Every PC and every Mac comes with a keyboard and either a mouse or some other form of pointing device, such as a touchpad or pointing stick. A PC keyboard is usually a basic device that fulfills little more than the minimal requirements of having the right number of keys arranged in a conventional fashion and having a suitable connection to the computer, such as a PS/2 plug, a USB plug, or a wireless connection. Apple has shipped a variety of different keyboards with Macs, many of which have sacrificed usability for style to a greater or lesser extent. PowerBooks and iBooks have laptop-style keyboards rather than full keyboards because they have less space available, but in the main their keyboards are comfortable to use ”as you d hope, because it s difficult to replace them.
If you re currently using the keyboard that came with your PC or Mac, you might benefit from upgrading to a better keyboard. This appendix discusses what kinds of keyboards are available and how to choose a suitable keyboard for your needs. (For help on configuring your keyboard and choosing such accessibility options as will help you, see Chapter 1.)
At the risk of generalizing horribly, keyboards fall into three categories: conventional, serious, and specialized (or strange ) keyboards. The following sections discuss these categories.
First, though, here are general considerations to keep in mind when choosing a new keyboard:
You must choose the keyboard yourself, because only you can tell whether it suits you. One person s dream ergonomic keyboard is another person s carpal tunnel of horrors.
Some specialist keyboard retailers let you rent keyboards (and other gear) for a while so that you can find out whether a particular one suits you before buying it. One example is Keyalt.com ( www.keyalt.com ) in Santa Rosa, CA.
Try to type for several minutes on any keyboard you re considering buying so that you can get a fair idea of its strong points and weak points.
Generally speaking, the more expensive a keyboard is, the higher its build quality should be. But if all you need is a conventional keyboard, you should be able to find a decent one without spending a lot of money. Besides, expense doesn t necessarily bear any relation to comfort . Don t scorn a bargain or clearance keyboard if it s comfortable, solid, and meets your needs.
If you re likely to spill coffee, soda, or water on your keyboard, or shower it with crumbs, you may prefer to stick with a cheaper keyboard so that it costs less to replace. Alternatively, make sure that a keyboard skin (a cover through which you use the keyboard) is available for the model you plan to buy, or find a company that can manufacture custom skins for any keyboard.
If you re prepared to pay extra, you can also get special sealed keyboards designed for industrial environments. Most sealed keyboards tend to cost $100 or more. Less expensive, but adequately sealed for all but the most serious abuse, are flexible keyboards such as the Virtually Indestructible Keyboard range (available from various retailers).
You don t need to be suffering from carpal tunnel or repetitive stress injury (RSI) before you start using an ergonomic keyboard, although sadly for many people this is the normal progression. If you spend several hours or more each day typing, seriously consider an ergonomic keyboard. You should also take such steps as possible to reduce the amount of typing you do ”for example, by using keyboard shortcuts, macros, and features built into your software (such as AutoCorrect or glossary features).
Here are more specific criteria to ask yourself when you lay hands on the keyboard. They re largely obvious, but you ll kick yourself if you skip them.
Does the keyboard have all the keys you want? If you need 16 function keys, don t settle for a keyboard with 12 function keys. If you want volume controls or a power button on your keyboard, make sure it has them.
Are the keys arranged where you need them to be? For example, if you ve set your heart on a keyboard with function keys at the side, keyboards with function keys along the top probably won t interest you. More mundanely, you might prefer specific locations for modifier keys, full- sized arrow keys, or an extra-large [Enter] or [Return] key.
Are the keys the right size ? Standard key spacing is 19 mm from the middle of one key to the middle of the next key.
Is the key travel adequate? ( Key travel is the distance the key moves when you press it.) Key travel of 3 mm is about standard. Many laptop keyboards necessarily have less travel.
Do you like the feel of the keyboard? This is almost entirely subjective : some people like keyboards with a firm feel; others prefer a soft feel; some like a firm response and audible click when a key is pressed, others a subtler response and no audible click.
Does it have the right type of connector for the computer or computers you want to use it with? These days, most PCs use PS/2 connectors ”the kind with a small round connector at the end ”rather than the 5-pin DIN connector (a larger round connector) used on older keyboards. Some legacy-lite or legacy-free computers require USB keyboards. You can get various kinds of keyboard connectors if necessary, but they all cost money and clutter your computing area.
Is the keyboard the color you want? Computer beige is the most widely used color for keyboards, but many black keyboards are available too. Beyond these colors (or noncolors), your choices are limited. The next most popular color after beige and black is perhaps aluminum, with several aluminum keyboards available.
If you re looking for a keyboard for a Mac rather than for a PC, there are a couple of other considerations:
Is the keyboard designed for the Mac? Because Windows PCs outnumber Macs by more than nine to one, most keyboards are designed for Windows PCs and don t have Mac-specific keys. There are hardware and software workarounds for such missing keys, but you probably won t want to use them unless the keyboard is surpassing perfection in all other departments.
Does it have the right type of connector for your Mac? If your Mac is recent enough to run Mac OS X at a good clip, that probably means a USB connector. Any keyboard designed for recent Macs will have a USB connector as a matter of course, so the connector should be an issue only if you re planning to use an older keyboard designed for the Apple Desktop Bus (ADB) or a custom keyboard designed for a PC. Get an ADB-to-USB connector or a PS/2-to-USB connector if necessary.
All of these issues are easy enough to resolve if you can try the keyboard before you buy it. If you must buy without trying, make sure you can return the keyboard if it doesn t suit you.
Most large computer stores carry a variety of keyboards and make the most popular (or best promoted) models available for customers to try. While large stores typically have some of the more widely used ergonomic keyboards, if you need a specialized model, you ll probably do better to visit a specialized computer-ergonomics store.