Shock! Horror! Microsoft release usable keyboards!

Many of us at Microsoft have hated our own keyboards for a number of years. I personally am a natural keyboard fan, and I hoarded the original "good" Natural Keyboard and the only decent follow-up, the Natural Keyboard Pro. Since these great keyboards were produced, the MS keyboards went downhill fast for me.

The first sign of insanity was the rearrangement of the cursor keys from an inverted T, as they have been since the dawn of time, into an actual cross arrangement. Then the insert/delete pad was randomly re-arranged on each new model, and LEDs for caps lock etc seem to get very hard to find. But the final straw was the F-lock feature for sure: this made the function keys not work as function keys until you pressed F-lock. And if your machine rebooted, F-lock was off again.Trying to get into a BIOS via F1 was an exercise in futility with one of these things.

Here on MS Campus there are occasional "fire sales" and I did buy a pile of not-current MS keyboards for $10-$20 a pop, and I have to say that many of them were not worth even that much. They suffered some of the above ailments and all of them had the dreaded F-lock. I did adopt a wireless natural one at home, but its F-lock still bothers me immensely and the oversized Delete is a huge pain.

However, today I am very pleased to announce an apparent end to the insanity: Microsoft has released some new keyboards including a sensible looking natural keyboard that I am highly likely to pay money for! Hoorah! Its F-lock remembers its status across a reboot. It has the classic insert/delete/cursor key arrangement. It even has a USB plug. I don't know what its like to type on yet, that will have to wait for another day, but at last someone seems to be listening. Thank You Microsoft Hardware.

The main Hardware web site hasn't yet been updated, but go here for further info.

Comments (24)
  1. I hate that stupid F key… Remembering status across reboots is good, I always wished there was a hardware toggle for bootup state.

  2. tzagotta says:

    I was a long-time (fiercely) loyal user of MS Natural keyboards, but two factors made me change:

    1. Cordless – I HATE the cord and needed that to go away

    2. The Logitech laser mouse – there is simply no comparison (so far at least)

    So I tried out a Logitech MX 3100 set. It has many of the things you don’t like – "new" layout of navigation keys, "F mode" and non-split layout. At first, I didn’t like it much, but I stuck with it, and and after a couple of days, I quickly got used to it.

    The F mode is really a non-issue, since it always comes up to the previous state (enabled), and I also got used to and started to like the nav key arrangement, especially the larger Delete key and moving the insert key "out of the way" (I realize now that I only had one program that used that key, and not I rarely use that program any more either).

    I spend 60-80 hours/week using the keyboard and mouse, so comfort is important. I don’t personally notice much/any difference in comfort between split and non-split – it seems to be more the case of getting used to one or the other. I can’t imagine how a split keyboard can affect RSI much, but I am not an expert.

    The new MS keyboard looks really nice, but I’ll be sticking with my MX3100 because I can’t even imagine having a cord again, or giving up my laser mouse. I think MS kind of missed the boat in these two areas – hopefully we’ll see some products like this in the near future.

  3. There is a reg hack around which inverts the meaning of the F-Lock key so that they work as expected after reboots. I used a natural multimedia keyboard for more than a year with that.

  4. Des Browne says:

    This F-Lock is the worst feature ever, and these new keyboards solve nothing. I use a keyboard/mouse/video switch to regularly switch between 4 PC’s; to do this I just hit the print screen key on my keyboard. Sounds simple enough and was until I purchased the Natural Multimedia Keyboard with F-Lock. Now to switch between PC’s I have to turn F-Lock off (to enable the Print Screen key), hit print screen and then hit F-Lock to re-enable the Function Keys. Do this more than a few times a day and it gets really, really annoying. With the switch costing about 7 times what the keyboard cost, I know which one I’ll be tossing first.

  5. I’m still using (and buying new ones every time I break one!) a Microsoft Natural Elite. I got used to the weird arrows and home/end buttons fine after a while, and quite frankly I can’t find a decent new keyboard that doesn’t suck. F-Lock is horrible, but the battery life of the wireless ones are aweful if you’re using it all day long, and the Wireless Comfort keyboards that MS released last year (I’ve had 3 all from different stores with different lot numbers the whole deal) all stick the keys on sometimes and run a line of characters for a while, drives you nuts, especially when you’re a touch typer. I can’t imagine a hunt and peck who won’t see it…

    Give me a MS Natural Elite with the media buttons at the top and mayble that scroll while thing on the side, and the original Natural Keyboard’s raising bar that tilted it back and I’d be in heaven. Unfortunately all of the new "comfort" keyboards are less and less split, which is horrible, because I get carpal tunnel syndrome on them like crazy. (just like a regular keyboard)

    And the mice… ugh. Release a left handed version of your best mouse please! and make it rechargable like the Logitech ones! 3 weeks on a set of batteries is aweful!

    Why can no one make left handed mice for the main stream? The logitech mx1000 is fantastic, if you’re right handed. I mean there are more lefties in the world than blacks and blacks get their own TV network (two if you count UPN…) so why can’t we have mice when all they have to do is flip the mold????

  6. Dave Arkley says:

    I still use a MS Office keybaord at work and home, and find the F lock frustrating. Also it’s getting increasingly difficult to find suport under newer operating systems (XP x64, Vista). It’s bizarre that my preferred Linux disto (SUSE) supports the keyboard better than MS latest OS’s.

    However I still persist because of those Cut, Copy and Paste buttons on the left, I’m a software developer and use those keys a whole lot. So do the rest of my team, we all use MS Office keyboards.

    Now if someone could combine Cut, Copy and Paste buttons, a sensible default F-lock, wireless USB connectivity and drivers for all MS OS’s they’d have at least 20 sales right here.

  7. barrkel says:

    The thing I hate most about the MS keyboards is the missing insert key. Messing with the classical rectangle of 6 keys, ins / del / home / end / pgup / pgdn, is a sure way to lose a programmer’s support, especially considering the years spent honing quick text-editing skills.

    Since I type with a Dvorak layout, Ctrl+XCV aren’t good Cut/Copy/Paste keys.

    Shift+NumPad-0 isn’t a good insert key, since it requires the numlock key to be off; the numpad keys do operate as cursors when you type them with the Shift key, but you can’t double-shift to get an insert out of 0.

    And, of course, so many copycats out there are now producing unusable keyboards too. It’s unforgivable.

  8. Jeff Parker says:

    You know I got to laugh, I really thought I was the only one that hoarded keyboards. I have my favorite Logitech keyboard which came to be my favorite when MS was messing around with all the arrow keys and stuff. I was going through a rough patch there for some reason and managed to spill coffee, Mountain Dew, Milk etc into about 8 keyboards in a month some keyboards after I bought them got them home I just couldn’t get used them. Anyway I finally found a good logitech keyboard that felt good all the keys were in the right place so I went out and purchased 10 of them. 1 for work one for home. Now either fortunately or unfortunately since I bought 10 of them almost 3 years ago I haven’t had to replace a single one. It always amazed me when I was going through all those keboards that Microsoft was messing with the keyboard configuration so much. I wondered if they tested them out amongst their own employees. The keyboard is one of the most important things on a computer really.

  9. Andy Babiec says:

    I’m also a big fan of the Natural Keyboard Pro – have 3 stockpiled now.

    I refuse to buy any of the keyboards without the arrow keys with the inverted T layout and the standard 3 across, 2 down Insert/Delete layout. I tried one of the newer ones one time and I kept hitting the wrong keys all the time. So I gave the keyboard away.

    I didn’t even know about the F-lock issue – man that must be a pain.

  10. Andy Pennell says:

    Rory: the reg hack doesnt help getting into the BIOS wi a function key. F-lock was a broken feature that we should never have shipped in its original state IMHO.

    Des: Print Screen has been fixed in these new keyboards, it is claimed. Lets hope so.

  11. Mike Dunn says:

    Can a non-MS person buy leftover MS Natural Pros anywhere? (Don’t suggest Ebay, I don’t use Ebay.) I have only one of those, and I care for it and protect it like it was my child.

  12. Andy-Pennell says:

    Mike: Its impossible to get leftover Natural Pros even at Microsoft: those of us in the Natural Fan Club have been hoarding our babies for years, ever since things went a bit crazy over in Hardware-land. You could try PCRecycle and similar places.

  13. This is good news, finally I can see about upgrading natural pro, but still, no wireless???

  14. Piers Haken says:

    nice! it’s greaet to see that someone in the hardware team realized there’s a market for natural keyboards with the classic layout. I have a collection of Natural Pro’s. I just bought another one on EBay for $50+ for spare parts – the matrix tracks seem to be somewhat soluble in orange juice 😉

  15. zzz says:

    I like the new keyboard design but I am wary of buying MS hardware since the ones I have do not tend to last more than 3 months and replacing them many times is hardly environmental thinking.

    10 years ago we had keyboards and mouses that lasted a … wait .. THEY STILL WORK (almost like new, honest)! But I like some of the new quick buttons and such. The old ones use PS2 too which is hard to find on a laptop.

    So message to MS/Logitech hardware: Show me data that your hardware last atleast 3 years minimum and I’ll consider buying again from you.

    Imagine how big junkyard would be needed for all those crappy MS/Logitech keyboard/mouses, probably size of Pluto!

  16. Andy-Pennell says:

    Well I tried one for a few minutes. The good news is the layout – it appears to be fully sane. Some of the keys are a strangely large (e.g. T), but it looks livable with. However, the bad news is the feel: it is SUPER mushy. It feels like a $10 kbd, real soft. Nothing like the Natural Original or Pro. It might be a deal breaker for work: I type all day, and I need it to feel right. I might survive using it at home, where I type a lot less. Disappointing though.

    One bonus: it has a faux leather covering on the front, which I felt compelled to caress. Several times. Weird.

  17. Andy-Pennell says:

    Plus it is USB only: no more PS/2. Makes it hard to use a KVM, or get into an older BIOS.

  18. Robert Ragno says:

    I have found that there is a fix for the F Lock issue. If F Lock is held down when the keyboard is powered up, it starts up in the On state. As a result, the fix is as easy as taking a hot glue gun and gluing the key down forever.

    This was particularly annoying with a docking station, where the state would reset every time the tablet was removed.

  19. Yeah, I too hated the F Lock "feature." But I couldn’t get by without my comfy Natural Keyboard, and I didn’t want ot shell out $200-300 for another co.’s ergonomic keyboard.

    Take heart, guys. Here’s a simple registry change that flips the F-Lock setting each time you boot:

    F Lock Flip

    Cheers, Andy

  20. Robert Ragno> I have found that there is a fix for the F Lock issue. If F Lock is held down when the keyboard is powered up, it starts up in the On state. As a result, the fix is as easy as taking a hot glue gun and gluing the key down forever.

    I was excited when I saw this, for two reasons:

    _ It’d be a much simpler fix to recommend to non-computerhead friends.

    _ I can’t use the F Lock Flip hack myself, since I switched to Linux several months ago (which, having said that, is VASTLY superior to M$, if you can tolerate the brief learning curve—but remember, guys, there was a learning curve with Windows, as does any hi-tech stuff).

    It didn’t work for me, though. I held down F Lock while I turned on the computer, then released it. I let the boot finish, shut down, then restarted. No F Lock light. Am I doing something wrong? (This isn’t OS-related, since it deals with a pre-OS part of the boot.) If you have time, please let me know at ander5151 [at the wonderful domain of] Thanks.

  21. Oops, sorry about the redundant posts. I wanted to add my email, but I guess I didn’t catch the first "Submit" in time.

  22. Hi everyone.  

    Thank you for mentioning my F Lock page.  Just wanted to let you guys know that I updated the page.  The method that I previously used was the scan code mapper, which unfortunately didn’t help those that used USB connections.  I’ve now included a method that works with USB keyboards; however, you need to have Intellitype Pro (5.2 or higher).

    Give it a try/read and hopefully it is something that will be useful to you.

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