Microsoft Wireless Desktop 2000. Windows 7/Vista/XP or Mac OS X v.10.4-10.6. Microsoft. $39.95.
Microsoft Comfort Curve Keyboard 3000. Windows 7/Vista/XP. Microsoft. $19.95.
While some celebrate the alleged “death” of the PC and others bemoan it, Microsoft’s hardware division goes right on creating products that make the PC experience better – and at increasingly reasonable prices. Desktop and laptop users alike – and make no mistake, there are plenty of them, more than enough to keep PCs a vital part of business and home use for years to come – have a number of ways to improve on the standard keyboards that come with their machines or are built into them. Keyboard design is something of an afterthought for most original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), with the occasional added function (accessed with a “function” key), extra bar or button (such as Lenovo’s “ThinkVantage” bar), or pointing device (the “pencil eraser” that IBM put amid the G, B, H and N keys) being more or less the extent of manufacturers’ creativity. Keyboard improvements simply do not sell more computers for the OEMs. But that opens a market opportunity for Microsoft, which has been rolling out top-quality keyboards and keyboard-and-mouse combinations for years.
The latest keyboard-plus-mouse offering, Microsoft Wireless Desktop 2000, offers users something genuinely new, and of increasing importance as people spend more time connecting wirelessly and becoming ever more aware of their vulnerability to data capture by thieves and hackers. This well-designed combination product has built-in encryption technology – using the 128-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). The idea behind this technology is to prevent data theft while information is transmitted between a keyboard and the computer itself. The technology is incorporated into the unit’s design and requires no special actions by the user; its very transparency is a major benefit, since it simply resides within the Microsoft Wireless Desktop 2000 and is seamlessly integrated into its operation. The keyboard has some other attractive features, too, including a particularly comfortable palm rest whose texture makes long hours of keyboarding a lot less demanding on a user’s wrists, and a series of hotkeys that can provide one-click access to programs whose icons reside in the taskbar. By themselves, though, these nice-to-have elements would not be enough to make the keyboard stand out – it is the AES technology that does that.
The accompanying mouse is especially nice to have because mouse and keyboard together require use of only a single USB port for their wireless connection. This means that the Microsoft Wireless Desktop 2000 actually frees up a port for users who have needed two separate ones for a keyboard and a mouse. (Not everyone has a USB hub, after all. And even people who do may appreciate getting one port back.) The Microsoft Wireless Desktop 2000 does not actually require use of the Wireless Mouse 2000 with which it ships, but if you use a different mouse, you will need to go back to separate ports for keyboard and mouse. The mouse, like the keyboard, has some attractive features that would not make it a must-buy but are certainly nice to have. Chief among these are the rubber side grips, which make it easier to hold the mouse for extended periods (with either hand: it works equally well for righties and lefties). Microsoft has been incorporating these rubber grips into more of its mice, and they are a good idea – one of those small incremental improvements that collectively make a product just a little better than the competition. The mouse also uses Microsoft’s BlueTrack technology, which is a big help if you use it on an uneven surface or on almost any surface at all. The mouse’s best feature, though, is its integration with the keyboard through a single USB port. The sort of technology that Microsoft has put into the Microsoft Wireless Desktop 2000 would have cost quite a bit more just a few years ago, had it been available at all; but the combo unit’s $39.95 price makes the AES encryption and various nice-to-have features much more accessible to many more people. At a time of increased concerns about the various ways in which data can leak or be stolen, the Microsoft Wireless Desktop 2000 is worth serious consideration.
What it does not offer, however, is a fully ergonomic experience. The palm rest is comfortable and very pleasant to use, but the overall keyboard design is a standard one. In truth, not all computer users like ergonomic keyboards, so it is just as well to keep them as specialty items rather than make them part of a package with other significant features, such as the encryption technology built into the Microsoft Wireless Desktop 2000. For those who do like a full ergonomic keyboard experience, though, the Microsoft Comfort Curve Keyboard 3000 is an excellent and very reasonably priced choice. This is not a wireless keyboard but a cabled one, which makes sense for an ergonomic unit: you might be tempted to move a wireless keyboard to your lap or some part of a desk or table where its use would be less than ergonomically sound, but a cabled keyboard must stay within a certain distance of your computer. This is a Windows-only keyboard, which is unfortunate for Apple users; but if you do run Windows, it is a very good, straightforward, easy-to-use and easy-to-get-used-to product. It has the gently wavy curve typical of ergonomic keyboards, and also has a design that is higher at some points than at others, making extended use easier on the hands and wrists. The design incorporates such neat features as a contoured key bed that is supposed to minimize finger effort when striking keys, single-key access to media controls and calculator, and a more space-saving design than ergonomic keyboards had in the past. Also, the keys themselves are all the same size as on other keyboards; and they appear in their expected places, making adjustment to this keyboard a lot easier than adaptation to ergonomic keyboards used to be. The whole experience of using the Microsoft Comfort Curve Keyboard 3000 is a comfortable one: the keys lie easily beneath your fingers, the keyboard design helps your wrists stay in natural positions, and the result is overall ease and pleasantness of use. It remains true that many people will continue to prefer traditional keyboards, out of familiarity or for other reasons; but if you do want a well-priced, well-designed ergonomic keyboard, the Microsoft Comfort Curve Keyboard 3000 is well worth considering.