As Microsoft dominates so much of the software market, it’s easy to forget that it makes hardware too. Of course, it never ventured into making computers, but Microsoft mice are among the best around. This is the first time Microsoft has made a Mac-compatible keyboard, and, if you’re a fan of Office, this is a real treat.
The Microsoft Office Keyboard is designed to help you work more efficiently, by cutting down the number of keystrokes needed when using the business-software suite.
While the keyboard itself isn’t as pretty as the Apple Pro Keyboard, it’s very functional. The same is true of the mice: for example, Apple’s Pro Mouse is pretty; the MS Wheel Mouse is more functional. It’s bigger than the average keyboard, but then it has a lot more buttons to fit in. It has a two-tone colour scheme: grey and a lighter shade of grey.
The most exciting bit is the single touch-pad. There are six keys plus a scrolling wheel. One switches the applications back and forth; three more Cut, Copy and Paste; and another two let you flick forwards and backwards in a Web browser. Best of all is the wheel that lets you scroll up and down pages.
It doesn’t stop there, though. There is a row of function keys that are automatically assigned with useful functions related to Office. For example, if you’re in Entourage you can use the Reply, Forward and Send buttons. From Word you can launch the Spell Check, Save and Print from function keys. There are even Undo and Redo keys.
There’s an additional row of buttons above the usual function keys. Most of these are launch keys for the different Office applications, but there are also keys for Volume, Quit and Sleep.
However, the Office Keyboard isn’t without its drawbacks. Users might find the lack of an (aka, Apple or Command key) key a bit alarming, especially as there is a Windows key instead. More confusing still is the fact that the Windows key is between the Control and Alt keys. The software does let you swap the key functions, but you can’t swap the keys themselves. It might be a minor thing, but it’s bound to confuse anybody else using your computer.
Another issue is the fact that the keyboard doesn’t have a USB port on it, so the mouse must be plugged into a second USB port, or a hub.
The final and most upsetting flaw is the lack of Mac OS X support. Much as I love this keyboard, I’m not going back to OS 9 for it. And Microsoft says that it won’t be X-compliant until spring 2002! That’s a shame after all the effort Microsoft put into getting Office 10 out for this autumn.
If you use Office as much as me, this keyboard can save a couple of seconds a hundred times per day. It makes Office much snappier and easier to use. I whole-heartedly recommend it to any Office user – as soon as Mac OS X drivers are released.