ISSUE 555: The high tech office- June
Using a notebook computer doesn't have
to be a pain
I like my
notebook. That feeling must be shared because notebook sales continue
Notebooks are convenient, but they are
more expensive than comparable desktop computers. And there are other,
hidden costs as well.
With their smaller screens, keyboards
and pointing devices, prolonged use of notebooks can lead to eyestrain
and sore necks, shoulders and backs. The one-piece keyboard and monitor
means that neither can be placed in the most comfortable position for
Ideally, when typing, computer users
should hold their arms at a 90-degree angle, bent at the elbow, while
monitors should be positioned so users are looking slightly down at
them. With a notebook, however, either the keyboard is raised too high
or the monitor is too low for the ideal viewing angle. At best, users
get to choose which part of their body they want to hurt.
Tiny pointing devices force users to
stretch small muscles, which can cramp the wrists and forearms.
Most of us can do little if we're
taking our notebooks on the road, though it's easy to pack along a
full-sized mouse in the bag. When using notebooks at home, users have
more flexibility. Most notebooks can be plugged into an external
monitor, which is placed in a more optimal viewing position. (However,
this can't be done with Apple's iBook, currently the
best-selling notebook model. Shame, Apple!) Most models can also be
used with a full-sized
keyboard and mouse, even without investing in an expensive docking
Take frequent breaks. Stop work for
mini-stretch periods. Save your files, get up, move around.
While better designed than notebooks,
desktop computer systems can also cause problems. Some of these can be
minimized with proper placement of the keyboard and monitor, as well as
(once again) taking frequent mini-breaks.
Check out replacement keyboards, mice
and monitors. If you're spending a lot of time using these peripherals,
make sure that you've got models you're com-
fortable with. Too many systems ship with cheap keyboards that
typically provide soft, mushy feedback. In-
stead, give Lexmark's keyboards a try. This IBM spinoff
continues to make keyboards with the solid
quality feel that were a hallmark of IBM's classic computers of a
decade or more ago.
Microsoft sells its sci-fi
shaped "Natural Keyboard." While carefully avoiding any health claims,
the company does use the word ergonomic to describe the keyboard's
unusual 3D split shape. While I can't swear that using this design is
healthier, I like it. The angle between the two halves of the keyboard
and the slope down the middle fits the way my hands naturally want to
By forcing my hands apart, it makes me
use something more like proper keyboarding technique, which has to be a
The original Natural Keyboard was very
large, too high and wide to fit in many under-desk keyboard drawers.
Newer models have been scaled down and are a better fit for many desks.
The latest versions from Microsoft add a row of buttons along the top.
The $99 Natural Keyboard Pro model adds 19 buttons for access to common
Web browser functions, along with volume control and controls for the
Windows Media Player. A set of three customizable buttons adds access
to My Computer, the Windows Calculator, power-saving sleep mode or
quick access to a couple of applications of the user's choice. There's
also an option to turn off the obnoxious caps lock key.
After a short while getting acquainted
with this keyboard, I found it more comfortable than conventional
keyboards, especially for extended typing. However, I haven't found
myself using the buttons at all. Microsoft offers a $69 version with
fewer buttons and continues to sell the even more affordable Natural
Keyboard Elite, which lacks the add-on buttons entirely. (The product
line also feaures a couple of standard flat keyboards laden with the
collections. But why bother?)
All these keyboards include both PS/2
and USB connectors. This makes them usable with most PCs and newer
Macs. Though I suspect that the extra keys won't work on a Mac, one of
these could be a real improvement over the mini-keyboard Apple is
shipping with all its desktop Macs.
Wander into a store and try one