Pushing 6 Million Buttons to Discover How We Work

Microsoft Office KeyboardClick on the photo to download a high resolution image

REDMOND, Wash., Oct. 2, 2001 — For the fourth time this month, Sally happily sits down at a desk, ready for another volunteer session. Her arm is comfortably connected to several electrodes that monitor her every move. Watching carefully, the researcher records the usable data for precise mathematical analyses. While it may sound like a scene from a science-fiction movie, it is a typical day at Microsoft Hardware’s ergonomics research lab.

Known primarily for software innovations, Microsoft’s ranks also include a team of 200 engineers, industrial designers, ergonomists, technologists and business professionals — practically a “company within a company” — working to create high-performance, comfortable and stylish hardware. Starting two decades ago with a gray, box-shaped mouse, Microsoft Hardware has evolved into makers of best-selling keyboards and mice, with a common goal of making people’s computing experience more productive.

“Helping people become more productive is one of the most influential goals of our designs, as we’ve realized how much people rely on these tools to get things done,” says Edie Adams, User Research manager for Microsoft Hardware. “We also pay close attention to how the products feel, and if they have optimal comfort. Given how much time we’re spending at our desks, it’s important to make the user’s experience with their keyboard or mouse as effective and comfortable as possible. When people are more comfortable, they’re more productive.”

For the past 20 years, Microsoft Hardware has researched methods for making the interaction between the hardware user and software applications as natural as possible. This research has paid off in the form of innovative, widely praised efficiency features such as ergonomic “split keyboard” designs, “Hot Key” shortcuts to commonly used applications and features, and scroll wheels. Research indicates these tools help eliminate common keystrokes by more than 40 percent.

The evolution of Microsoft Hardware’s products has much to do with the research and biomechanics studies it conducts. Volunteer users from around the world click, point and backspace their way into Microsoft designs, while natural hand positioning, button actuation and common keystrokes and functions are monitored to help determine the best user experience.

Seven years ago, Microsoft introduced the split-keyboard ergonomic design with Natural Keyboard Elite, which enables users to place their hands in a more natural resting position. Another design, Internet Keyboard Pro, enhances Internet navigation by providing “Hot Key” shortcuts that provide one-touch access to applications such as multimedia players and e-mail, and also improves comfort with a built-in wrist pad.

The latest addition to Microsoft’s hardware line, the Microsoft Office Keyboard, is the result of nearly three years of research, studies of 1 million different users and nearly 6 million keystroke actions. A unique left-side Single Touch Pad places some of the most commonly used tasks at the user’s fingertips. Repositioned and clearly labeled function keys enable utilization of all keyboard features as well as more than 50 PC and Macintosh programmable software functions. Its enhancements are engineered to increase efficiency and productivity by cutting down on extra keystrokes and encouraging full keyboard usage.

“In our research, we found people weren’t using keyboards to their best advantage,” says Christy Hughes, product manager, keyboards. “With Office Keyboard, users can work better, faster and more efficiently than ever. Most of us don’t know what the F’ keys do, let alone use them. Finally with the Office Keyboard, these keys are repurposed to give access to frequently used commands like Spell Check, Save, and Print — commands that were there, but many users didn’t know about them. We feel this will help redefine keyboards as we know them.”

A recent survey by Market Facts shows Americans know their keyboards well, and the amount of time being spent at a keyboard is increasing. A Gallup poll shows that Americans spend more time in front of a PC than a television at home, and not just for work. E-mailing and Web surfing lead the polls in extra-curricular activities online.

As the PC changes, Microsoft Hardware continues to redefine input devices. Over the span of two decades, the group has achieved many technological advances, including being first to introduce revolutionary new optical technology in its mouse devices. Microsoft recently introduced a new mouse family, led by the company’s first wireless optical mouse, the Microsoft Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer. Built on the IntelliEye optical platform, Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer delivers ergonomic comfort and power-saving technologies for unparalleled performance in a wireless optical design. In addition, the hardware group has won many design and technology awards, ranging from Best Input Device from both PC World and PC Magazine, to the highly touted Business Week IDEA design awards.

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