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.

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