- Microsoft discontinued most of the ergonomic keyboards, the first of which appeared nearly 30 years ago.
- The news caused the congregation to mourn.
- “It was really fun to use,” said Jeff Atwood, co-founder of the Stack Overflow programming question-and-answer site, referring to the original Microsoft Natural Keyboard from 1994.
Brittany Matter’s home desk features the mouse, keyboard, and number pad that came in the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop collection, which has been discontinued. She puts the keyboard in a backpack when she travels, because she likes to feel comfortable when she’s working.
When Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a note In January that there would be “changes in our suite of devices,” the news had unsettling significance for people like Brittany Matter.
A freelance writer in Olympia, Washington, Mater is a fan of the Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard, the first version the company began selling in nearly 30 years. She even brought her keyboard and mouse with her when she flew to Hawaii for a few days earlier this month.
Nadella’s statement meant the end of her beloved accessory.
“Have you ever had fainting symptoms?” Article said in an interview. “It’s the pain that creeps up the back of your neck. It prevents you from moving your neck left and right, and then your ability to move is completely diminished. This is the pain you get when your mouse and keyboard aren’t comfortable.”
Consoles weren’t a huge business for Microsoft, which became a household name due to its ubiquitous PC software, and then got big into gaming with the Xbox. Now, a large portion of Microsoft’s business comes from the use of its cloud services by businesses, schools, and government agencies.
But since entering the keyboard business in 1994 — four years before market leader Logitech — Microsoft has attracted legions of fans for its ergonomic offerings. While the company will continue to produce keyboards, it is departing its more popular ergonomic products as part of a broader effort to prioritize growing categories.
The Microsoft Natural Keyboard, beige, has divided the letter keys into two groups so that the typist’s left hand is slightly tilted to the right, and vice versa. Windows keys appeared on either side of the space bar.
“It’s been really fun to use,” said Jeff Atwood, co-founder of the software question-and-answer site Stack Overflow. “It looked cool. You could see they were trying to do something. It wasn’t just aesthetics. It had a purpose.”
Mater discovered ergonomic keyboards about a decade ago, when she was working for Zulili. The e-commerce company gave her an ergonomic keyboard and mouse, which lessened her wrist pain.
Then, she went the Apple route and used her laptop’s built-in keyboard. Then, four years ago, she found herself in a freelance role with Marvel, which wasn’t giving her her gear.
“I needed something for $100 or less,” Mater said.
Wirecutter, the New York Times product review site, recommended a keyboard from Microsoft. She went to Best Buy and bought the Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop, which has a separate mouse, keyboard, and number pad that she can put next to the keyboard.
Within a year, two of my keycaps blew off.
“I kept wearing it and kind of dealing with it,” she said. “But then I remembered, I have this guarantee.”
The item was returned to Best Buy, who gave it a replacement. The new group has held up ever since. And now when she travels, Mater stows the keyboard in her Chrome Industries backpack.
“It’s kinda long, so it fits inside,” she said.
When the Microsoft Natural Keyboard hit the market, it caught the attention of Matt Steinhoff, who was working as a systems administrator for a Florida newspaper. People in the news have become concerned that some keyboards may leave them with repetitive strain injuries. The Microsoft keyboard seemed strange to Steinhoff, but he bought one anyway after finding a coupon for it.
“It was a learning curve,” Steinhoff said. “I’ve had a lot of quirky looks. But once I got used to it, I felt comfortable. Logically, it would have made sense if the wrists were in a better position.”
Steinhoff became an evangelist for the product. He switched newspapers in 1998 and bought the newer model, the Microsoft Natural Keyboard Elite. His mother, a retired librarian in West Palm Beach, Florida, also got one.
Lila Steinhoff, a retired accountant, still uses Microsoft Natural Keyboard Elite, which was released in 1998.
However, the Natural Keyboard Elite was not a universally loved product.
The arrow keys are arranged in a diamond shape. Microsoft designed it this way because some people had complained that the previous keyboard took up too much space on a desk, said Hugh McLone, who was a senior user experience researcher for the company.
However, the updated design made it impossible to game or curl around on a spreadsheet, Steinhoff said. “They are not in the right position.”
To critics of the Diamond Equity Group, McIlone said these words: “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
By 2005, Steinhoff had started a new job. He got Microsoft’s Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, which reverted the arrow keys to a more traditional inverted-T orientation.
McIlone has been designing the 4000 for seven years.
The new keyboard has a taller bump in the middle, and certain keys are mapped inward and up so users don’t have to reach their fingers as far. It wasn’t just meant to be comfortable. McElhone also paid attention to performance and attractiveness.
A study showed that 22 out of 23 people preferred the architecture of the Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 over the older Microsoft Natural Keyboard Pro. It has become the best-selling aftermarket wired keyboard in the United States, according to Circana Data.
“I am ecstatic!” Atwood wrote in his book Horror coding Blog after buying one.
Steinhoff used his own for 11 years. The replacement lasted another six years. In 2022, he bought a Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard for his home in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and another when he worked at a client’s office.
From top to bottom, Matt Steinhoff’s home collection includes the Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard he uses every day, the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Desktop 7000 that someone gave him and his old Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, which he keeps as a backup.
Neither model was ideal for Steinhoff, but he appreciated their affordability. And relying on them all these years was probably a kind of preventive measure. His brother recently had surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome.
“I’d definitely be put off if I had an ergonomic keyboard,” he said.
As for his mom’s keyboard, the Steinhoff family knows not to touch it even when they update her computer every 10 years or so.
“I really, really, really love my keyboard,” she wrote in an email to her son. “No, you can’t have it.”
A lot of software developers at Microsoft love them, too, Eddie Adams, the company’s director of ergonomics, said in a 2022 interview.
“I think it’s because people are used to it,” she said.
Atwood said he understands why Microsoft chose to step back from the market after so many years. For example, keyboards have exploded in popularity, and people are posting videos on social media of themselves assembling them. In the 1990s, the average person who bought a computer used the keyboard in the box.
At Atwood’s desk in his home in Berkeley, California, he sits at an iridescent keyboard that someone designed for him.
said Atwood, who announced in 2013 that he had collaborated with WASD Keyboards on a simple mechanical keyboard called code. “They really deserve a great deal of the credit in terms of the hardware. That wasn’t appreciated, in my opinion. They really moved things forward.”
A Microsoft spokesperson told CNBC in an email that the company is “focusing on the range of Windows PC accessories under the Surface brand.”
McLoone owns a Microsoft Wireless Comfort Desktop 5050, whose keyboard uses the curved design he pioneered before he left Microsoft in 2009. The keys are set up to encourage good posture, with larger keys in the middle. Microsoft’s contemporary Sculpt Comfort Desktop suite includes a keyboard that uses a similar approach.
The keyboard is not available on the Microsoft website, although it is still there Available on Amazon. One person in Japan bought 10 products from Amazon after hearing the news that Microsoft had stopped manufacturing the product.
What does McLoone suggest?
“I don’t know. Buy the next best thing. Stock it up,” said McLone, who is now senior director of user experience research at T-Mobile.
Other versions of older Microsoft keyboards are similarly unavailable but can still be found elsewhere online at the moment.
Microsoft still sells the Surface Ergonomic Keyboard, which was introduced in 2016. Although it’s out of stock on the company’s website, it “remains part of the Surface-branded line of PC accessories,” says a company spokesperson. . The model costs $129.99 on Amazon, which is twice the price of the discontinued Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard.
Other companies, including Logitech, still make ergonomic keyboards. But that’s a little consolation for people like Matter.
“I am so devastated,” Mater wrote in an email. “I’m going to have to buy another set as a backup before they stop selling it.”
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