Despite the promise of voice recognition and the allure
of HAL, the talking (and listening) computer from the
film 2001: A Space Odyssey, the vast majority
of us still peck at a keyboard and push around a mouse
to get our computers to do what we want.
could be had by finding a company to design a single
keyboard to my exact specifications.
Voice recognition, except for those unable to use their
hands, remains a slower, less-productive input technology.
I recently went on another odyssey in search of the
perfect input device, tired of the wear and tear on
my body that my current setup was causing. I was periodically
pinching nerves on the same side of my neck as the arm
I used to reach for my ergonomic mouse. The pain would
last only a day or two, but it was a warning.
Computer mice cause the most computer injuries, says
Deborah Quilter, author of The Repetitive Strain
Injury Recovery Book and the Web site RSIHelp.Com
From having previously tested out different mice and
trackballs, I concluded it wasn't my mouse itself that
was causing me problems but my repetitively reaching
So I hunted around for keyboards with built-in pointing
devices, which would let me keep my arms close to my
body, and for other ways to heal myself. The good news
is that I believe I've succeeded, even though I didn't
find the perfect solution. The bad news is that my solution
may not work for you. Though we all share much of our
physiology, we're all different as well. On the other
hand, perhaps one of the products I looked at that didn't
work for me will work for you.
At the high end, the DataHand Ergonomic Keyboard [http://www.datahand.com],
starting at a pricey $995 and with a steep learning
curve, keeps the motion of your wrists, arms, and shoulders
to an absolute minimum. Consisting of two modules into
which you place your fingertips, it's a device to consider
when less-radical options haven't worked.
The Kinesis Evolution Keyboard [http://www.kinesis-ergo.com]
is a clever, versatile split keyboard onto which you
place a touchpad—either on the right or left modules
or optionally a touchpad on each. Starting at $299,
it comes with a built-in palm rest, which you may like,
but I didn't. It prevented me from using a wrist rest
I earlier had custom built to keep my forearms high
off the keyboard and stopping my wrists from bending
up, a frequent cause of wrist injuries.
The Focus 7200 Trackball Keyboard, distributed among
others by Fentek Industries [http://www.fentek-ind.com],
is very affordable, starting at $45.95, and the trackball
is in the front of the keyboard, where it should be.
But the keys are too wobbly for my taste, and the location
of the Power key—where the Page Up key is on many
other keyboards—caused me to mistakenly power
down my computer several times while working.
The unit I settled on was Unicomp's Endurapro 104 [http://store.yahoo.com/pckeyboards/keyboards.html],
a $99 device that's almost perfect. It features the
same kind of built-in pointing stick used on laptop
computer keyboards and the same "tactile click"
keys found on classic IBM keyboards. My only real gripe
was the small Enter key, though it would have been nice
also if the unit were programmable and came with a USB
instead of a PS/2 connector.
Perfection could be had by finding a company to design
a single keyboard to my exact specifications. No such
luck. DS International [http://www.dsi-usa.com]
of Glendale, Ariz., requires a minimum order of 500
keyboards, with development costs typically ranging
from $50,000 to $75,000 per project and manufacturing
costs added to this.
Whatever your hardware, reducing the use of your pointing
device—mouse or otherwise—can help. What's
more, despite the ergonomics of pointing devices built
into keyboards, you can't move around as quickly with
them as you can with a separate mouse.
Keyboard shortcuts are one solution, though they require
you to memorize them. At the most basic, for instance,
pressing the Control and S keys saves a file, preventing
you from having to move the mouse pointer to the File
menu and select Save. Check out the sites below for
advanced shortcuts built in to popular programs.
Another solution is using a macro program to create
even more advanced shortcuts yourself, which you can
do along with using keyboard shortcuts. By automating
frequently used procedures, a macro program can save
on both mousing and keyboarding. EZ Macros [http://www.ezmacros.com],
at $29.95, is the best I've found.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated
columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About
the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at