Upgrade Your Mice & Keyboards – May 2013

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Update & improve your computing experience

The mouse and keyboard are your PC’s eyes and ears; without them you could not execute commands or input text. In this article we’ll highlight some of their important features.

Microsoft’s first mouse was angular and beige, but its basic design hasn’t changed much

Microsoft’s first mouse was angular and beige, but its basic design hasn’t changed much

All about mice

As input devices go, the mouse has changed very little since Microsoft used it to launch its hardware business in 1983. It had a cord, right and left buttons, and a palm-sized body. Many modern mice are wireless and use lasers, but newer devices are still perfectly recognizable as mice and are used in the same fashion as a 1980s-era mouse.

Tracking technology

The most basic mice for sale today let users manipulate the position of the pointer onscreen by mechanical means. A rubberized sphere inside the mouse body contacts a pair of rollers that drive gears, moving the mouse across a surface rotates the gears and the mouse’s driver translates the movement to appear onscreen. These mice are very inexpensive, but they tend to get clogged and require occasional cleaning.

This mouse works much a traditional mouse, but it also supports touch input

This mouse works much a traditional mouse, but it also supports touch input

In 1999, Microsoft launched an optical mouse that used an LED and photodiodes to translate the mouse movements into the cursor position. Later optical mice used tiny low-resolution image sensors to track movement, enabling these modern optical mice to work on most surfaces. Laser mice use infrared laser diodes to provide very precise movement data, making it ideal for graphics professionals, engineers, and gamers.

Glass has been one of the few surfaces on which modern mice still have trouble tracking, but with the introduction of dual-laser and glass laser mice, reflective and transparent surfaces are no longer a problem.

All about keyboards

Computer keyboards can trace their heritage back to keypunch devices and typewriters from the late 1800s and early 1900s. In the context of computing, keyboards have changed very little, as well.

Layout types

The standard keyboard offers roughly 100 characters for letters, punctuation, numbers, and function keys. Laptops tend to have scaled-down keyboards, combining characters and actions that users can access as if using standalone function keys. Smartphones and handheld devices combine even more functions and use very small keys, suitable for thumbing.

Most keyboards feature the QWERTY layout, which refers to the first six letters of the top row on the left side of the keyboard. This layout traces its roots back to the 1870s, when E. Remington And Sons, manufacturers of firearms and typewriters, sought to avoid placing letters often typed together near one another, which significantly reduced the frequency of jams on Remington’s mechanical typewriters.

Switch types

Using an ergonomic keyboard can significantly improve your computing comfort

Using an ergonomic keyboard can significantly improve your computing comfort

There are several different mechanisms used to register keystrokes. Common switch types include full-travel membrane and dome-switch keyboards that consist of plastic keys over a layer of rubber domes. Some keyboards add springs to the rubber domes for more rapid feedback. These keyboards are known for being relatively quiet and having a smooth response. Mechanical switch and buckling spring-style keyboards have a rapid response and tend to generate an audible “clack” when keys are pressed. These keyboards have a very different feel to them, compared to rubber dome-style keyboards. To determine which type you prefer, go to a local retailer and try out a few.

A word about wireless

Both keyboards and mice come in wired and wireless models. If cutting cord clutter matters to you, consider that wireless mice and keyboards require batteries to operate. They also require either a wireless dongle or a receiver at the end of a USB cord. The latter does add to your wiring, but at least these units can be tucked out of sight.

Input essentials

You have a host of options when shopping for new input devices. Considering them carefully is the key to ending up with something that can make using your computer comfortable, satisfying, and even fun.

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