- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 11, 2009

It’s interesting, at least to me, what a difference a new peripheral can make. And, it’s kind of reassuring that Microsoft Corp.’s keyboards, however they evolve, continue to deliver some great, common-sense value to consumers.

Witness the $80 Wireless Comfort Desktop 5000, which was announced at the end of August and is now making its way, albeit slowly, into the retail channel. It’s an expense, yes, but it can breathe some new life into an old system, or perhaps make a new system easier to use.

Except for those who use voice control/dictation software to operate and enter data into their systems, most of us rely on a keyboard and mouse to work with our computers. The Comfort Desktop models angle the main keyboard section - i.e., the alphabet keys - at a slight tilt to make typing more comfortable. There’s also a separate numeric keypad as well as directional arrow keys, function keys and page navigation keys.

Users of Microsoft’s new Windows 7 operating system will note integration of several features that should work especially well. Something called “Taskbar Favorites,” the firm says, “will map [special function keys] to the location of open applications on the improved Windows taskbar.” Those taskbar icons can be dragged around for rearranging, Microsoft adds.

Another Windows 7 feature is called “Device Stage,” which Microsoft describes as something giving users “quick and easy access to common tasks, including product information, registration, settings and more … .” The third feature is called “Windows Flip,” which easily displays multiple program windows that may be open.

Along with Windows, the Wireless Comfort Desktop 5000 will work with Macintosh computers, Microsoft said. In my testing, the keyboard and mouse performed quite nicely with a Mac. The function keys did what they were supposed to do, although the “disc eject” key turned out to be the one illustrated with a pair of stereo headphones. Go figure.

Typing on the keyboard was very pleasant. Again, typing is something many of us do for quite a number of hours each day. Comfort and ergonomics, which weren’t always big issues before the dawn of personal computing, are now quite important, and I found the Wireless Comfort Desktop 5000’s keyboard a very good one on which to type.

I would prefer that the “Caps Lock” key would have included a small LED that would light up when pressed. On the plus side, literally, a single touch of a special button will bring up your operating system’s on-screen calculator accessory program and let you enter numbers via the numeric keypad. (It is more than a mild annoyance to this reviewer that Apple Inc.’s only wireless keyboard for today’s Mac is made without a numeric keypad. Mac people need numbers, too, gang.)

Of course, this is a keyboard and mouse combination, and as such the mouse is of some interest. The Wireless Mouse 5000 is easy to grip, has a scroll wheel and side buttons along with the top click-buttons, and works quite well. It features what Microsoft calls “BlueTrack Technology,” which it says works on more surfaces than earlier models. I found that it worked quite nicely on my keyboard shelf.

Both the keyboard and mouse are powered by AA-type batteries, which are rather universally available. Because my test unit is brand new, I can’t say for sure how long the batteries would last, but I’d guess between six and nine months of rather heavy daily use, and perhaps longer for the mouse.

In short, this is a nice package that’ll work well in many office and home situations. As I mentioned, the retail price is a bit steep, though some online discounters can cut the price by about $20 or so and it’s likely one of the “big box” stores will offer a similar discount.

Is this a combination for you? If you spend more than a few minutes daily at your computer, the answer, in my view, would be an unqualified yes.

&#8226 E-mail mkellner@ washingtontimes.com.