I've just bought a new keyboard and mouse to go on my new system. I decided that after several years of service it was time to replace my trusty keyboard and trackball. I'm not precisely sure how many years I had the old keyboard/trackball pair, although I'm know that they outlived two, if not three, PCs systems because I bought them at the turn of the century (hehehe, been wanting to say that for a while!). While the new peripherals I've got are OK (not great, or brilliant, just OK), I was surprised at the lack of choices available compared to when I bought the old peripherals.
There's nothing technically wrong with my old peripherals. The old keyboard (a Microsoft Office Keyboard) has stood the test of time well, allowing me to hammer at it day in, day out while giving it very little care in return. It even had a few close encounters with a number of different beverages and survived. It still worked pretty well, although a couple of the keys had become sticky so they went down with a thud when you pressed them and no amount of cleaning seemed to cure that. But all in all, I think I got my money's worth out of it. Same goes for the trackball I've been using (a Microsoft Trackball Explorer). This again has been an overworked and undercared for piece of kit. I'd occasionally remove the ball and give the insides a quick clean out, but that was the extent of the care that it got. Again, the trackball is functionally OK, it's just that it's got to the point where no amount of cleaning will remove a feeling of stickiness in its operation.
I'd expected to be able to buy a keyboard and trackball that were similar to what I already had, just better.
I was wrong.
First, all decent trackballs seem to have gone the way of the dinosaur. Yes, Logitech do make one, but it doesn't have anywhere the same level of features that my existing Trackball Explorer had (no scroll wheel and fewer buttons, to name two features that seem lacking). I converted to a trackball years ago because I found that they were a lot easier to use than moving a bar of soap across a plastic mat. However, given the poor show put on by Microsoft and Logitech with regards to trackballs, I had to abandon my plan to buy a new one.
Second thing that struck me is the level of "either/or" choices that customers have to contend with. For example, I'm not all that thrilled about the idea of a wireless keyboard, but since the majority of keyboards that I looked at were wireless, I seemed to be forced down that avenue. Why can't I have a keyboard that is wireless but has wired capability? Seems simple enough to implement and it wouldn't cost much extra but it would add a great deal of flexibility.
And what is it with the dual nature of function keys on keyboards? The standard F1 through F12 have been replaced by keys that have alternative default behavior. I like the F-keys and I use them a lot, but thanks to the fact both Microsoft and Logitech’s desire to leave their mark on the system, I'm forced to have to press a separate ‘F lock’ key in order to get back this functionality. This feature is a real pain when you want to press, say, F8 at startup to get into Windows safe mode.
I looked at keyboards outside of the Microsoft/Logitech range but I couldn't find anything I liked there either, so in the end I went for a Microsoft Wireless Multimedia 1000 keyboard and a Microsoft Wireless Laser 6000 mouse. The feature I really like about the keyboard is that it is designed to handle spills and the keys feel nice and are quiet. It doesn't have any of the normal caps lock, num lock and scroll lock LEDs on it (I guess the designers thought that that three LEDs would consume too much power for a wireless device). These features may be present in the IntelliType software (I'm thinking some kind of on-screen prompt), but I can't install that onto Windows Vista because it doesn't recognize the OS. The Laser 6000 mouse feels lightweight and is very responsive, but it does run off batteries, and since the laser light is invisible (not the red light that I was used to), it could be hard to tell when the battery is dead and needs replacing. Also, the two devices run off separate wireless USB dongles, which seems a little clumsy to me.
I really thought that I'd have much more choices when it came to peripherals, but it seems that over the past few years, choices are something the big names just don't want customers to have.