It occurred to me recently that I'm not getting any younger, and that sitting hunched over a keyboard for a dozen hours a day will probably lead to some form of RSI sooner or later. So I started looking for ways to improve my daily working environment.
Unlike John, I can't afford a Herman Miller chair, and even if I could, I'm a freelancer rather than a telecommuter* so I would have to regularly carry the chair on the train to client sites, where they would probably ostracise me for being a weirdo who brings his own chair to the office. So I looked for something a little more portable, and decided that perhaps it was finally time for me to try one of those fancy split ergonomic keyboards that I've always scoffed at. After reading a few review on Amazon, I plumped for the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000.
I should probably mention at this point that I've never been formally taught to type, and I don't touch-type in the traditional way, with fingers sticking loyally around the ASDF JKL: keys. I've been more of an autodidact, typing quickly but inefficiently, a few finger dancing crazily around the keys whilst the others (notably my pinkies) float lazily in the air, dreaming of the time they were once called upon to pull a wishbone or contribute to a clenched fist.
This means that initially, I found adjusting to the layout of the ergonomic keyboard quite tough - I was slowed down, and had to relearn the relative positions of the keys. For a week or so, I only used the new keyboard at home, as it would have been too slow and frustrating for workaday use. But gradually I grew accustomed to it, and found that I appreciated being able to rest my palms on the wrist-rest, with fingers dropping down towards the keys courtesy of the reverse slope.
So, I took a further plunge, and bought a second keyboard to take to the office. A few months more have passed, and now I can't imagine using anything else on a daily basis. It really is more comfortable, and my shoulders and arms feel considerably more relaxed. I'm also back up to the kind of wpm that achieved on a standard keyboard.
Other than the ergonomic design, the 4000 series boasts a few other features, some of which may appeal, depending on the kind of applications you frequently use:
Notably, all the function keys have been relabelled with additional functionality such as Undo, Redo, New, Open, Close, Spell, Save and Print. Depending on your mentality you will either find this incredibly useful or incredibly annoying (if you're in the latter camp then you'll be pleased to know that ordinary service can be resumed thanks to an "F Lock" key.
I am fond of the button which launches Calculator (one of my most often-launched applications), as well as the buttons to control volume and pause media player (which works fine with iTunes 7).
I also appreciate the additional four buttons above the numeric keypad - putting an extra equals, parentheses and backspace where you'll find them most useful when working with a spreadsheet or similar
There are also buttons to launch a web browser, email application, navigate to a search engine, open favourites, navigate back and forth, a zoom control, and five customisable buttons - but to be honest I haven't made use of any of these. YMMV.
So, in summary - having got past those difficult early "getting to know you" dates, I now foresee a long and happy relationship with the 4000 series. And I'm sure my shoulders will be happy to hear that.
* does anybody say "telecommuter" these days? It sounds very 1996...