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ISSUE 542: The high tech office- March 14 2000

ALAN ZISMAN

Microsphere's Workstation offers comfort, functionality

Did any of the furniture in your office come with its own CD-ROM disk? If the folks at Vancouver startup Microsphere have their way, that's what you'll be getting. Along with a workstation to replace your current desk and chair that comes with a little sack of tools, an Ikea-like instruction booklet, extensions cords for your computer's cables, you'll receive a multimedia CD disk showing how to make the most of your new purchase.

Microsphere's M-1 Workstation, looking like a cross between a dentist chair and something off the Starship Enterprise, is designed and engineered to cure the aches and pains that are normally the result of spending a day at a desk, particularly typing and looking at a computer screen.

The chair comes, like a Model-T Ford, in any colour you want as long as it's black. It's a frame of metal tubes, covered in thin, but tough mesh fabric. Light and air passes through it, keeping you cooler through those long hours slaving away at the keyboard and it's flexible enough to wrap around the user, adding support where needed.

There's an adjustable headrest and separate foot-rest. In fact, the chair is almost infinitely adjustable, adapting to different body shapes and sizes. It can even be set to recline.

There's a pillar nearby connected to the stand just like a dentist chair. On the pillar are a couple of arms ending in trays, also almost infinitely adjustable. One tray is designed to hold the keyboard and mouse with (southpaws take note) room for the mouse on both the left and right side. An added-cost second level can be added for those low tech times when you want to write on paper.

Above that, there's a Canadarm-like extension ending in a tray to support a computer monitor. It supports monitors weighing up to 100 pounds and has a set of seatbelts so the monitor won't end up on your lap or the floor if you swing it around too suddenly. These only work on monitors with firmly-attached pivot stands. iMac owners may be out of luck here. For those who feel like they never want to leave their comfortable workstation, the company is developing additional units, such as a coffee cup holder. Other options include a side-piece with drawers and places to fit your phone and computer CPU. Cables can be snaked through a black vacuum-cleaner-like hose, which neatly clips out of the way.

Installed in my home office, the whole thing takes up almost all the floor space. Not surprisingly, it doesn't tuck neatly into a desk. But if I've got to keep it, I'd get rid of one of the desks. By itself, the workstation takes up less floor space than a typical office desk and chair. Of course, I'd have to find somewhere else to stack piles of papers--though I suppose if I mentioned it, the team at Microsphere just might develop a solution for that!

Oh yeah, the price. At US$1,895 (call it C$2,750 or so), it's not cheap, but it is replacing both desk and chair, and offering unparalleled comfort and support for workers who are chained to a computer all day. I don't know of any scientific studies proving ergonomic benefits, but I'm prepared to believe that there are some.

As well, the solid design and use of quality parts suggests that this unit will last over the long haul. Even with a large monitor strapped on, for instance, the tray slides into position smoothly and with virtually no effort.

During the time it's been in place in my office, most people's first impression was one of surprise. The high tech look takes some getting used to. But everyone wanted to try it out -- and most of the people who sat in it were quickly made into converts. It may not fit into your d?cor or floor plan and the price may be more than the budget allows, but once you sit in it and work with it, you'll probably end up wanting it.

Microsphere's booth was a hit at both January's Vancouver Comdex and the bigger show in Las Vegas last November. If you missed them there, check the company out, either at their Yaletown location or at their Web site (www.microsphere.com). And if you're feeling flush, the workstation (you need to come up with a better name than Microsphere M-1, guys!) can be ordered online. *

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan