Jumping on the ergonomic bandwagon

Microsoft Natural Ergonomics Desktop 7000

Admittingly I spend too much time in front of computers, but the thought of using an ergonomic keyboard or mice has never crossed my mind.

A couple of weeks ago I met with Dr. Dan Odell, an ergonomist at Microsoft Hardware, who after describing the risks of repetitive strain injury (RSI) and ergonomics, insisted I should just try them for myself. Being a doctor and all, I took Dan’s advice.

The desktop set I’ve been trying for the most of this week is the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Desktop 7000 which includes the wireless version of the Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 that I’ve since learned to be used by numerous people I know.

What surprised me first was how “right” the keyboard felt. From a glance, the aesthetics of it was a little unsettling, but for the same reasons it looks like a mini volcano on my desk, the huge resting pads and curve makes it practically relaxing for my hands to rest on. I was also equally surprised at my typing speed which was entirely unaffected by the tilt and huge bulge between my hands. My fingers are none the wiser.

Whilst the transition to the mouse wasn’t equally as transparent, it was nothing a little practice couldn’t get over. The tilt of the mouse, which is what makes it ergonomically comfortable to grasp, meant that a pushing motion with the back of my hand resulted in my cursor moving in the north-east direction rather than directly north. A couple hours later, I was pointing to where I wanted to again with pinpoint accuracy.

Of course, none of that mattered if I couldn’t play my beloved PC games. First person shooters and strategy to be exact. Knowing Dan warned me that ergonomic hardware won’t suit everyone, so with a hint of pessimism, I loaded up Team Fortress 2 and Battlefield: Bad Company 2. I’ll just say if scoring first over several rounds isn’t enough proof it works rather well, then I don’t know what is.

But perhaps the best indication of just how much I enjoy this is the fact that switching back to my old keyboard and mice feels like a downgrade. It’s alarming how I used it for so long and not realized how downright uncomfortable it was.

When Dan first told me people who switch to ergonomics rarely switch back, I didn’t believe him. Boy am I late to this bandwagon.

23 insightful thoughts

  1. I too had concerns about gaming with ergonomic hardware. I have also had a positive experience. Glad to see you are a PC gamer, automatically makes you that much cooler.

  2. Did you use the little thing that tilts the keyboard backwards, or did you leave it flat on the desk like on this picture? I don’t get why more keyboards aren’t made that are tilted that way, it feels much more natural to let your hands hang down than having to pull them up constantly, like with all other keyboards.

    1. I left the tilt attachment out for the picture. I was using it for a while without it too, but I’ve got it on now.

    2. What do you think of it? Better? Worse? I rarely see owners of the 4000 actually use it, which I find weird because that’s the sole reason I bought that keyboard.

    3. I think it’s better for typing, but it definietely makes some other functions (ex. the F keys, shortcuts) more difficult. I’ll keep testing it to see how i go.

  3. I got an Ergonimic Keyboard 4000 after I started getting some wrist pain in my left hand. It is really good and after a few hours or use I was pretty comfortable with it and my left arm is pain free.

    I’d go with one of the more expensive ergonomic mice, but I seem to go through mice pretty quickly. Even my Habu couldn’t survive more than a year or so without it starting to double-click on single-clicks. So my mouse budget is now reduced.

    Plus wireless mice are too common. I like my mice with tails.

  4. I’ve been very happily using Microsoft’s Natural Keyboard since the original Natural Keyboard Pro, complete with Windows 3.1 drivers! Regarding my mice configuration, I’ve also explored alternative ergonomic solutions, like the Evoluent’s VerticalMouse, taking the rotation in the mouse in Microsoft’s Natural Desktop to a full 90 degrees. While I personally preferred this mouse (it’s actually very easy to get used to because the mouse buttons are in the same position), my big breakthrough was when I thought about trackballs. While they’ve lost popularity since the early 90’s, I’m a big convert who won’t look back. With increasing desktop space with larger monitors and multiple monitors, mice are impractical devices to navigate from one 30″ monitor to your second 30″ monitor. Trackballs scales with your desktop without eating any additional desk space. I’ve tried a few different trackballs and my personal recommendation is that the larger the ball, the greater comfort over extended usage. Smaller trackballs are fine, however the larger surface area of larger trackballs affords greater comfort in my personal experience. That being said, I’m not a desktop gamer at all and I don’t know whether trackballs can live up to gaming-grade mice.

    1. I went trackball back in 2004 and have never looked back. I even got my rheumatic mother to make the switch, which has helped her alot (and caused her to be more on facebook commenting on my every doing).
      However, even though the guy I bought my first logitech trackman from claimed to use his when playing sniper in rainbow six, my experience is that they’re a no go for gaming, which is why I also used to have a regular mouse plugged in when I still played Day of Defeat

  5. I also bought this set, however I quickly replaced the mouse with Wireless Mouse Explorer, because the one that comes with the set is way to uncomfortable due to the height and angle; my hand started hurting very quickly. This being said, the 4000 keyboard is awesome and MS Mouse Explorer is THE mouse to use. Glad you switched too.

  6. I’ve been using Microsoft Natural keyboards ever since trying one at a temp job a decade ago. I refuse to use anything else if I can help it. My wife was incredibly skeptical of the odd design but she too has become a convert.

    Also, you’ll rarely find a more hardcore gamer than me. These keyboards don’t get in my way whatsoever in any game. Paired with my Microsoft Sidewinder mouse (the one with the changeable weights) I’m just deadly.

    My only complaint about the MS Natural Keyboard 4000 is that it has some lame features that only get in the way. The function key is worthless and only gets pressed by accident, and the zoom slider is a very strange addition. On the other hand I love the media play and skip buttons and the browser forward and back keys are very handy. If only this keyboard had a touchpad so that I could move the mouse cursor while eating with either hand this would be the perfect keyboard.

  7. I bought this self same keyboard and mouse ages ago as I was getting wrist pains and I’d forgotten all about the fact till I read your post. I just use the keyboard/mouse without thinking about it at all now.

  8. Do you use a 10 finger system? I like to try some of these ergonomic systems, but I have reservations about these systems, because I have my “own” system (and after growing up with computers and having more than 20 years of “training” on my own system, I don’t think that the success of me trying a classic 10 finger system is huge…

    1. When I switched to a split, ergonomic keyboard, I had one or two days of trouble adjusting. Then, when I had adjusted, I had trouble whenever I tried to type on a normal keyboard. After a week or so, I was able to switch smoothly.

      Ergonomic keyboards are based on the principle of using your right hand on one set of keys and your left hand on another set, but unless your own system involves constantly crossing your hands when typing I doubt you’ll have a lot of trouble adapting.

  9. I’m thinking about getting Kinesis Advantage (http://www.kinesis-ergo.com/) after Microsoft Natural Multimedia.

    By the way, try to press Ctrl, Shift and Alt from other side of the keyboard (right ctrl + a, left ctrl + p and so on). It’s a bit difficult to get used with it, but you’ll fill better after…

  10. “Being a doctor and all, I took Dan’s advice.”

    I didn’t realize you’re a doctor…. :)

    Switching keyboards can be kind of hard, so I envy Apple’s totally standardized approach, and their keyboards sure are slim and pretty. But it’s a serious and somewhat unhealthy sacrifice. Laptops are really quite a problem in this regard.

    I have a subtly ergonomic Microsoft Wireless Laser Desktop 7000 and love it….

  11. I moved to the MS ergonomic keyboards back when they first came out and I never looked back even a little (though I do miss the forward down slope that the first keyboards had).

    If you still have the ear of someone at MS, could you mention that many of us are sick of being treated like second hand citizens just because we choose the ergonomic keyboards. A little more keyboard bling would go a LONG way – backlit keys, extra gaming function keys are all things I’m sure many of us are willing to pay for (I know I am).

    Say a SKU with everything to co-exist with the current product offerings.

  12. I too have been using a Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 for a couple of years now and I think it’s fantastic. With the amount of time I spend sat at a keyboard (waiting every day for the neural interface to be developed, oh how much easier that would make my life) it seemed silly not to try one.

    I got one for work at first and for 10 minutes or so I literally sat looking at it wondering where to start. It really is quite different to a “normal” keyboard. I recall it took me a couple of weeks to get back to my normal typing speed (which is fairly fast), partly getting used to the keyboard itself and partly breaking some of my “bad typing habits” with regard to which fingers I used for which keys.

    I had no option than to get one for home after that, as using my old home keyboard was torture after a day in the office. Now I use them all the time and am perfectly comfortable with them.

    What’s really interesting is how “hunched up” I feel when using a standard keyboard. My right hand now naturally rests one-to-two keys to the right of where it needs to be on a standard keyboard, and bring it back to the correct keys feels noticeably uncomfortable.

    I also have the tilt attachment in place, and think it’s great. It’s a much more natural way of holding your hands, and it stops you slouching in your chair too. :-)

    Five thumbs up on these for me, I’ll never go back!

  13. I’ve been using the Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 for over 4 years now… and It’s the most amazing feeling. Typing on any other keyboard just feels… icky.

  14. I’ve had the MS Ergo keyboards from day one and haven’t looked back….its a fun few mins on a normal one now….ive managed to convert a few over to them too and made sure that ive got a 4000 at home and work now.

    I must say that its been the best MS product for me ever!


  15. I’ve been typing/keyboarding for 53 years. I don’t have RSI. I did have a ganglion in the 1960s which was surgically removed.

    I believe that RSI is caused by keyboards being positioned incorrectly; specifically on desktops which were built for writing with pen and paper!!! In the ‘old days’ a secretary’s desk was standard height with a lower return on the side. That’s where the typewriter was placed.

    Fingers and wrists need blood flowing through them, therefore having the lower part of the arm at 90 degrees to the upper arm reduces circulation to the hands. This position also means that the hands are constantly pushing back on the wrists. The same applies when a keyboard in placed on a desk or table which were never intended for that purpose.

    Ergonomic keyboards aren’t necessary. Use the equipment on the proper furniture and take proper breaks.

    I learned to type on a Royal manual typewriter. I’ve never had carpal tunnel syndrome, and never will – my laptop is ALWAYS lower than my elbows. And I type upwards of 110 wpm.

  16. oops – should have proof-read my own stuff! Should read: “… is placed on a desk … ”

    And it helps if you train yourself to touch-type rather than have to constantly look at the keys.

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