spending over $100 to replace something that they
got 'for free' as part of their system. While that's an understandable
attitude, the keyboard, along with the screen and the mouse, is a part
of the system that you actually interact with. Since you are probably
to spend many hours in close contact with your keyboard, it makes sense
to get one that feels right for you.
Give this one a test, and see if you think it makes a
do. And especially if you're getting a new system, think about asking
dealer what it would cost to add it into the total bundle.