My first non-standard keyboard was the Datadesk Smartboard.
It was just over a hundred bucks, back in 1997 or so. Maybe even more than that.
This keyboard was fantastic, especially coming from the standard, straight boards. The keys felt and sounded great, it was fairly compact, was comfortable, and was everything I’d hoped for.
So, thinking it was safe to do so, and being someone who is enthusiastic when I find something good like this, I bought three more, since I used three computers at home and one at work.
I’d had some hand issues, so this was just perfect. Until it wasn’t.
One after the other, each board started typing the wrong thing. I had absolutely no idea how to fix it. So I got in contact with Datadesks’ customer service, and shipped all four off to them for repair.
I never saw them again.
I got this run-around from them, and I know they were delivered. It does make sense though, that a product with a selling price of about a hundred bucks like a keyboard wouldn’t be something anybody would bother to fix, but still. They told me to send them for repair…
But this turned out to be a good thing. I discovered the Microsoft Ergonomic Natural 4000, a better keyboard. The keys were good, more of a standard, membrane keyboard instead of switches, but still good. Not ortholinear like the Datadesk, but it had a better hand-wrest, specialized and programmable audio keys, and eight programmable application keys which were incredibly helpful. A zoom key and two directionals for web surfing were added extras.
Even better though, in the next twenty years, they never, ever broke down and if they did, all one would have to do is buy another one at the nearest office supply store. They were common, unlike the Datadesk board.
But, of course, something bad had to happen.
About 2013 or so, Apple increased their security protocols and Microsoft wasn’t willing to go through the effort of writing updated software, as it apparently was too difficult. For Microsoft. A company not exactly known for secure, safe and solid software in the field of operating systems. I’m sure there’s a good story behind all of that.
But after a year or so, I had to go to the command line in OSX to override the new security protocols so that the keyboard would function normally. And I very much depended also on the Command-Option-Control keys on both sides of the space bar for navigating Adobe programs, my bread and butter. Without any software, the board worked, but Command and Option were backwards on one side. Very annoying.
Shareware and freeware, even paid programs that all claimed to be easy to use, were ineffective in simply swapping those two buttons. Eventually I had to use the Microsoft board along with an Apple board, just for those three keys.
I was optimistic that someday they’d release an updated version of that software for the board… they sold a ton of those keyboards, and time changes things… but it never happened.
Around the first of the year, I finally found a board with the right ergonomics, updated, modern keys, and Command-Control in the correct order on the right side of the space bar… no Control key on that side, but I could make that work. The rest of the Logitech ERGO K860 was excellent, although the extra keys the Microsoft board offered weren’t there. It was still an improvement over using two boards at the same time.
My job had changed, and the logistics of bringing two different boards to work every day, especially a big ergonomic board, that was worth the trouble, but it was trouble.
As of a week ago, I am now using an expensive, but excellent two-piece, fully programmable and adjustable ortholinear LED keyboard. And what an adventure it is!
Learning to type ortholinearly again, but with the hands farther apart, is difficult. And with every key being customizable, and up to thirty-six layers available for customization, one week is not nearly enough time to become fluid typing on this thing. The company, ZSA, recommended not ‘tenting’ the keyboard until the user is acclimated to the board in the flat position, and this was excellent advice.
After one week, I’m still moving key assignments around, experimenting, learning. I actually pulled a few physical keys and re-arranged them. Assigning the individual key LEDs is incredibly helpful in remembering where certain keys are, in addition to the on-screen keyboard layout which responds to every key-press. I’ve got five different layers, and am trying to keep it as simple as possible, but the key ecosystem keeps getting better and better. Lots of learning.
The ZSA Moonlander wasn’t cheap, but it is just what I needed… it’s very portable, too, being in two halves and coming with a portable carrying case. It’s been an adventure learning how to use it, but it’s been paying off, and I’m only on the first week. It’s going to take some time to really know it backwards and forwards, but considering how much I’m at my computer for work and personal tasks, my productivity and hand-health is going to be better than ever.
I also upgraded from the Kensington Expert Turbo Mouse Trackball, which has worked well for twenty-five years, to the Kensington Slimblade, it’s evolutionary replacement. Along with two Apple Magic Trackpads, (Great for scrolling) it is the best setup possible!
Of course, only now do I find a board that is under a hundred bucks that has those precious three keys on both sides of the space bar… I have the name written down somewhere, but it’s a moot point when I have a board like the Moonlander.
To sum up, it’s important to have a keyboard that is functional, good on the hands, and flexible in everything. Something that can be depended on to work, that can be depended upon to change as change is needed. No software that can be subject to bad computer issues or corporate decisions. It’s going to be an adventure learning, and using this board, but finally after all these years, it’s here. I can even change the actual key mechanisms to one of many choices in resistance, sound, and feel! I can even mix-and-match them! When I ordered the Moonlander, I chose from one of at least ten choices!
Also, I’m going to transition from QUERTY to Workman or Colmac once I’m acclimated to this board. Querty isn’t being used, like the layout and basic design of most keyboards, isn’t being used because it’s optimal. It’s being used because people aren’t willing to change to something that is proven to be better. No risk, no effort… no reward. With Querty, the strongest fingers are wasted and the weaker fingers work more than they have to. And with normal keyboards, fingers have to move more than they need to, unlike ortholinear boards.
And rest assured, when I do make the change to another layout from Querty, I’ll have no issues re-arranging the keys!