My home PC has been behaving badly. Every so often, everything stops dead -- and I mean dead, no mouse movement, no screen activity, no sign of interrupts -- while the motherboard makes a piteous bleeping noise. This is not good: like everyone, I spend far too much time running along my Maginot Line of tottering defences, shoring up slightly shaky software against the rising tide of spyware, viruses and other filth out there on the Net. Something like this might mean it's all been in vain.
Yet there's no sign of anything. Which means I have to think. That bleeping probably means it's a hardware problem -- please, not the motherboard -- so let's start with the easy stuff. The next time it happens, I yank the keyboard out. Instant relief. I only have one spare, nabbed from an ancient Acorn Archimedes, which works well enough but is lacking a few details -- like three keytops.
Back in the office, I spy a promising package lying unloved and untouched in a pile of review kit. It's a new Microsoft USB keyboard, which shows every sign of gathering dust. It can do that at my gaff, I think. And -- oho -- it's the new one with a fingerprint reader. What fun.
It's an exercise in staggering pointlessness. After loading two CDs of driver and support software -- what madness is this? 1.2GB of software to install a keyboard? The ZX Spectrum managed with around a hundred bytes of keyscan code -- I am confronted with a message. The fingerprint reader is not to be used as a security device, it says. It is provided for convenience only. This puts a new light on the current goings-on at American immigration. I presume the fingerprint scans I have on entry and exit are there for convenience only, and also redefines what convenience can mean.
Well, says Microsoft, it means you can switch users on your machine and also log into things that require passwords without having to remember them. The finger scanner will work out the context and supply the password when you touch it. All well and good, except that most of the things I log onto are on the Web, and I tend to log onto them from more than just my home computer. Still, I suppose it's useful for home banking and the like -- ah, no, says Microsoft, we don't recommend you use it for that. Security, you know. Yes. I know.
About the only thing that leaves the thing good for is as a guiding beacon at night, as the scanner resembles the underside of a limpet illuminated by a number of bright LEDs. These strobe and shimmer noticeably, an especially distracting effect when caught in peripheral vision - which is of course exactly where the thing lies as I look ahead at the screen.
The rest of the keyboard is nice, mind, if you overlook the huge number of tiny buttons sprinkled around the edge where you'll catch them with your arm as you reach for the mouse, the coffee or the masking tape you'll need to cover up the finger scanner.
Ah, ergonomics. All I want is my nice AT clicky keyboard back.