Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Ergonomic Keyboards

A lot of people comment on my keyboard, which is a Kinesis Classic Ergonomic Keyboard. It has a very unusual appearance. There keys are separated into several clusters. The smaller clusters can be reached by the right and left thumbs. Since the thumbs are rather strong, it makes sense to use them for many keys. With a standard keyboard, I usually only use my thumbs for the space bar.

The larger clusters of keys are dished, which is meant to conform the to arcs in which your fingers can move. The keys are basically arranged in a standard QWERTY key pattern, but DVORAK keyboards are also available from Kinesis. It is very programmable and configurable. I could remap the keys according to some personal preferences, but I'm quite happy with the default settings. I do turn off the audible keyboard click.

I do enjoy using it. It did take me about two weeks to feel comfortable with it. I then started a large programming project and discovered that I needed a little longer to adjust to it for programming usage. The symbols that you commonly use in C++ programming have been slightly relocated. Letters and numbers are in the standard relative locations, but I had to relearn proper two-handed typing. One of the interesting side effects for me is that I can switch between a standard, non-ergonomic keyboard and my Kinesis keyboard. However, if I use some of the curved, semi-ergonomic keyboards from Microsoft or Logitech, my fingers get confused. I can't help but use those keyboards as if they were like my Kinesis. I suppose the keyboard classifier algorithm in my fingers can not recognize keyboards of intermediate designs!

For folks who have issues with Repetitive Stress Injuries, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, or any kind of pain from working at a desk with computers, ergonomic devices can be part of the answer. I've learned that each person's ergonomic issues can be highly individual and each person will need to work to understand how to address their issues.

Fortunately, many workplaces have ergonomic consultants who can come by and help improve your workspace. It's better to help folks before they have a major injury, lose productivity, or spend time from work.