When it comes to keyboards, one size does not fit all

When a new computer comes into the office, it arrives with a standard set of amenities: A keyboard, a mouse and a monitor.

People obsess about their monitors, demanding the latest in sexy technology — big screens, high resolution (well — some do – I have users who run a 17-in. monitor at 800

x 600), and, if they can con Mr. Moneybags into the expenditure, flat panels.

Given that they’re staring at the screens all day, it’s a matter of protecting their eyesight.

Yet while they fuss about what they’re looking at, I’ve heard very few people even mention their keyboards. The mouse, yes — they want the latest optical models — but rarely do I receive feedback about their primary input device, unless keys stop working entirely (usually after they’ve tipped their coffee onto the keyboard).

Consequently, the keyboards that have arrived with many new systems are, shall we say, less than wonderful. They’re flimsy. The touch is not conducive to preventing nasties like carpal tunnel syndrome, and “”helpful”” features such as power buttons are placed in questionable spots. One user called in a panic last week when his computer just shut off for no reason. Actually, he was a victim of poor keyboard design — there was a power button below the delete key, and he hit it while intending to remove a misplaced character.

I’m frequently caught out when switching machines because, although the letters and numbers are in the same spots from keyboard to keyboard, other critical keys such as Insert and Delete tend to migrate, especially on laptops. One machine’s delete is at top right, while on another, that’s where the End key lives. It can make for some interesting typos.

Some third-party vendors do supply decent keyboards. They are fighting for market share in this un-sexy segment by adding extra functionality such as cursor keys, extra function keys, program launch keys, browser control keys, audio control keys and even keys that replace the mouse. One I’m testing now has 48 additional functions on more than twenty extra keys. Some of them I actually find useful, too.

Where it falls down, for me, is in the touch — and that’s a personal preference. I find it a tad unresponsive because I have a light touch; others would be delighted with it because it can withstand their firmer typing.

Companies trying to standardize their IT infrastructure tend to go with the one-size-fits-all philosophy. While it’s an economical solution that makes machines interchangeable, it doesn’t accommodate users with differing needs. For example, I had a user with especially tiny hands; the standard-issue rodent caused her pain and affected her productivity.

People aren’t stamped out with cookie cutters. Everyone is different, and what suits one may cause another discomfort or even injury. People today put up with poor or incompatible keyboards because they think that what came with their machine is their only option.

It shouldn’t have to be. We spend a significant part of our working days pounding the keys, and in the interest of our health and productivity, we have to pay more attention to that neglected tool, the keyboard.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Lynn Greiner
Lynn Greiner
Lynn Greiner has been interpreting tech for businesses for over 20 years and has worked in the industry as well as writing about it, giving her a unique perspective into the issues companies face. She has both IT credentials and a business degree.

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