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Keyboards

6 March 2004

One of the attractive things about using Linux instead of (yuk, spit) Windows is the sense of community that comes with, the feeling that weíre all in this together and helping each other in our struggle against the eunuchs - sorry, showing my age again, I mean the monster that is Microsoft. Which, when youíre a newbie, means that you just absorb a lot of help from other people and put very little back into the pot; which means that after a while a sense of guilt begins to accrete, like tannin inside a teapot. And like tannin inside a teapot it all adds to the taste, because guilt is good, itís the oil in the stew, it lubricates even as it flavours (or am I just being too too English here, or too middle-class? Breathes there a people to whom guilt is not the essential oil that keeps society ticking over, that tastes like the resin in retsina, harsh and astringent and just gotta be there?).

Anyway, one step closer to the point of this: in recent days, neither my hands nor my computer mouse have been working satisfactorily. My hands hurt, on account of long-standing RSI aggravated by all the work Iíve been doing this year, and my mouse squeaks and sticks and jumps and is a right pain. So I have been looking at input devices. I wanted an ergonomic keyboard, and a new mouse. My favourite keyboards are made by Maltron, they are bizarre and exotic and expensive and deeply attractive, except for one detail: theyíre beige, as all computers used to be. These days, thankfully, computers are smartening up. My own is black, and there is no way I could bear to use a beige keyboard. So Iíve been looking for one that is black and ergonomic, and there are precious few around. One of those few - and the only one I could just go into a shop and buy - is, alas, made by the demon Microsoft. Itís hard, for those of us who love Linux and try to live the Linux life, to buy anything made by the eunuchs, sorry, I mean those nice but misguided people in Seattle. But this particular keyboard is wireless, which is an attraction; it comes with a mouse, both wireless and optical, ditto ditto; and best of all advantages, because itís in the shops I can go and try it first, see how it feels, because thatís crucial too.

So Iíve been dithering for a while in my usual dithery way, especially as this is the latest kit, and Linux often doesnít work well with cutting-edge hardware; this particular model is so new that I couldnít find any reports on the net, whether or not it would work with Linux at all.

Today, though, I roped in my friend Harry and we went off and had a play, and - largely because Harry had driven me there, and I didnít want him feeling that Iíd wasted his time as well as my own - I took the plunge and bought it. And brought it home, and read the instructions where it says Ďbefore connecting your new kit, make sure that you load the softwareí, and of course the software is all for Windows and Macs and not at all for Linux, so I just put in the batteries, put in the plugs and switched it on. And here is one small contribution I can make to the Linux community, next time anyone wants to know whether the Microsoft Wireless Optical Pro works with Linux, anyone who thinks to ask Google should be fetched here to find this message: it does. Straight out of the box, no problem. At least, no problem on my set-up: I run SuSE 8.0 on a three-year-old Dell Dimension 8100, so nothing here is new, and it works regardless. There are of course buttons that donít work, that are Windows-specific or else need programming in some clever way I wot not of, but I donít care about that.

Itís an interesting keyboard to use. Iíve had a Microsoft ergonomic before (till it was stolen, three years back), but this is dished in a different dimension, I think, and is going to take a little getting used to. Also some of the peripheral keys are differently shaped or ordered, so I do keep making mistakes. Itís not like the last time, though, when I first made the change from a standard to a divided keyboard. The first day, I thought I would never type again, and Iíve been typing nine-fingered since I was fourteen. The second day was slow and careful but starting to make sense, the third day I was up to speed and by the fourth I think I was faster; I really do recommend the change, as it really does help the RSI. This time Iím pretty much straight back into the swing of it, barring those individual oddities. If you do spot any typos, though, itís the keyboardís fault and not mine, okay? Good...


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© Chaz Brenchley 2004
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.