A kinder type of keyboard;Keyboards;Education

15th May 1998 at 01:00
Despite the stunning advances of speech-to-text, keyboards are still the most common input devices for computers. So, given that design and layout are crucial to a user's health, which keyboard should you choose? After all, RSI can be irreversible.

Not surprising then that interest in ergonomic keyboards is increasing. Operating a flat, conventional keyboard involves almost maximum hand extension and sustained muscle tension. Microsoft and Apple both offer ergonomic keyboards, but the most radical offering is probably the Maltron.

Developed in 1976, the two-hand keyboard is, on first sight, visually shocking. (Maltron also does single-hand keyboards.) Squat and bulbous, it houses two concave bowls, each of which has an angled set of ergonomically positioned keys which fit the shape of the hands and the varying finger lengths. The design is intended to eliminate wrist twist and reduce movement and tension. The numeric keypad is positioned between the two key clusters rather than on the extreme right of the keyboard.

The newer models have a trackball in the wrist rest area of the central number pad and can be operated comfortably by either thumb. This does away with the need for a mouse. Maltron keyboards are compatible with PCs, Macintosh and Acorn and are used by many large corporations, including the BBC and the Inland Revenue. Unfortunately, the price is a deterrent (pound;375).

The curved, convex style of the Microsoft Natural keyboard (pound;65) creates two keypads for the hands which are also supported by a palm rest running the length of the keyboard. The QWERTY layout is staggered and slopes outward to provide, Microsoft claims, a natural contour for the hands. On the underside is a hinged rail to adjust height.

Despite its contoured appearance, the Microsoft Natural isn't so very different from a conventional keyboard and it may be a little too large for youngerstudents or typists with small hands.

Apple's Adjustable Keyboard (pound;120) has the same, smooth ergonomic look as the Microsoft Natural but features an adjustable split, hinged at the top, which enables users to position their hands in the most comfortable way and eliminate the sideways bend of the wrist which can be a factor in keyboard induced injuries.

The Apple Adjustable Keyboard has a pair of sloping palm rests that can be attached to the front of the keyboard. A separate numeric keypad - including function keys - can be used alone or connected to the main board.

Maltron,15 Orchard Lane, East Molesey, Surrey KT8 0BN Telfax: 0181 398 3265 email: sales@maltron.com

website: http:www.maltron.com

Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard

Details from RM 01235 826 868

Apple Adjustable Keyboard

From Apple dealers

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