my recent reads..

Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters; From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima
Power Sources and Supplies: World Class Designs
Red Storm Rising
Locked On
Analog Circuits Cookbook
The Teeth Of The Tiger
Sharpe's Gold
Without Remorse
Practical Oscillator Handbook
Red Rabbit

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Desktop Keyboards Stuck in Design Limbo

Keyboards are terrific examples of how bad design can get stuck in a rut, unable to overcome inertia. Everyone says qwerty is a bad idea, yet I couldn't imagine using anything else now since it's use is so ingrained.

But another aspect of keyboard design that has me really grumpy is the whole numeric keypad appendage on desktop keyboards. It is a holdover from the days when users were "data entry clerks". But we are stuck with it (Microsoft only have two keyboard models without it, while ALL Logitech models are saddled with this cancer Postscript: Dean Chu corrected me here; Logitech's diNovo models don't have the numeric keyboard).

This started to really annoy me of late, because I've been switching between a laptop during the day, and a desktop at night.

Working with a desktop keyboard again was feeling really strange and difficult, but after some reflection I realised the problem. My right-hand is used to shifting all the time between jkl; and the mouse. On the laptop, this is a subtle and effortless gesture. On the desktop, its like playing table tennis.

The fact that virtually all laptop designs eschew the separate numeric keypad should be proof that it is evolutionary dead wood.

So this is my grumpy call for all keyboard manufacturers to wake up their snoozing product managers/designers and actually innovate for once. Fix this ergonomic nightmare! At least give us some choice ... integrate it with function keys like laptops; use separate USB numeric keypads; even consider sticking it on the left-hand side of the keyboard.

And for all those poor souls who really are still data entry clerks, I'm sure there will be no-brand outfits from China knocking out standard 102-key designs for years to come.

Is it just me? Did I get up on the wrong side of the bed today, or do others feel this way too?

Postscript 9-Feb-2009 ... hat tip to mqt for linking Trevor Blackwell's solution: just chop it off! If you gotta take a bandsaw to a product to make it fit-for-use, then something's wrong, right?!!


Anonymous said...

Hear, hear!
You're definitely not alone...

Unknown said...

I feel a little more sane now, but still grumpy;-)

Anonymous said...

the numeric keypad is very helpful - i am using it for nearly every nukmeric input or calculations as i can use it without looking.
And there are keyboard layouts for non-english languages, where you are forced to use the shift-key for entering numbers without a keypad

Unknown said...

OK Oliver, I admit there are some situations where it is handy (I seem to use it mostly for entering SecureID PINs).

But there must be a better solution than having it stuck in my way most of the time! How about a retractable design? Or a swing-back?

Or simply produce different versions with/without the numeric kbd, depending on your preference. The main problem right now is that if you don't want the numeric kbd, you are starved for options.

Anonymous said...

You're wrong. The Logitech DiNovo Edge does NOT have the numeric keypad.

Unknown said...

ok Dean, conceded. I missed the diNovo series, so Logitech are no worse than Microsoft in their offerings

Anonymous said...

Indeed. This has annoyed me to the point of switching to using the mouse left-handed.

Anonymous said...

My solution: a Happy Hacking Keyboard 2 and a Logitech Trackball. No more hands moving around!

Jessta said...

Obviously you're not an accountant, or someone that uses numbers for anything.

Also, I use the Home,End,Delete,Page Up and Page Down a lot through my day. Coding is irritating without them and I hate how so many laptop keyboards put them in stupid difficult to use places.

klang said...

I use my laptop (IBM X40) screen as my main screen even with a secondary monitor attached.

The reason I do this is .. the keyboard. It has the traditional touch point/mini joystick in the middle which makes it really easy to use for small mouse adjustments. A second mouse can be easily reached because of the size of the keyboard.

At home, I use an Apple Bluetooth keyboard .. it doesn't have the numeric part .. and I don't miss it.

Mario Grgic said...

My solution. Use VIM for text editing. And OS X. With spotlight and expose you never have to use the mouse to launch apps, switch apps, find and open your documents etc.

It's only if the app is mostly mouse driven (like Photoshop) that you hand spends most of the time on the mouse.

Anonymous said...

Kinesis Contour Keyboard.

Expensive, but definitely worth it.

Anonymous said...

Not just you, this is horrible, in fact I have mapped the keypad to the left hand with special keypresses so I won't have to move my hand over to the keypad.

I also wish this thing would take off, seems like they need money.

Anonymous said...

Get a Mac. Problem solved.

Anonymous said...

I feel your pain. After an acute case of RSI, I can't use the mouse anymore. The problem is not the mouse in itself but the travel distance to reach it. These days I use touch sticks exclusively (the red IBM nipples).

I main keyboards are a Unicomp Endurapro and a Lenovo UltraNav. Since there is a version of the UltraNav without a numpad, I think that you should give it a try.

Anonymous said...

No way! If you really *use* a keyboard, and I mean use it, the you find the full numeric pad to be an absolute necessity. Inputting IP addresses on the full numeric pad has got to be at least ten times faster than inputting it with the top line of number keys. Not to mention page down and page up, I hate having them crammed into bizarre locations on laptops, they are way too necessary to be suck under some crazy fn combination key squeezed onto some incredibly awkward position. The same goes for shift+insert to paste, that saves me from touching the tugboat (mouse) at least fifty times a day! Seriously, if you want a crippled, half functional keyboard then go nuts, but full keyboards for men.

I'll be wearing my 104-key proudly on my chest:
I recommend you learn to keep your hands of that blasted mouse.

P.S. GUI's suck, Consoles rule

Anonymous said...

You do not mess with the home block nor the keypad. Their lack is the main reason why I hate laptops.

Unknown said...

That's a bunch of good comments folks.

Diverse too ... which I think is the whole point.

Some people swear by the numeric keypad, but it seems a significant group find it a constant handicap.

The real problem is that desktop keyboard designers and manufacturers are obviously not listening, and are therefore not serving the whole market as well as they could. I hope we see this change, but I'm not holding my breath!

Anonymous said...

Are you serious? Maybe I should write an article about how the Internet is stuck in limbo because I have to actively bypass all these retarded blogs that get 0.1% of the Internet's views. If you used your computer for anything more than complaining about stuff you don't know about, you'd realize the number pad is vital. Tardate, more like RETARDate, amirite?

Anonymous said...

Gotta throw in my vote for the Goldtouch keyboards:
Great action, split and tilted. Keep the mouse close by. Start flat with what you are used to and move into a better shape.

Unknown said...

Well, let me see anonymous. I use a computer pretty much all day every day, and have done for decades and ... nope, still can't say I find the numeric keypad "vital"

Anonymous said...

Wow, you are an idiot. If people didn't want numpads, they would buy keyboards without them, and sales would go up, companies would notice, and start making more, making it more of a standard. But nobody buys that crap, because they use them. Again, you sir, are an idiot. Nobody is forcing anyone to use these keyboards, they use them because they are useful. There is no limbo. The only limbo is how long it's going to take before idiots with bad opinions get banned from the internet. Oh, and in case I didn't mention, you sir, are an idiot.

Adam said...

I second the Goldtouch recommendation. I love my Goldtouches... they're way more ergonomic than a MS Natural style board, and they fit in my backpack.

They have spoiled me, for sure, because now I absolutely can't stand normal keyboards having PGUP, PGDN, Home, and End on the right side. It just seems silly, because moving those keys to the hand that doesn't do the arrow keys makes navigating text much faster.

I'm also spoiled by the Colemak layout for almost 1.5 years now, but that's another story.

Anonymous said...

What about training your left hand to use mouse ? :P

Adam said...

Oh, and regarding: "Wow, you are an idiot. If people didn't want numpads, they would buy keyboards without them, [...]"

Most people buy computers and use the keyboard that comes with them. They may never use the numpad, but they never think about it, because to them, that's just how computer keyboards are.

Also, how many (non-laptop) keyboards without numeric pads are there available? I know of a couple, but now how many are available at your local Office Depot or Best Buy, places where a lot of ordinary computer users go? I've never seen one there, or even at Fry's. Unless someone specifically goes keyboard shopping online, they probably won't know such keyboards exist.

Sure, numeric keypads can be very useful if you're inputting lots of numbers, or long numbers. But you can buy a separate USB numeric keypad -- probably something not a lot of people realize, either. Unless you work a job doing data entry, why have it attached to your keyboard? Just pull it out when you need it.

(I eagerly await Anonymous's reply calling me an idiot! :D)

Anonymous said...

What seems like a very long time ago now, the original Macintoshes came with the numeric keypad as an optional, separate-sale attachment. The keyboard mirrored the traditional typewriter's keyboard in layout, with only an Option and Apple key as extras.

IBM destroyed all of that by bloating the keyboard to almost double the size of the early Mac keyboard, to the point of putting TWO rows of F-keys at the top of their dumb terminal keyboards. Amazing how they could get it so RIGHT with the Selectric typewriters, and (in league with M$) so WRONG with the 104-key keyboards.

Anonymous said...

I use Ins/Del/Home/End/PgUp/PgDn as well as the numpad every single day. I'm a programmer and actually don't use my mouse very much, if at all. My mouse is placed horizontally below my spacebar so that my hand only has to move a few inches.

Anonymous said...

Who TF forces you to use the numeric keypad? The real problem with "modern" keyboard are the strange layout of home, end, etc. keys and the very small function keys. Anyway, buy a compact keyboard and that's it. Problem solved.

Anonymous said...

Everyone says QWERTY is a bad idea? I don't think you've been talking to everyone.

"Typing Errors
The standard typewriter keyboard is Exhibit A in the hottest new case against markets. But the evidence has been cooked."

Anonymous said...

Better solution than sawing your keyboard is to use the Kinesis Maxim like I do - it is set up like you want:

I've been using one for about the last 5 years and for me it does greatly reduce arm stress to have the mouse closer in (and elevated slightly with a book under it).

Not only that but it lets you poke up the center of the keyboard so it slopes down to the sides and also separates at a slight angle, it is nice.

Grunwalski said...

Indeed, in fact a standard keyboard is designed quite badly - if you are right handed.
I am lefthanded, and every normal keyboard works fine for me. so plz, just built some right handed versions but leave me my "good layout"

Anonymous said...

This is also a pet peeve of mine, and I was seriously contemplating chopping off the keypad.
Easier solution: get a Microsoft SideWinder X6, it has a separate keypad that can be attached to the left OR RIGHT of the keyboard.
More expensive but with the numpad in the middle:

Anonymous said...

That's a pretty interesting issue, Paul. I never thought about it that much, but I guess you're right.

The only important keys over there are home and end. All other keys, while being rather useful, aren't important enough to deserve this special spot.

Putting the numeric keypad, cursors, and those other keys on the left side of the typewriter keys would make lots of sense for right-handed people.

But now that I think about it... a special place for home and end (e.g. very flat keys below the space bar) would be very handy.

Anonymous said...

I never learned to use the numeric keypad because it was not on my first computer: a Commodore 64 and have always found it to be stupid on PC's. I don't understand why some people think it is so great for data entry. The exact same keys are already present on the top row, you can even use them with both hands.

Anonymous said...

Kinesis Freestyle has navigation keys on the right and integrate the numeric keypad like laptops.

Cherry makes some nice commercial boards without num pads.

Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite 2 is not as nice (IMHO) as their earlier version, but it too left off the numeric keypad.

At non-user of numeric keypads it makes a lot of sense to either integrate or make available as a separate unit.


Phil said...

The obvious answer is just to not use the mouse.

But yeah, it'd also be nice if the hardware guys got a clue. It's as if they're getting paid by the key.

Anonymous said...

Sorry - I like the numeric keypad and find my laptop, which doesn't have one to be a pain. Engineers, accountants and scientists who do a lot of numeric entry use the numeric keyboard alot. And entering characters from extended character sets is far easier with ALT-xxxx using the numeric pad. Now I just wish the numeric keypad was HEX so I could enter unicode that way...

Anonymous said...

I use a split "ergonomic" keyboard. There's a nice, big space right in the middle that would be the perfect place for a trackball. What did they put there? A friggin' "zoom" thing! Bah!

Unknown said...

Adam, you're an idiot!

Oh .. sorry, must have been channeling anonymous for a minute;-)

Thanks everyone for the comments. As I've said already, I think it just goes to show that there is a diversity of needs, and the products on offer are clearly not satisfying everyone.

Especially in economically troubling times, that spells opportunity for the smarter PC manufacturers. All things being equal, I think I would buy my next PC online from the manufacturer that gave me choice..

I look forward to the day when you get to choose with/without kbd designs when checking out at Dell, HP etc!

Anonymous said...

you really are lazy so you have to move your right hand an extra 5 centermeters to reach the mouse, ooooh the strain, the numeric keypad is cruical to everyday work, i could not live without it. Likke many people to work for a living. grow up

Unknown said...

@anonymous, lazy is putting up with that extra 5cm day in, day out, and not even having the faintest desire to make things better.

When I multiple it out, that could add up to over 150 metres of wasted arm movement on a typical day. You can put a $ figure against that!

Mmmm said...

My dream-keyboard, but too expensive:

There's also a shorter link to the picture:

Unknown said...

@Zita wow, thanks for mentioning Evoluent, they've got it just right. The "EvoluentTM Mouse-FriendlyTM Keyboard" looks very sleek, and at $60 not too pricey.