RealTime IT News

Microsoft Makes Nice with Mice

Microsoft unveiled nine consumer-oriented mice and keyboards, with geek-chic touches like Bluetooth connectivity and biometrics.

Two optical mice, one for the desktop and one for laptops, offer a more ergonomic curved shape, as does the Wireless Optical Desktop, a more comfortable alternative to standard flat keyboards. Microsoft said the Wireless Optical Desktop encourages natural hand and wrist alignment. Its research found people preferred this new design by a ratio of 3 to 1 over flat keyboards.

Industrial designer Scott Summit said Microsoft's research into the human factors of design shows in the new products. "I know Microsoft puts tremendous effort into their products, and they manage to come out with products like mice and trackballs that are clearly result of this huge research effort," he said. He especially approved of the mice. "They have sculptural and refined lines and forms, yet this is purposeful sculpture, not, for the most part, done superfluously."

Three of the peripherals, designed by Microsoft Hardware, feature a fingerprint reader as a security replacement for passwords. The fingerprint reader is available in three products: Optical Desktop with Fingerprint Reader, Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer with Fingerprint Reader and a stand-alone Microsoft Fingerprint Reader.

"Keeping track of usernames and passwords is a source of real frustration for people," Roger Kay, vice president of client computing at IT research firm IDC, said in a statement. "Although using a combination of methods, including using a strong password, is recommended for retrieving personal and financial information from the Web, a biometric password manager clearly makes opening ordinary password-protected Web pages more convenient."

Summit found the Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer with Fingerprint Reader to be a very successful design. "It feels like it belongs with the mouse and reinforces the family line." On the other hand, he said the standalone Fingerprint Reader looked out of place and didn?t match the styling of the rest of the line.

Both the Wireless Optical Desktop and the Digital Media Pro Keyboard feature a new Zoom Slider that lets users zoom in and out of images and documents; Microsoft designed it for those who view and edit digital photos on the PC.

Summit, who as principal of the San Francisco firm of Summit ID, has designed computers, keyboards, PDAs and cell phones, but has never worked for Microsoft, was less enthusiastic about the new keyboards. "They're drowning in their features. Clearly, they're trying to do damage control by changing the color of different elements on the keyboard, but with limited success," he said.

The new product line includes Optical Desktop Elite for Bluetooth or IntelliMouse Explorer for Bluetooth, which let users wirelessly exchange and sync information between the PC and Bluetooth devices from up to 30 feet away.

Taking a cue from Martha Stewart, Microsoft called these products "everyday affordable." Prices range from $34.95 for the Digital Media Pro Keyboard and Standard Wireless Optical Mouse to $159 for the Optical Desktop Elite for Bluetooth. They should be widely available at retail by the end of September.