The most surprising thing at the showcase was the “Comfort Zone", where my eyes nearly popped out on stalks at the sight of a split keyboard. I thought these things had long since died out, but here they were – suitably pimped out – for 2005. Apparently two factors have led to their return: 1. that a hardcore group of split keyboard lovers has been harking on at the Evil Lord to make its first new model in five years and 2. recent medical evidence has allegedly confirmed the design is much better for the natural posture of our fingers and wrists.
Of course, the same old argument remains: learn to type on one of these and it messes up your ability to type on a laptop… That said, I do have to admit that the “Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000” (above) did feel usually comfortable and if laptop makers would start incorporating this curvature into their machines I could be tempted to give them another go. Certainly, Microsoft expects – in the new medical light – for there to be a resurgence of interest in the design and, if corporations start buying them up en mass for fear of health lawsuits in the US, a change could be in the wind. Get the 4000 in September for about £50.
Skipping merrily on I came to two tables of meeces. One was inherently practical with the company’s full range of current products (above), including the recently previewed Laser Mouse 6000 in both its wired and wireless forms. The other was more bizarre. Apart from featuring an array of clay moulded mice (to illustrate the manufacturing process from start to finish) it had what I can only describe as a mouse torture chamber.
These sadistic images essentially show just want any new design from Microsoft has to put up with. On the left is a cable test aimed at checking the resilience of the… well, you get it. On the right, this fetishist image is actually an advanced button tester. Wonder how your little fella puts up with all that HL2/Doom3/Counter Strike/Windows abuse… the answer is here.
The final part of the event showed off Microsoft Digital Image 2006. This year’s (technicall – linguistically – next year’s) edition of the all-round photo editing, organising, tagging and sharing package boasts major enhancements to the Library section of the software introducing keywords and hierarchical categories to help sort large collections. Photo Story 3.1 has also had a radical overhaul, but since it is available free on the Microsoft site it takes a little punch out of the bundle. Both Standard and Suite editions are out now costing just under £25 and £50 respectively.
So all-in-all, the Lion’s Den was more of a pussycat’s basket. Nothing too scary apart from the return of the split keyboard... relearning how to type all over again, that’s a nail biter!