Every Windows computer comes with a keyboard and either a mouse or some other form of pointing device, such as a touchpad or pointing stick. The 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.
If what s sitting on your desk and keeping your fingertips blunt is a basic keyboard, you re likely to benefit from an upgrade. 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.
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 .
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.
You don t need to be suffering from carpal tunnel or RSI syndrome 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 it have all the keys you want?
Are the keys arranged where you need them to be?
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 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 computers 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.
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 most 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.
If you don't especially appreciate having your keyboard tethered to your PC by a six- foot cable, you may be drawn by the attractions of wireless keyboards, which let you move the keyboard freely about in a room's distance or so of your computer. But before you invest in a wireless keyboard, be clear on possible problems that they can bring with them.
The main problem is that a wireless keyboard can transmit signals to other wireless receivers in the neighborhood as well as to your receiver. In one documented instance in Stavanger, Norway, the user of a wireless keyboard found that his computer was receiving signals transmitted from another wireless keyboard. From the contents, he learned that the other wireless keyboard was 150 meters (500 feet) and several walls removed from his computer.
The second, and secondary, problem is that you typically won't know if your wireless keyboard is transmitting what you type to another computer as well as to your own. Unless your keystrokes fail to show up on your computer, there's no reason for you to suspect a problem until you receive the unwelcome news from a neighbor.