A recent realization has got me wondering about ergonomics of keyboards. When I moved offices at work, my new office had a slightly higher desk, and no keyboard tray. Now, with such a desk, I sat at a lower height compared to that of the keyboard, and when I extended my hands to my keyboard, my elbow angles were more open — not the standard 90 degree angle you see in all those ergonomics guides. I’m slightly leaned back, and my arms are slightly extended, elbows out. And surprisingly, I can type for a very long time like this. (I’m sitting at my keyboard for hours when I’m at work)
Also, if I look at my wrists in such a configuration, they’re mostly straight, even though I’m typing on a standard non-ergo keyboard.
What does that mean? it seems to mean that the actual “ergo”-ness of the keyboard might not be the only significant component of comfort while typing. Or maybe it just means that even though I sit here all day, I don’t actually type that much.
At some point in my childhood, they seemed to have taught me about the home row of keys. How all my fingers should be resting on the home row, and how my fingers should be roughly perpendicular to the keyboard. Well, maybe my shoulders weren’t as wide then, but if I try to do that now, it just feels like I’m trying to squeeze into a small space — wrists are bent, and shoulders are tense.
In actuality, I don’t hold my hands so that they are perpendicular to the space bar. Rather, they’re at an angle that keeps my wrists straight. I often I find my fingers resting on the keys AWEFJIO; instead of the standard home row: ASDFJKL;. It doesn’t seem to really slow down my typing ot have my hands ths way. It’s not like the keyboard has changed at all, you just think a little differently about how you move your fingers.
So then what of these ergo, split layouts? I’ve tried quite a few: the belkin ps/2 and usb versions, the MS Natural Elite and 4000, the kinesis maxim and kinesis ergo. They’re all somewhat comfortable, but they’re all not complete win’s either. I always have the same complaints:
* They’re big
* Their layout is usually non-standard in some way
* The arrow keys/numpad are an afterthought.
* They make one handed typing difficult.
And now:
* It’s not even clear that you can’t get a similar level of comfort with a normal style keyboard.
And why is it that there are always new keyboards announced with the standard layout? All the gaming keyboards are that way. The Happy Hacking Keyboard still has a standard layout. All the Keytronics are all standard layout. Even the high end stuff, like the diNovo, are mostly standard layout. The CVT Avant Prime is standard as well, though that is built based on an older model. All the ‘Majestouch’ keyboards in Japan are standard, though I wonder how much of that is incfluenced by the need to conserve physical space there.
Also, there’s no such thing as an ergo laptop keyboard. And there are lots of people who type quite a bit on a laptop and usually don’t have problems. I didn’t really have a problem typing all day on my Powerbook. And I’ve been borrowing Thinkpads at work recently and they don’t seem to give me any problems either.
Likewise, switch officionados know that when it comes down to it, there are very few ergo keyboards with good switches. It comes down to pretty much the Kinesis ergo (very expensive, very non-standard layout), the old Northgate keyboards (impossible to find), the Comfort Type (expensive, kinda ghetto looking), and the Cherry Ergo-plus 5000 (which is also impossible to find).
Maybe it’s time to stop worrying about the _ergo_-ness of keyboards themselves and instead think about all the other parameters that go into my keyboarding comfort. Then maybe I won’t be limited to the small selection of split layout keyboards out there, and I can finally combine the benefits of good mechanical design with a comfortable experience.

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