November 17, 2005


Microsoft Wireless Laser Desktop 6000. Windows 2000 or later; Mac OS X v.10.2 to 10.4. Microsoft. $104.95.

Microsoft Wireless Notebook Laser Mouse 6000. Windows 2000 or later; Mac OS X v.10.2 to 10.4. Microsoft. $54.95.

Microsoft Notebook Optical Mouse 3000. Windows 2000 or later; Mac OS X v.10.2 to 10.3. Microsoft. $34.95.

     Microsoft is famous – or infamous, if you prefer – as a software company, especially as the maker of the Windows operating system that is used on around 90% of the world’s computers.  Microsoft is also known – notoriously, to some people – for using its corporate muscle in anticompetitive ways, for some of which it has had to pay substantial fines.

     But there is another side to Microsoft, and it is one that shows the company can meet and outmatch any competitors out there on an entirely level playing field.  This is Microsoft’s hardware division, which quietly and consistently turns out top-quality, well-designed products that make it easier, faster and more comfortable to use whatever computer you choose to buy.

     Among this division’s most recent releases are three standouts in the input-device field.  Microsoft Wireless Laser Desktop 6000 combines a full-size keyboard with a top-notch mouse whose precision is noticeably better than that of non-laser mice when playing games.  The mouse has certain excellent features that Microsoft has used for some time, such as a pleasant ergonomic shape (better suited for right-handed users than lefties, though) and a Tilt Wheel that lets you move left to right as well as up and down.  Web pages and photos that are larger than your screen size are much easier to view with the Tilt Wheel.  The mouse also has a new feature that will bring joy to anyone who would like slightly bigger characters on the screen temporarily – without having to do a global change of font size.  This is a Magnifier button that, when pressed, enlarges details on the screen temporarily without changing any underlying settings.  It’s remarkably helpful when trying to read, for example, the tiny-type disclaimers on Web sites of all sorts.  (On Macs, the Magnifier enlarges text and images on the entire screen.)  The mouse’s laser technology does not make an appreciable difference in standard document usage, but anyone who plays games or tries to navigate Web sites that require precision pointing will appreciate the underlying technology.

     The keyboard in this desktop set is feature-rich, too.  It is one of Microsoft’s “Comfort Curve” designs, with a gently flowing shape that really does make it easier to type for hour after hour.  The built-in, cushioned palm rest helps, too, and may head off carpal tunnel syndrome, that bane of the modern office.  A “Zoom Slider” works a bit like the mouse’s Magnifier button, letting you take a closer look at whatever is on the screen.  There are hot keys to take you to frequently used programs, media-center keys for easier listening and viewing, and a couple of redesigned carryovers from earlier Microsoft keyboards: “My Favorites” keys and one-touch keys for E-mail, Web home page, calculator and more.  All these keys are programmable, and it has always been a nice touch that Microsoft includes a Show Favorites key to let you know what your chosen favorites currently are.  The only complaint about this new design is the layout of the one-touch keys: they sweep in an arc along the far left of the keyboard, and you can read their labels only by twisting the keyboard (or your head) 90 degrees.  But a little bit of regular use lets you know which key is where without recourse to the labels.

     The same laser technology that makes Microsoft’s new desktop mouse so precise is also used in the Microsoft Wireless Notebook Laser Mouse 6000.  Pointing devices are a continuing issue in laptops.  Touchpads and pencil-eraser joysticks simply do not give the speed and precision of a mouse – certainly not this mouse.  Microsoft has sized this mouse as a compact – it is only half the size of its new laser desktop mouse – and shaped it symmetrically, so righties and lefties can use it with equal ease.  It has the same Tilt Wheel and Magnifier features as the laser desktop mouse, and its small size and precision make it easy to use in tight spaces (think of an airline seat – in coach).  The size takes some getting used to: most women and men with small hands found adaptation easy, but men with large hands and broad fingers took longer to be fully comfortable with the device.  This mouse works well on any surface, so you really can use it just about anywhere.

     If you think you might lose a wireless mouse – which is, after all, entirely separate from your laptop at all times – or if you simply don’t need quite as much precision as Microsoft’s laser mouse provides, consider the Microsoft Notebook Optical Mouse 3000.  This one is a real bargain and is especially good for people with small hands: it is even smaller than the notebook laser mouse.  Comfortable to use with either hand, offering the same Tilt Wheel and Magnifier features as its laser cousin, this optical mouse uses high-definition technology that makes it as easy to control as a laser unit except in extreme situations – which most laptop users will rarely, if ever, encounter.  The blue LED tail light looks cool, too.

     You won’t go wrong with any of these new Microsoft hardware products.  They compete in a very crowded field, and excel neither in price (you can buy less-expensive input devices) nor in status (you can buy more-expensive ones, too).  They simply offer durability, excellent design for their purposes, surprisingly good battery life in the wireless products (which – oh joy! – actually come packed with the batteries they require), and attractive styling.  Microsoft’s hardware division has a whole batch of winners here.

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