Introduction

A keyboard is something which you use every time you use your computer. Have you ever thought of any features that someone could add to it that would make your day to day typing jobs easier, faster and more efficient? Probably not.

Then again, wasn't that the case a while back ago when you were quite happy using your standard 2 or 3 button mouse thinking that life was good without the thought crossing your mind that you would have a much easier life if someone embedded a scroll wheel into your mouse. With the scroll wheel, you don't have to reach for the scrollbar controls every time you need to scroll your document.

Now, even cheap RM 5 mice have a scroll wheel because it just makes life easier. Heck, some of them even have 2 or 3 wheels!

So far, the most radical changes we've ever seen in keyboards were the addition of extra buttons for quick access to certain programs and commands. And then from Microsoft, the company who has a virtually unlimited R&D budget and a whole slew of usability labs came IMHO, the most radically designed keyboard MS ever came out with - the love it or hate it Microsoft Natural Keyboard! BTW, I fall under the "hate it" category :P.

Keys were added, keys were dropped. And soon, the keyboard world will never be the same again.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my proud honour to present to you my review of the latest keyboard from Microsoft - the Microsoft Office Keyboard!

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The Office Keyboard

Okay, first of all, I'm going to answer the number one question which I know is on everyone's mind right after seeing the keyboard for the first time - What the heck is that thing on the left???

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This, my friend, is a scroll wheel! That's right. They actually put a scroll wheel on the keyboard. Now, why would you need a scroll wheel on the keyboard when you've already have one on your mouse?

Well, after typing several pages of text, you may decide that you need to refer to something on another page. No problem. You just have to lift a hand off the keyboard and get to your mouse to use its scroll wheel. A little troublesome, don't you think?

Now, with the scroll wheel on the keyboard, you don't have to hunt for your mouse. You can quickly reach out and flick the Office Keyboard's scroll wheel to similar effect.

It might take some getting used to because this scroll wheel is MUCH looser than the one on most mice. That can be a good or bad thing depending on your preference. You can adjust its sensitiveness in the control panel as if you are adjusting it for your mouse. It's just a hunch but I think you will need to install the Intellipoint software first.

This keyboard is the widest I've ever seen, thanks to the additional navigational console. It measures in at approximately 51 cm by 26 cm so you better make sure there is ample space on your desktop. Here's how big it looks compared to the Microsoft Internet keyboard (front most).

The keyboard comes with a USB interface. If your system doesn't come with USB ports, don't worry. Microsoft ships this keyboard with a USB to PS/2 converter. If you are plugging it into your USB port, note that there are NO USB ports on this keyboard. This means you will lose one whole root port just to plug this guy in. I suggest you use the PS/2 converter whether your system come with USB ports or not.

The keyboard seems to use the new spring switches which don't make much noise when you're typing, making it ideal for people who share office space with someone else. With this keyboard, no one will ever complain about your clickaty-clackaty typing.

The package comes with Microsoft's IntelliType software which is basically a driver that enables the keyboard's scroll wheel and buttons. I forgot to check exactly what works with or without the software. But it's safe to say that without it, you've just bought yourself a VERY expensive standard keyboard!

Speaking of shortcut buttons, here's Reason #1 why they call it the Office Keyboard.


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The top launch buttons are very Microsoft Office oriented with the Word and Excel buttons predefined to their respective apps; and the Mail and Calendar buttons calling up Microsoft Outlook. However, every key can be redefined to launch something else.

Aside from those buttons, there is also another set of buttons that control the volume, a logoff button (to cater for WinXP, no doubt) and a sleep button. Of these buttons, only the logoff button can be reconfigured.

Function Keys

And here's Reason #2 why they call this the Office Keyboard - the whole row of F keys now have a different set of labels! The Fn labels are now printed on the front side of the buttons, instead of the top. The top of each button now has a new label.

Let's face it - as easy as it is to remember shortcut keys like Ctrl+C and Ctrl+S, how many other shortcut keys do you know? Realising that, Microsoft decided to remap the function keys to various Microsoft Office functions, essentially commandeering them for their own use.

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However, each of those keys can also be remapped to YOUR own liking so Microsoft isn't exactly pushing their monopoly muscle on Joe Consumer. But what if you need the default Fn keys after you have remapped the keys for your own purposes? Simple enough, there's a nice F-Lock button which when enabled, reverts all the Fn keys back to their default mappings.

Microsoft also made another drastic change to keyboard layout by grouping the function keys in sets of three keys, instead of the usual 4 keys set. This is more or less the first thing you'll have to get used to.

Let's go through what each key does.

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The F1-F3 keys seem to have been given the task of Home keys. F1 is the same good old HELP key which brings up the Help window in Office apps. It seems like this key is still mapped to F1. Either that or it just sends a help request message to the current application. In plain English, it seems that the Help key will work for most, if not all, properly coded Windows programs.

F2 is labeled as Office Home. Pressing it brings you to the Microsoft Office webpage. Strangely, it doesn't seem to work with systems that don't have Office XP installed.

F3 is set to bring up the Task Pane in Office XP. As such, it'll only work if you have Office XP installed. The Task Pane in Office XP is where commonly used tasks and information are displayed - a real gem when used properly.


The F4-F6 keys are the File keys. Their labels are pretty much self-explanatory. New creates a new document, spreadsheet, e-mail, etc, etc. Open brings up the Open File box, Close... closes the current document.

I tested these buttons on Office XP and Office 2000, and they did their stated jobs. They also work with Internet Explorer and Outlook Express and it's quite possible that they might work with other programs as well.

The F7-F9 keys are the E-Mail keys. While you're reading an e-mail in Outlook or Outlook Express, pressing one of these buttons gives you the stated result.

Send, of course, only works when you're composing an e-mail.

Finally, the F10-F12 keys seem to have been designated as Miscellaneous keys. You use Spell to invoke the spelling check function and Save to errr... save. And of course, Print allows you to quickly print your documents.

In addition to those F keys, two new keys have been added to the keyboard.

Positioned right after the F keys, are the Undo and Redo keys. Undo seems to work in pretty much anything that supports the Undo function but Redo seems to work only in Microsoft Office applications.

Numpad Keys

Now, let's examine the numpad (number or numeric pad) region of the Office Keyboard. Microsoft designers seem to have given the numpad a fully workable set of calculator style keys! Take a look at this.

The cluster of keys where the Scroll-Lock and PrintScreen keys are have been shifted so that they're directly part of the numeric keypad. Please note that the Insert key from the Page-Up, Page-Down six-key cluster that usually sits to the left of the numeric keypad and above the cursor keys has also been brought into this cluster. I'll get to that later.

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With F-Lock turned off, those four keys at the top allow the user to type formulas without leaving the numeric keypad area. Look, there's even an EQUAL key in there! To allow for quick editing, a Backspace key has also been placed in the area.

Nothing much changed in the actual numeric keypad itself. The only change is in the Numlock key which now works as a TAB key with F-Lock off. I guess they did this is to allow faster input of numerical data between different fields.

As I mentioned just now, the Insert key has been removed from the usual 6-key cluster of Home, End, Page Up, Page Down, etc, etc. In its place, they've given the Delete key a bigger hit area so users can hit it better. Let's face it. How many times have you accidentally hit the Insert key instead of the Delete key?

Again, this new arrangement might confuse users at first. But after a while, you'll settle right in.

BTW, one key was really removed from the keyboard for good - the right Windows key. Buh bye!

Conclusion

Well, after reading through this review, I'm sure a lot of you will have come to one conclusion - 'Why would I need it? I already know all the shortcut keys for those commands'.

True, this keyboard was probably never designed with power users in mind. Most likely, it was designed for people who have just started using Microsoft Office and are trying to learn their way around, or for those who just don't have the time to memorize what each key combination does. For advanced users like myself, the only useful things about this keyboard would be the Application Rocker Switch and the fact that it doesn't make that much noise when I type.

But if you're one of those people who have to keep using the mouse to reach an on-screen command like Spell Check, Print or Cut, then this is the keyboard for you. It'll almost certainly allow you to work a lot faster since you don't have to shift to the mouse as much.

Christmas is coming. So, if you happen to know people who fit the description I mentioned above, this keyboard would make a fantastic gift!

Okay, I'm done. Thanks for reading this extra long review from Marauder!

Source: Adrian's Rojak Pot