Microsoft Optical Desktop Pro: Thumbs Down

Microsoft Optical Desktop ProI’m in the market for a new ergonomic keyboard, and picked up the Microsoft Optical Desktop Pro, a package containing Microsoft’s Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer 2.0 and the Microsoft Wireless Natural Multimedia Keyboard – their top-of-the-line ergonomic combo.

I’ve used a Microsoft Optical Mouse Blue for nearly two years, and liked it. The Blue has an ergonomic but symetrical shape, so that it can be used with either hand, and a scroll wheel with detents (it makes a clicking sound as you turn it). It’s been one of the better mice I’ve used, but it goes through batteries a little quicker than I’d like.

Installation of the mouse and keyboard went smoothly, and they worked right off, with no need to futz around with different RF channels or anything. Both components work off one base station, so there was only one cord to connect to the computer. The package work with either a single USB connection, or with seperate mouse and keyboard connections. I used the USB.

The Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer 2.0 is the latest generation of Microsoft’s wireless mice, and it was pretty decent. Cursor movement was smooth, and the optical tracking worked well with every surface I tried it on. The mouse has a more ergonomic shape that fits the right hand better than the Blue, but its shape does not work well for the left hand. The new mouse also has a tilt wheel, so that the wheel not only supports up-and-down scrolling (by rotating the wheel), but side-to-side scrolling as well (by pushing the entire wheel assembly left or right). This is one of those features that sounds more useful than it is. In practice, there are very few web sites that require horizontal scrolling, and the feature didn’t work in any other applications I tried it in.

I had three other issues with the scroll wheel. First, this one has a smooth feel, rather than a “clicky” feel. The wheel worked fine, but I preferred the physical feedback that the detents provide on the Blue. This wheel, with its smooth scrolling, felt rather mushy and sluggish.

Second, the force required to depress the wheel and cause a mouse click was considerably greater on the new mouse than on the Blue. This would definitely be an issue for people with repetitive stress problems, as finger strengh is one of the problems for those suffering RSI. The wheel on the new mouse was simply harder to click than the old mouse.

Third, the software driver that came with the mouse (IntelliPoint 5.2) messed up mouse-wheel clicks. in FireFox, for instance, clicking the mouse wheel on a web page link usually results in opening the link in a new tab. With IntelliPoint installed, clicking the mouse wheel resulted in focus shifting to another application, as if the Ctrl-Tab key combination was pressed. I imagine that this was fixable by tweaking the driver properties, but I didn’t try this.

So the mouse had its problems, but it was usable. The keyboard was another matter. Simply put, it was awful. The ergonomic shape of the split keyboard was fine, and the keyboard had some potentially-useful multimedia and hotkeys along to the top edge, but the keys themselves were the problem. Made of a semi-translucent black plastic, they looked chintzy, and felt worse. The keyboard had a mushy feel, and the spacebar in particular was difficult to press. Pressing the right side of the spacebar resulted in the key rocking back and forth, a “click” sound, but no keypress until the key was pressed further. Also, the plastic of the keytops is very shiny, and I had difficulty reading the text on the keys under certain lighting conditions. With a beige keyboard I have similar glare issues, but no trouble reading the keytops.

Finally, the keyboard has no LEDs for CapsLock and NumLock. Rather, a small window pops up on the screen to show you the state of the keys, but it quickly disappears, leaving you no way to discern the state of these keys except to press them again and see what happens. I imagine that the LEDs were eliminated to improve battery life, but they are missed.

I’ll be returning the Microsoft Optical Desktop Pro and trying something else. The keyboard problems make me leery of trying any of Microsoft’s other keyboards. The mouse is probably something I could live with, but since it’s part of the package it’ll be gone too, and I’ll go back to old Blue.

Randy Rasa

Randy is an engineer/programmer/web designer who has suffered from repetitive strain injury off and on for over a decade.

4 Comments:

  1. Pingback: RSI-Relief » New Microsoft Keyboard - Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000

  2. Check out the Perific Mouse. It is the only mouse I have found that can be used as a desktop mouse as well as a vertical mouse. Site is http://www.buyperific.com

  3. Have you tried the Logitech Cordless Comfort Duo? I’ve used Logitech mice and keyboards almost exclusively for several years now and think highly of them. I just got the Cordless Comfort Duo and so far I’m very satisfied with it. Not nearly as many buttons and whatnots on the keyboard as the Microsoft model, and a comfortable mouse for a lefthand user.

  4. I have this package at work and I like it a lot. I have no trouble with my space-bar. I don’t use the “depress wheel” feature on the mouse but it is hard to press it down. I have no problem reading the keys but I’m touch typist so it wouldn’t matter if I did. I like that the mouse is always on, on my old mouse I had to press a button to wake it up.
    I agree with you on the missing LEDs.
    IMO the worst thing is that by default the F keys have alternate functions so every time my PC is turned on, I have to press the F Lock button to restore the F function to those keys. I use the F keys quite often, most people don’t.
    The battery life is great, over a year from single sets of AAs, admittedly I installed high quality batteries in the beginning.

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