Keyboard Porn

I just got a new keyboard. I’ve actually had my eye no this particular keyboard for quite a while. It is Microsoft’s Natural Ergonomic 4000. I used it Sharpcast last year and I really enjoyed it. Now, having finally in possession of the Mona Lisa of keyboards, I’ve realize that shots at perfection suffer an extreme challenge.

On the software end, in somewhat typical Microsoft fashion, the customization of the special keyboard buttons is awful. One would expect a very simple interface for such a simple task and at first glance, it is very simple. There are two columns, the one on the left showing the name of the key, and on the right is its corresponding function. Clicking on a row lets you change the functionality of the button. Most of them can be customized to be a special command (i.e. mute, play, close window, etc), to open a web page or file, or to be disabled. Fair enough. For some buttons, you can’t chose a special command, just opening a page or file. For other buttons, you simply cannot chose anything but disabling. Their is no real rhyme or reason as to why this is the case.

There is a button, “My Favorites” that is only programmed to bring up the Favorites Menu. This menu shows what you have mapped to the five “favorite” keys at the top of the keyboard. I assigned one of them and still cannot figure out how to remove the binding. In the place that would seem most obvious, there is no way to remove the binding. In the help menu, it seems that Microsoft did some user testing to show that people were confused because there is a small box giving instructions on how to remove these bindings. Unfortunately, they did not work for me either!

Another issue with this keyboard is the keyboard itself. Almost every single key on this keyboard is pleasant to press. There seems to be just enough give that you don’t really need to exert that much pressure. This makes typing very smooth and easy on the fingers. Unfortunately, the arguably most used key, the space bar, is terrible.

After searching online, it appears that every Ergonomic 4000 has the problem of a clicky/sticky space bar. The problem seems to be caused by the long and odd shape of the space bar that spans both sides of split keyboard. It seems to be better if you press it in the center; however, no one does so. That is the point of the split. This is easily my biggest complaint about the keyboard and almost annoying enough for me to want to return it.

The keyboard I usually use and the one at work are both substantially louder than this one, yet this one certainly feels noisier. When all but one of your keys are silent, that loud one really stands out. This is one of the problems and challenges of being very good, not quite there. Think about this when you’re comparing those sleek laptops from Apple verses your typical laptop. While models from Sony try to be sleek, they never seem to go all the way. And those small hiccups (such as serial numbers and vents no the underside) really do subtract from the overall quality.

Joel Spolsky talks about this best in one of his podcasts at stackoverflow. It doesn’t take much to tarnish perfection. In the words of one of my favorite bands, Stars:

This scar is a fleck on my porcelain skin

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