Mon, 05 May 2003

A keyboard for all tastes and requirements

If you ask the people responsible for procuring new PCs at our government offices about the keyboards, they would probably say who cares. As long as every key registers the correct ASCII character, why bother?

There are a lot of locally made keyboards, of course, as it does not really require a lot of high-tech know-how to make them. And these local keyboards are dirt cheap. Unfortunately, if you are not careful you will get a keyboard that requires a lot of energy each time you punch a key.

Today, most people buy keyboards from Logitech. Local PC assemblers usually bundle their new PCs with Logitech keyboards, too. It is a good choice, as Logitech keyboards are fairly comfortable and generally durable.

Strange as it may sound, Gavin Wu, Logitech's vice president of marketing for the Asia-Pacific region, once said that in the U.S. his company's biggest competitor was Microsoft.

Microsoft still sells its Natural Keyboards, but they cost more and most people do not really like the rubbery feel of the keys.

To a lot of computer users, however, keyboards are very personal. Some people want fancier keyboards to keep them inspired as they work.

If you happen to be in Sim Lim Square in Singapore, you will be amazed by the variety of keyboards on display. They come in all sizes -- from compact to full-size. Some have transparent housings so you can see the mechanical and electronic components. Some have metallic housings, as if to assure you how sturdily built they are.

Do you like all those extra buttons? The stores there have models with a lot of programmable buttons, even a radio dial to adjust your PC's audio volume. The keyboards also come in different colors to set your mood as you work on your PC.

Now there are also keyboards that rely on infrared to register your tapping. They project the image of a keyboard on a flat surface and you just move your fingers and palms as if you are typing on a real keyboard. This type of keyboard is usually used with PDAs, of course.

Ergonomic, split keyboards that can be flexibly adjusted to achieve the highest level of comfort are very rare, unfortunately. So are keyboards for the disabled, which must be specially ordered.

Did you know that there are also keyboards that function as surveillance devices? If you spend too much of your working time browsing adult sites on the Internet, the keyboard will let your boss know by recording your keystrokes, the record of which your boss can retrieve at the end of the day.

Two such keyboards are the InstaGuard 128K Standard and the InstaGuard 256K Standard from a company called InstaGuard Keylogger Keyboards ( Priced at US$129 and $179 respectively, these keyboards can capture every keystroke and record the URL of the websites a user has visited, the e-mail that he has sent out, his instant messaging and chatroom activities, even the passwords that he uses.

The more expensive model has 128-bit encryption added. A Natural Keyboard-like model is also available from the same company.

Surely, if you are a business owner and you see the productivity level of your staff plummet the moment you let them have their own Internet access, these keyboards can be of great help. But to be fair to your employees, make sure they know about the surveillance.

-- Zatni Arbi