Keyboard Thoughts

Published 09 February 09 07:05 PM | Scott Mitchell

Jeff Atwood recently replaced his keyboard, a Microsoft Natural Keyboard 4000, with... a new Microsoft Natural Keyboard 4000.

I mentioned my beloved Microsoft Natural Keyboard 4000, which is pretty much the holy grail of keyboards to me. Some people don't care for the non-split spacebar, and the way the keys have a fair bit of resistance -- but that's never bothered me. If you're into the whole ergonomic split layout thing, as I obviously am, it's difficult to go wrong with the Natural 4000. That's why I'm replacing my old keyboard with the very same model.

I am also a (mostly) satisfied user of the Microsoft Natural Keyboard 4000. My only complaint has to do with the function keys and function key remapping. For starters, the function keys are not as big as they were in old school keyboards. I cut my teeth on keyboards where the function keys were square shaped. However, the function keys on the Microsoft Natural Keyboard 4000 are almost half as tall as they are wide. But what's more frustrating is that, like many Microsoft keyboards, the function keys (F1-F12) perform some alternate action if the Function Lock option is disabled. (You can toggle the Function Lock by pressing the F Lock key, which is immeidately to the right of F12.) About once a month the Function Lock status will toggle magically. I know for a fact I'm not pressing it. I don't know if some program can toggle it, or if they keyboard has a short circuit, or if my forceful typing somehow jiggles the F Lock key. Regardless, about once a month I find that my function keys aren't working and the reason is because the Function Lock has been disabled.

This function mapping also annoys Jeff, who lists three bad keyboard design decisions:

  • Mangling the Home Key Cluster
  • Using a Non-Standard Arrow Key Cluster
  • Remapping the Function Keys

I have another item to add to the list - keyboards that break from the norm of having the lower left key be the Ctrl key. Too many laptops do this, placing the Fn key in the lower left corner and the Ctrl key to its immediate right.

The Ctrl key is one of the most oft-used keys for people who prefer to keep their hands on the keyboard and off the mouse, as it's the key that typically denotes a keyboard shortcut, including the most essential ones: Copy, Paste, Cut, Open, Save, Print, Undo, and Redo. It is almost tantamount to moving the space bar, or the Enter or Tab keys. Almost. Which is why it is baffling that this keyboard layout is still in use and is not some footnote in the history of flawed design, like Microsoft Bob and VRML.

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